The Timex-Sinclair 2068. (evaluation) Owen W. Linzmayer.
The Timex-Sinclair 2068
Having stunned the computer world with the inexpensive, tiny, black and white computer that bears his surname, inventor Clive Sinclair set out to build an even more remarkable machine. The result of his efforts first appeared in the United Kingdom as the ZX Spectrum. With several revisions and refinements, the ZX Spectrum has finally made its debut in North America under the alias of Timex Sinclair 2068.
The TS2068 is a second generation home computer from Imex Computer Corporation, the folks who brought you the TS1000, the first computer to retail for less than $100. The advertisements for the TS2068 promise 72K, along with color and sound capabillities. For $199.95, the computer deivers all of this and more.
The Timex Sinclair 2068 is an 8-bit personal color computer based on a Z80A microprocessor running at 3.5 MHz. There are 48K of Random Access Memory (RAM) and 24K of Read Only Memory (ROM) that combine to provide on-board memory capacity of 72K.
Physically, the TS2068 is an attractive little computer. The sloping top of the TS2068 is dominated by a large 42-key full-travel Chiclet style keyboard that is a step beyond the membrane keyboard of the TS1000 but short of the standard typewriter style. Set up in the traditional QWERTY configuration, the TS2068 keyboard features "soft touch' keyword entry, which allows each key to perform up to six functions with a minimum of keystrokes. Weighing in at 3 lbs., 5 oz., this machine sports a sleek 14.75 1.75 silver and grey body that sits comfortably in most laps. Located under a highed door on the righthand side of the keyboard is a slot that accepts ROM cartridges. Timex has used some of its watch-making technology to produce incredibly thin ROM cartridge programs. By doing away with the plastic and ceramic packages of their integrated circuits and mounting the silicon chips directly onto the cartridge board, Timex was able to avoid big, bulky cartridges.
The TS2068 requires 15v direct current and comes with its own transformer for this purpose. The on/off switch is located on the lefthand side of the computer, but like so many computers before it, the TS2068 lacks a power indicator. I can't figure out why computer manufacturers refuse to spend the extra $.25 to install a small LED power indicator. Such a light is bound to save time and money on repairs in the long run.
At present, the only storage device available for the TS2068 is a conventional cassette recorder. This hooks up to the back of the computer via a short two-plug cable which is provided with the computer. Information is loaded from and saved to cassette tape at a rate of 1200 baud, the same speed available on the TRS-80 Color Computer.
Adjacent to the cassette interface are two RCA video output plugs. The TS2068 has a built-in VHF RF modulator which can be connected to any standard television set (color preferred). If you own a monitor and wish to use the TS2068 in the highest resolution mode, that is fine too, since there is a composite video port. The channel (2/3) select switch is on the underside of the computer.
A maximum of two peripherals may be connected directly to the expansion port on the back of the TS2068. A partial list of peripherals for use with this computer includes the TS2400 printer, an as yet unreleased telecommunications modem, and a mass-storage device called the ZX Microdrive (see sidebar).
The TS2068 is well equipped for playing games. Located on both sides of the computer are two industry standard 9-pin joystick ports. The TS2068 uses any Atari-compatible joystick controller. In fact, the joystick offered by Timex is simply the Zircon Z-stick with the Timex name.
Sound effects enhance the play of video games greatly. That is why Timex has built a powerful little speaker into the bottom of the computer. The TS2068 has a range of 10 octaves and 130 semitones directly programmable from Basic.
In contract to the designers of the Coleco Adam computer, the designers of Timex felt that Basic rather than a word processor deserved to be the program in residence.
The Basic interpreter within the TS2068 is very similar to that of the TS1000, but with many additions. Specific commands and functions have been added to handle the more complex graphics and sound routines (see Tables 1 and 2).
In contrast to many popular home computers, the origin (0,0) on the TS2068 display is in the lower, not upper, lefthand corner. While this may present problems when converting programs from other computer systems, it is actually easier to understand from those who grew up using Cartesian coordinate graphing.
The TS2068 has two distinct display modes, normal and enhanced. The latter doubles the number of character/pixels per line and should be used only with a display unit that can handle such fine resolution. In normal mode, the TS2068 supports 32 characters by 24 lines, and 256 pixels horizonatally by 192 vertically. Yes, text and graphics can be mixed on the same screen. In fact, two characters may even be displayed one atop the other.
When it comes to graphics, the TS2068 outperforms almost every other computer in its price range. A standard set of low-resolution graphics characters can be accessed directly from the keyboard in the "G' raphics mode. In addition to this, you can easily design your own graphics characters in Basic. In contrast to the TRS-80 Color Computer series, all eight colors can be used in both low- and high-resolution display modes.
I was a bit disturbed to discover, however, that there is no single command to draw a line between any two points. Due to the way the coordinates are set up on the TS2068 screen, and to the fact that the DRAW command is relative instead of absolute, drawing a straight line between points is more difficult than need be. One solution is to enter this multi-command line:
PLOT (X1, Y1):DRAW (X2-X1), (Y2-Y1)
If you substitute your own values for the X and Y coordinates, you will have no problem, although a LINE command would have been greatly appreciated.
The "trick' needed to work your way successfully around the keyboard and, subsequently, basic is to realize that the TS2068 operates in several different modes and that the character within the flashing cursor indicates the current mode. When you turn on the power or reset the machine it defaults to the "K' eyword mode. Pressing any key, with the exception of a number, returns the entire keyword that is printed in black on that key. Then the cursor switches to a flashing L, which stands for "L' etter. As you can probably guess, pressing a key now returns the corresponding letter. The other options are the "C' aps lock, "G' raphics, and "E'xtended mode. Using a combination of shifts, character keys, and modes, each key can produce six different functions (see Figure 1). I must admit that I found this multi-function key system a bit difficult to adjust to at first, but after a while it became natural.
In fact, this system is probably easier for the novice to learn, and it allows for quicker, more efficient programming in the long run.
"Software for the TS2068 will be plentiful,' boasts Daniel D. Ross, vice president of Timex Computer Corporation. In addition to running a bevy of cassette and cartridge-based programs offered by Timex, the TS2068 will be compatible with all of the software designed for the ZX Spectrum, says Timex. Timex has over 40 different titles available, ranging in price from $9.95 to $22.95 each, and hundreds of packages are available from outside vendors.
One particular piece of software that I did get to evaluate is the VU-3D cassette. While not promoted as such, VU-3D can be thought of as the poor man's Computer Aided Design (CAD) program. The package allows the user to draw quickly any geometric figure by using a simple set of commands and the cursor keys. Once the object is constructed, it can be viewed from almost any angle and distance, giving it a truly three-dimensional look.
The finishing touch comes when the user dictates from which direction the light source is shining upon the figure. The computer then shades the entire object. Completed screen displays may be saved to cassette for use in other programs. If the quality of the VU-3D cassette program is any indication of things to expect from Timex in the future, TS2068 users will never have to complain about lack of great software.
The TS2068 personal color computer comes with a single user manual.
This 290-page piece of documentation is spiral bound, which allows it to remain open while lying flat and leaves the reader use of both hands for typing. Unfortunately, this is about the only positive thing I can say about the manual.
For someone who is already familiary with computers and wishes only to acquaint himself with the TS2068, this manual will suffice. But for the novice, or advanced programmer, the manual leaves much to be desired. While the authors do not claim that the manual will teach the reader Basic, I expect a little more than just a cursory summation of the commands and functions.
For $199.95 retail, the Timex Sinclair 2068 personal color computer represents one of the best buys on the computer market today. Aimed at the home user, the TS2068 is certainly capable of living up to almost any entertainment, educational, or computer tutorial expectations the prospective purchaser may have. For those satisfied with, yet looking to graduate from their ZX-81's and TS1000's, I can think of no better computer.
As an owner of a TS2068, I think it is comforting to know that Timex is committed to designing high-quality peripherals and software priced for the family budget--almost every additional piece of equipment will sell for less than $100 retail. Uncle Clive had done it once again--this time with feeling.
Photo: The TS2068 wired for games.
Photo: Figure 1.
Products: Timex-Sinclair 2068 (computer)