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Tales from four decades in the Sinclair aftermarket: Parts, upgrades and party tricks

RWAP Software owner Rich Mellor talks ZX81 sound cards and linking USB printers to parallel ports

Retro Tech Week RWAP Software has been offering parts and upgrades for Sinclair Research computers since the mid-1980s. Owner Rich Mellor talked to El Reg about what got him into the business, what's kept him interested, as well as his new product – which is a very different beast.

While Commodore and Atari dominated the US market, in Europe, no other range of home computers still holds so much affection for so many people as Sinclair Research. The original company sold untold millions of units of the ZX80, ZX81, the classic ZX Spectrum and the Sinclair QL. Then founder Sir Clive Sinclair pulled off an impressive second act with the Cambridge Computers Z88, one of the earliest consumer laptops.

If you are lucky enough to find one in the attic, or for a bargain price at a car-boot sale, there's a good chance the famously awful rubber-membrane keyboard will have failed – but over three decades later, RWAP can supply you with a replacement.

Mellor told us how he came to start the business when he was still at university. Although millions came to Sinclair via the ZX Spectrum, the first affordable British home computer with sound and colour graphics, Mellor started with the ZX81, for which he still offers storage, sound and memory expansions. He skipped the more famous Spectrum and went straight to the Sinclair QL. Launched two weeks before Apple launched the original Macintosh, the QL is often seen as a flop, but it inspired a lot of loyalty. He tells us what he liked about the 16-bit Sinclair, especially its remarkably powerful and capable BASIC interpreter, SuperBASIC. The QL inspired multiple compatible clones and successors, some of which are still made – and RWAP sells them.

Today, though, one of his best sellers is a wholly new product, the Retro-Printer: a Raspberry Pi-based device with custom hardware. It connects to almost anything with a Centronics parallel port, and can emulate a printer and capture its output, or translate it and print it on a modern USB device. ®

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