Computer facts

Type home
Year 1984
Language Sinclair Super Basic
CPU Motorola MC68008
Speed 7.5 MHz
RAM 128 KB (up to 728 KB)
Text modes 40 x 25, 64 x 25, 85 x 25
Graphic modes 256 x 256 (8 colors), 512 x 256 (4 colors)
Colors 256
Sound Beeper
Sinclair QL

In my collection

Sinclair QL

Missing a key.
Bought from Tradera auction.

Sinclair QL

Complete with transformer.
Part of a bigger computer trade with Mikael Holm.


The Sinclair QL (for Quantum Leap), was a personal computer launched by Sinclair Research in 1984, as the successor to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The QL was aimed at the hobbyist and small business markets, but failed to achieve commercial success.

The QL was originally conceived in 1981 under the code-name ZX83, as a portable computer for business users, with a built-in ultra-thin flat-screen CRT display (similar to the later TV80 pocket TV), printer and modem. As development progressed, and ZX83 became ZX84, it eventually became clear that the portability features were over-ambitious and the specification was reduced to a conventional desktop configuration.

Based on a Motorola 68008 processor clocked at 7.5 MHz, the QL included 128 KB of RAM (officially expandable to 640 KB) and could be connected to a monitor or TV for display. Two built-in Microdrive tape-loop cartridge drives (first seen as a peripheral for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum) provided mass storage, in place of the more expensive floppy disk drives found on similar systems of the era. Interfaces included an expansion slot, ROM cartridge socket, dual RS-232 ports, proprietary QLAN local area network ports, dual joystick ports and an external Microdrive bus. Two video modes were available, 256×256 pixels with 8 RGB colours and per-pixel flashing, or 512×256 pixels with four colours (black, red, green and white). Both screen modes used a 32 KB framebuffer in main memory. The hardware was capable of switching between two different areas of memory for the framebuffer, thus allowing double buffering. However, this would have used 64 KB of the standard machine's 128 KB of RAM and there is no support for this feature in the QL's original firmware. The alternative and much improved operating system Minerva does provide full support for the second framebuffer.

Internally, the QL comprised the CPU, two ULAs, (ZX8301 and ZX8302) and an Intel 8049 microcontroller (known as the IPC, or "Intelligent Peripheral Controller"). The ZX8301 or "Master Chip" implemented the video display generator and also provided DRAM refresh. The ZX8302, or "Peripheral Chip", interfaced to the RS-232 ports (transmit only) Microdrives, QLAN ports, real-time clock and the 8049 (via a synchronous serial link). The 8049 (included at late stage in the QL's design, as substitute for a third ULA) acted as a keyboard/joystick controller, RS-232 receive buffer and audio generator.

A multitasking operating system, QDOS, primarily designed by Tony Tebby, was included on ROM, as was an advanced BASIC interpreter, named SuperBASIC designed by Jan Jones. The QL was also bundled with an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, database, and graphics) written by Psion. Sinclair had commissioned GST Computer Systems to produce an operating system for the machine, but switched to QDOS, developed in-house, before launch. GST's OS, designed by Tim Ward, was later made available as 68K/OS, in the form of an add-on ROM card. The tools developed by GST for the QL would later be used on the Atari ST, where GST object format became standard.

Physically, the QL was the same black colour as the preceding ZX81 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum models, but introduced a new angular styling theme and keyboard design which would later be seen in the ZX Spectrum+.

Sinclair QL images