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The Sinclair QL

Chr$

Experienced Member
Joined
Aug 13, 2021
Messages
143
Location
Saxony, Germany
Hello from Saxony, Germany. I'm Chris, a new member here.

The Sinclair QL doesn't have it's own section! Which is no surprise as the Motorola 680008 based system was a total flop when sold new 1984 to 1986. Most were sold on its home turf, the UK, and some in Germany and other European countries (about 150,000 computers in total). It was also sold in the USA, but in very low numbers.

In was intended to be a cheap business PC, and it certainly was a lot cheaper than the competition at the time, but it wasn't all that well equipped (no floppy drives, instead it had twin Sinclair microdrive 'stringy' 100k tape drives), only 128k RAM and initially it was very buggy and for early customers also very late. It came bundled with some business software including a word processor and a spread sheet program, which weren't bad for the time (except the early versions were also buggy).

I like the QL though, and have a medium size collection of software and related hardware. I love recovering data from microdrive cartridges, there is a lot of stuff that is MIA and you never know what you might find!

What I also like about the QL, is that even after it was dropped by it's manufacturers, other small companies continued to develop the hardware and made a huge number of improvements, e.g. beefed up RAM (up to 4mb in the early 90s), faster processors, floppy interfaces, a new OS to replace the QL OS that was known as QDOS, hard drive systems and there were even new computers that were based on the QL architecture right up to the early 2000s (in fact there still is - the Q68, but there is a waiting list). There was also an ISA QL card (the QXL/QXLII) that was sold in the mid 90s that you could fit into a PC and it would use the PC I/O but had its own CPU and RAM. For a time QL based systems could keep up with contemporary IBM compatibles despite the fact that less software was developed for them. There was a hardcore QL userbase for many years, some of which are still active. There is even new hardware being made for the QL. So, although most people gave up on the QL very early on, because it was rubbish out of the box - there have been so many interesting developments over the years.

Anyone else here has any involvement or memories of QL systems?
 

Towmater

Experienced Member
Joined
May 14, 2017
Messages
208
I wish I could find a way to burn and install a Minerva rom without buying adapters and multi-rom switchers. That's too expensive for a machine of marginal utility.
 

Chr$

Experienced Member
Joined
Aug 13, 2021
Messages
143
Location
Saxony, Germany
I wish I could find a way to burn and install a Minerva rom without buying adapters and multi-rom switchers. That's too expensive for a machine of marginal utility.

Some of the earlier issue 5 UK made motherboards had a socket for the required extra logic chip and jumpers to enable eprom use.

Assuming you don't have that type, all you really need is a 27C512 eprom with Minerva burnt onto it (and Toolkit II in the last 16k, as that's in some ways even more useful) and a 74HCT00 logic chip. If you don't mind bending a couple of eprom pins upwards so they no longer make board contact and have no aversion to a spidery style wired attachment of a few wires to the 74HCT00, then that'll work fine. I did that once as a quick fix with the logic chip soldered upside-down on the tops of some of the eprom pins to the right. You can't place the logic chip directly on top of the eprom though, as there is no clearance room when you put the QL back together. Half hour work if you're handy with a soldering iron.

And to those reading this that wonder: Minerva was a replacement OS for the original QL by a little company called QView (it is still actively developed) that had a couple of extra bells and whistles including a graphical representation of any failed ram chips on boot - very handy for diagnostics with suspected ram issues. And as the QL OS was in rom, the only way of upgrading to Minerva is to physically change the rom(s) on the motherboard... which is complicated by the fact that the mask rom chips were not directly eprom compatible.
 

Chr$

Experienced Member
Joined
Aug 13, 2021
Messages
143
Location
Saxony, Germany
This is one such QL evolution (I'll share a few in this topic if no one minds). It's a QXLII card made by Miracle Systems. It can be fitted into any PC 16 bit ISA slot and when initiated will use the host PC's RTC, floppy drive(s), serial/parallel ports, graphics card and hard drive. It has it's own 8mb RAM and Motorola 68k 40mhz CPU. When setup it uses a single container file on the PC HDD (the user can specify its size) which does not interfere with any other files on the host machine. Originally it came with an OS called SMSQ but will also run the extended (and currently still developed) SMSQ/E. It can run most original QL software, but it can be a bit fiddly as the older stuff is often hard-coded for microdrives and the choice of screen resolutions and colour depth is different compared to the original QL. Both MS-DOS and QDOS floppy disks can be accessed. The 2 sockets on the card itself are network sockets, which can be used to share files with other QL compatible machines over a 'QNET'.

An interesting device and certainly much faster and more capable than an original QL. I don't think that many were sold, they are certainly hard to come by.

filedata/fetch?filedataid=62910
 

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Towmater

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May 14, 2017
Messages
208
My machine's an NTSC model, so I doubt it has the sockets if they were only in early revs. I do have those IC's, so perhaps I'll give it a go, if I can find illustrated mood info somewhere.
 

Chr$

Experienced Member
Joined
Aug 13, 2021
Messages
143
Location
Saxony, Germany
My machine's an NTSC model, so I doubt it has the sockets if they were only in early revs. I do have those IC's, so perhaps I'll give it a go, if I can find illustrated mood info somewhere.

No it won't have the socket for the extra eprom logic chip. All the US (and German) models were quite late and actually made by Samsung.

I did try to find the pics of my bodge but can't. Let me send you an adapter board FOC. They cost pennies and are obviously flat, easy to post. Some eproms are a little high, it's really tight. I find the Winbond 27C512 EEPROMS seem to be low enough and fit well. The header pins to go into the QL socket also need to be the thinnest type or you may end up splaying the socket, which could cause connection probs if/when you put the original back in.

And the attached is the latest Minerva version with Toolkit 2 on the last 16k, which can be enabled/disabled with a jumper on the board.
 

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Towmater

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208
Cool!... I don't know what FOC means, but cool! (I assume/hope that is English for shipping cost.)
 

Chr$

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Joined
Aug 13, 2021
Messages
143
Location
Saxony, Germany
This is a Q40 computer board. It was introduced in 1997 and was sold (low numbers) until about 2002. The 2x 16bit ISA slots give an idea of scale and note that it is powered by an HDD type molex connector. It fits into a standard PC AT case and includes a k/b connector and a video connector for a VGA CRT (32 bit colour). There are 2x 72 pin SIMM sockets for up to 32mb RAM. The 2 sockets at the rear of the pic are for EPROMS containing the OS and it will run SMSQ/E, a version of Linux or an adapted version of the original QL's QDOS. The ISA slots are used for an FDD/HDD controller and for a serial port controller. The CPU under the heatsink is a Motorola MC68040.

A more powerful Q60 was also available based on the same m/b.

filedata/fetch?filedataid=63376
 

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Chr$

Experienced Member
Joined
Aug 13, 2021
Messages
143
Location
Saxony, Germany
Sir Clive Sinclair, the man behind the QL and a few other highly influential British 1980s computers, died today, aged 81.

Such an interesting character, I hoped he'd go on a lot longer :(.
 
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