July 1982 (TS1000), November 1983 (TS2068)
What are they like today?
Sinclair sold the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum through mail order in the USA for a time, but the Sinclair machines' biggest American success came about through the company's collaboration with Timex. The American giant was already Sinclair's prime contractor for building ZX81s and Spectrums at its plant in Dundee, Scotland.
Sinclair was doing well in the States, and by June 1981 it was selling 18,000-20,000 ZX81s a month - more than the combined unit sales of Tandy, Apple and Commodore - but suffered severe quality problems, with only one in three machines actually working.
A tie-up with Timex was the obvious answer, and resulted in four officially-licensed clones, produced between 1981-84. These were the:-
- TS1000 - ZX81 clone with 2K RAM
- TS1500 - ZX81 clone with 16K RAM and looks like a Spectrum
- TS2048 - An enhanced ZX Spectrum 16K (not released)
- TS2068 - An enhanced ZX Spectrum 48K
The TS1000 was a ZX81 with an NTSC RF modulator fitted in place of the PAL modulator, and had 2K of RAM instead of the ZX81's 1K. As soon as it went on sale for just $99, Commodore dropped the price of its VIC-20 to match, and soon after offered a trade-in program which offered $100 if you traded in your Timex-Sinclair and purchased a C64. Despite this, they sold well and just as with the dawning UK home computer industry, there were soon many peripherals and software titles available to enhance the TS1000. A 16K memory expansion could be purchased for $49.95.
Before the launch of the TS2068, there was a TS2016, but this was dropped when the TS1500 was introduced. Designed by TMX Portugal (the Portuguese arm of Timex-Sinclair), it used the planned TS2016 silver cases that were never used, and came with 16K of internal RAM. It used a custom ULA (uncommitted logic array), not the same one used in the ZX Spectrum. Unfortunately, the TS1500 was released too late, at a time when better computers were already available, including Timex-Sinclair's own TS2068. The TS1500 was sold only in USA and Portugal.
The TS2068, released in November 1983, was originally called the TS2072, because Timex had originally advertised it as a 72K machine - 24K ROM + 48K RAM. Unlike its predecessors which were mildly modified versions of their UK counterparts, the TS2068 was a big departure. It provided enhanced sound via its AY-3-8912 sound chip (as found later in Sinclair's ZX Spectrum 128), two joystick ports, better keyboard, cartridge port built-in, and an improved ULA chip that gave it additional screen modes. The BASIC came with six new commands for addressing the new hardware, and implemented the never-released TS2048's bank-switching for ROM cartridges to be mapped in. It was planned to launch with 7 cartridge titles and 37 cassette titles (some were to be duplicates of those available on cartridge), but in the end far fewer were actually released. Sadly, all these enhancements made the TS2068 largely incompatible with Sinclair ZX Spectrum software. To remedy this, some cartridges were built that emulated the Sinclair ZX Spectrum more accurately.
In the spring of 1984, Timex made a management decision to disband their Timex Computer division, despite it being profitable, and focus entirely on the watch industry.
In 1985, however, Timex in Portugal (TMX Portugal) decided to market the Timex computers in their home country. They were allowed to do so within the bounds of the Timex-Sinclair agreement, because Portugal was not included in Sinclair's market - the rest of Europe was, however, closed to them. They took the TS2068, and made some modifications armed with the knowledge of problems that had faced the TS2068. This computer they released as the "TC2048" and "TC2068". The TC2048 was a 2068 with some bits taken out (AY sound chip, command cartridges dock port, and the TC2068 ROM has been replaced with a Spectrum ROM for 100% compatibility). They also developed a floppy disk interface (for 3" disks), and the Timex Operating System (TOS). Following the launch of the floppy disk system, TMX upgraded it to work with CP/M .
- The 1500 has a feature whereby you set the modulator's channel at startup. The default channel is 2, but if you hold down the 3 key while powering up, the modulator switches to Channel 3. So the changes are likely the code that watches for a "3" to be held down at startup.
- The TS2068's cartridge slot was too short to accommodate the Spectrum emulator cartridge (built to improve the incompatibility issues when running ZX Spectrum software). TMX Portugal's replacement model, the TC2068, remedied this with a taller cartridge slot.