Hardware Feature #6
Name Manufacturer Price
Sincliar Interface II Sinclair Research 19.95

Sinclair Interface II

The following articles were taken from Sinclair User - December 1983

INT2.jpg (106782 bytes)

NEWS
Hard on the heels of the Microdrive, Sinclair Research launched its interface 2 at the end of September. Billed as a peripheral for beginners and experts, it costs 19.95 and allows Spectrum owners to load cartridge software and use any joystick with a nine way D plug. At 14.95, the cartridges are not cheap but Sinclair Research claims they are fast and easy to load. Because the whole program is stored on the cartridge, leaving the computer RAM unused, any program will run on a 16k machine even if it was written originally for 48k.
The cartridges already available include games like Space Raiders, Cookie, Hungry Horace and Jetpac, as well as Chess and Backgammon. True to form, Sinclair Research is offering the Interface 2 for sale by mail order only in the early stages. "The response has been good so far," says a company spokesman, "but it is too early
to say how sales will develop. We cannot predict when Interface 2 will be available in the shops."

REVIEW
Sinclair has just announced the Interface 2, which has followed the Interface 1 within a few weeks.Interface 2 provides two joystick sockets, which take standard Atari joysticks and a ROM cartridge slot. The joystick ports are non-standard, as the only software to work with them is from Sinclair or Psion.
They operate the number keys only and each joystick operates the first or last set of numbers. Despite the advertisements there is no software built into Interface 2 - only a ULA to act as a port for the joysticks. The ROM cartridge socket is also a disappointment, as it provides no special switching to page ROM's in and out. The cartridge has all 16 address lines and eight data lines on it but, because of the way Sinclair designed the Spectrum, none of the internal memory can be switched off, so the only programs which can be provided can be 16k long versions which will replace the Basic ROM.
They are available by turning-off the power, plugging in the cartridge and turning on the power. The games then auto-start. An interesting point is that Sinclair has saved money by having the bare silicon chip wired direct to the PCB instead of mounting inside the normal IC casing. A printer connection is provided at the back of the unit to run the Sinclair printer only. That is because none of the other connections is connected. It would seem that Sinclair has produced its last peripheral for the Spectrum.
At 19.9 for Interface 2 and 14.95 for each ROM cartridge, they may not be in great demand unnless the price is reduced dramatically. The joysticksare also out of step with software manufacturers who program games to work with the Kempston-type joystick interfaces. Sinclair Research is the only company selling Interface 2.

The following review was taken from Personel Computer News October 1983

Plug in and go . . .
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Instantaneous loadings now a reality for Spectrum owners, with the release of Interface 2, which provides a joystick interface and ROM cartridge port for the machine.
Its arrival comes as something of a surprise - it was launched quietly in late September, bang on schedule, and users waiting for the Microdrives, courtesy of Interface 1 are currently being invited to buy Interface 2 before they've even had so much as a sniff of Interface 1.
Stocks of the new interface are apparently large enough for it to be readily available, although Microdrives are still in very short supply.

Interface 2 plugs neatly into the back of the Spectrum - or, for the lucky few, into the back of Interface 1 - and provides two major advantages for the machine. First, ROM cartridges can be used, so all you need do is power up for your program to be ready and loaded, and second, it will accept two standard Atari-type D-plug joysticks.
Sinclair Research emphasises that these can be any type of joystick with a 9-way D-plug, and that, as the necessary software is built into Interface 2, the joysticks will work with cassette-loaded programs as well as ROM cartridges. Ten of the most popular Spectrum games are already available on cartridge.

Interface 2 is currently being sold by mail order for 19.95, and the ROM cartridges are selling for 14.95 - cheap for what they are, but still something of a blow for those used to cheap games tapes.
The Spectrum was initially conceived by Sinclair as a low-cost hobbyists micro - it did the job it set out to do well, at a very competitive price. But it was still something of a bare bones machine - many of the facilities needed to communicate adequately with the outside world were left out of the design. Users were therefore left with just the cassette interface, and with a cheap, but poor quality, printer.

Bit by bit, companies like Kempston filled the gap - it became possible to use joysticks and decent printers, although there were still compatibility problems. Not all games would operate with a given joystick. and vice versa. Therefore, although some excellent games have been produced for the Spectrum, it hasn't always been possible to play them the way they should be played. And if you were reduced to playing through the keyboard alone, you'd have even more problems because of the poor response from the cut-price keys.

Construction
With Interface 2, these problems are starting to fade. The device itself is finished in the standard Sinclair Model T black, is slightly wider than the Spectrum's edge connector, and slots tidily into said connector. The ROM cartridge itself slots into a slightly oval socket, which is protected by a sort of hatch affair, and the joystick ports are situated to the left of this.
It is a prime example of the growing petite-ness of Sinclair Research products.
But in operation, it's more than just a pretty case. Setting aside for the moment the ROM cartridge facility, which will allow you to load programs which would otherwise be simply too big for the Spectrum, the joystick interface alone promises to give the market a thorough shaking up, for a number of reasons.
First, there is the advantage of standardisation. The Kempston set-up had already gone some way to achieving this, like Interface 2, the Kempston interface plugs into the edge connector, and uses standard D-plug joysticks. and the com-pany has been having some considerable success in persuading software producers to include joystick code routines in their games programs.
But this has in no way been a universal solution to the problem. Many of the Spectrum owners most willing to spend money on a joystick interface must already be confirmed games addicts, and so will have at least a handful of games which were, until now, incompatible with joysticks of any description.
You could use the Pickard Joystick Controller, which is wired up in such a way that it fools the computer into thinking that you are sending it the key codes it expects, but it is a fiddly operation to fit, and is not particularly warranty-friendly.
Interface 2 gets round this rather stylishly, and simply because it comes from the machine's manufacturer, it is assured of the position of the industry standard.

Sinclair hasn't made the support bracket, featured on the Interface I part of the package. This bracket screws on to both the Spectrum case and interface 1 to form a solid connection with the Spectrum board and reduces the dreaded RAM-wobble problem prevalent on the ZX81.
The connection has a tendency to wear down leading to frequent crashes and the omission here is particularly unfortunate considering the unavoidable amount of stress and strain likely to be placed on the Interface 2 as cartridges and joysticks are plugged in and out.

Visually, the nicest thing about the product is the cartridge itself. True to form, Sinclair has done a marvellous miniaturisation job, producing cartridges about 1.5 x 2 x 0.3 inches.
At 14.95 Sinclair is producing some of the cheapest games cartridges on the market although they now look decidedly overpriced following Commodore's recent decision to cut its games cartridges for the Vic 20 to around the 10 mark. There was some talk from Sinclair before the launch to the effect that 16 would be the price for its cartridges although it may be that the price will come down after a few months.
Another nifty feature is the red rubber skirt which envelops and protects the cartridge connector when it is not plugged into the games port. When the cartridge is plugged in, the skirt is pulled up out of the way.
There's a hinged lid over the games port and a pair of plastic plugs to protect the joystick sockets. These are easily remov-able - and also easy to lose, although Sinclair says they can be dispensed with anyway.

In use
As with all cartridge systems the power must be off when the cartridge is inserted or removed from the port. On the Atari this restriction is made idiot-proof by the access
lid to the cartridge cavity switching off the power to the computer when it is opened.
Unfortunately no such safeguards are featured with Interface 2, though the law of probability says you will commit this crime at least once during the lifetime of the system.

The accompanying literature is sketchy but adequate, telling you how to program the joysticks for you own games in Basic or machine Code.
The codes follow the top row of the keyboard: ten keys equal up, down, left, right and fire for each of two joysticks and these can be read from Basic using the IN function.

All the cartridges can be used with either a 16K or 48K Spectrum because your not using much of the RAM memory in any case. You can use the interface and joysticks with cassette games as well and, according to Sinclair the games produced over the past year already have the routines for joystick control included.
Sinclair wont commit itself to when the interface and cartridges will make an appearance in the shops alongside the cassette tapes. It will depend on demaid which so far has been encouraging.

Verdict
The Interface 2 is a neat little product. Its priced about right and Sinclair obviously hopes to make a big killing in the run-up to Christmas. It would be a much better product if the cartridges were priced at 10 instead of 15.

According to Sinclair the number of games cartridges will increase quickly. It's likely that the introduction of the Interface split the Spectrum market up into two distinct segments - serious applications for Interface 1 and Microdrive owners and games for the Interface 2 users. In the mean time its likely that cassette games will serve as a test market for the cartridges - the best selling games will obviously be 'moved across' first.
At the moment there are ten games available on cartridge. These are Space Raiders, Planetoids, Hungry Horace, Horace and the Spiders, Chess, Backgam-mon. Psst, Jet Pac, Cookie and Tranz Am.
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