Rebirth Of The First Sinclair Computer
By James Grahame
Robin writes, "I attended the Vintage Computer Fair in Bletchley Park, England this weekend. Colin Phillips has rebuilt a Sinclair Mk14 with the prospect of them being for sale later in the year. I think this is great news well worth sharing!"
Introduced in 1978 at the stunning price of £39.95, the Science of Cambridge Mk14 kit was Sir Clive Sinclair's first foray into the world of personal computing. Built around a National Semiconductor SC/MP process, the little single board machine included 256 bytes of RAM, 512 bytes of ROM, a smattering of I/O ports and (initially) a hideous touch sensitive keyboard. Despite its limitations, over 50,000 MK14 boards were sold in five different revisions. Mercifully, a mechanical keyboard was added to later boards.
The Mk14 played a critical role in the early days of the British home computer industry. Its low price and simple architecture encouraged legions of UK computer enthusiasts to experiment with home-grown microprocessor technology, and the impressive sales figures (for the time) no doubt played a significant role in getting Sinclair to dive headlong into the home computer market in the early 1980s with the ZX80, ZX81 and Spectrum computers.
Unfortunately, finding a Mk14 in good working condition is a growing challenge. Having tossed his original years ago, Colin Phillips set out to recreate his first computer with modern technology. His first attemptwas built in 2005. It featured an original SC/MP processor with a custom-programmed ASIC to provide additional glue chip functionality. The laser engraved keypad looked incredible, too. The only issue was the cost -- far in excess of the original £39.95 kit price.
Fast-forward to 2010 and the development of the MK14 Version 3.0. The original National SC/MP processor has been replaced with an inexpensive and easy to obtain Microchip PIC microcontroller. It emulates the base-level original hardware, but with non-volatile RAM backup to EEPROM and a USB serial interface for code downloads or firmware upgrades. There's a good possibility that a kit will be available later this year.