Packing a heady 1KB of RAM, you would have needed more than 50,000 of them to run Word or iTunes, but the ZX81 changed everything.
It didn’t do colour, it didn’t do sound, it didn’t sync with your trendy Swap Shop style telephone, it didn’t even have an off switch. But it brought computers into the home, over a million of them, and created a generation of software developers.
Before, computers had been giant expensive machines used by corporations and scientists - today, they are tiny machines made by giant corporations, with the power to make the miraculous routine. But in the gap between the two stood the ZX81.
It wasn’t a lot of good at saving your work - you had to record finished programming onto cassette tape and hope there was no tape warp. It wasn’t even that good at keeping your work, at least if you had the 16K extension pack stuck precariously into the back.
One wobble and your day was wasted. But you didn’t have to build it yourself, it looked reassuringly domestic, as if it would be happy sitting next to your stereo, and it sold in WH Smiths, for £69.95.
… The name combined the two most futuristic letters in the alphabet with a number that rooted it in the present day - though that doesn’t seem to have been particularly deliberate. The designer Rick Dickinson says they named its predecessor, the previous year’s ZX80, after its processor, the Zilog Z80, with an added X for “the mystery ingredient”.