Spectrum Emulators: The Easy Way To Build Your Own ZX Spectrum Machine

For all its faults, the UK clearly still loves the rickety old ZX Spectrum.

An official remake of the old school computer, complete with hundreds of built-in games, recently raised more than £120,000 in a few days on IndieGoGo. And the outpouring of support we saw in our comments, on Facebook and via email proves that more than a few of you out there want to get back to the days of cassette-tapes and almost inexplicable gaming.

Unfortunately, the initial run of 1,000 Spectrum Vegas is now sold out.

Fortunately, you don't actually need one to play Spectrum games. In fact the emulation community and its limitless commitment to keeping the spark of the old alive means that you can be up and ready playing Speccie games in minutes.

Here's how to do it - whether you want to just play a quick game of Jet Set Willy, or build an entire, dedicated HD Spectrum box.

A Word On Games

Emulation of old gaming systems is legally tricky, and actually downloading specific games is even more of a grey (or even red) area, depending on the game. One of the best aspects of the Spectrum Vega project is the fact it will come with hundreds of legal games, and you won't have to worry about this side of things.

It is easy with a simple Google search to find lots of downloadable Spectrum games, and obviously most are unavailable to buy - which perhaps clears the way for your conscience if nothing else. But we can't link directly to them, because lawyers.

Browser Emulation

If you really just want to play a couple of Spectrum games (and remind yourself why you don't play them very much any more) you can do it right here, thanks to JSSpeccy and its creator Matt Westcott, a Java-based browser emulator complete with several titles for the 48k and 128k Spectrum.

It's a pretty accurate recreation, and you can even use the BASIC programmer and the Calculator, though figuring out the controls can be a little tricky.

You can also play games and programs through the Java emulator on World Of Spectrum.

Download An Emulator

There are lots of downloadable emulators for the Spectrum, and they come with lots of benefits compared to browser versions. For one thing you can customise the controls, and play the games in full screen. You can also download and play whatever games you like, use a gamepad and essentially pretend that it's 1984 again.

The only issue is that there are lots of emulators, and not all of them are maintained for modern computers. There's also an issue with viruses creeping in to emulator downloads depending on where you get them - so be careful.

Fuse is a good choice -- it works on almost everything, including machines like the Amiga and the Nintendo Wii. But there are lots of others - here's a list compiled by World Of Spectrum which ranks them in order of popularity for almost every system on Earth.

Usually you'll just have to download the file, unzip or extract it and run the program inside. On the iPhone or iPad you'll have to buy it through the App Store of course…

Build A Machine

If you want to build a Spectrum machine to run on your TV or monitor like the upcoming Spectrum Vega, you can do that too - and for not much money. The Raspberry Pi, for instance, can easily run a full Speccie machine and you can even build a dedicated Spectrum box for it, if you have the time.

There's a good post about how to run Fuze on a Raspberry Pi over at the Raspberry Pi foundation website.

But you can also go further and build a complete, mobile Spectrum machine with this handy guide.

Just Buy A Spectrum

If you want the fully authentic feel, you can also still buy a Spectrum -- and they aren't expensive. A working 48K Spectrum can be found on eBay for £20 in the box - though you'll pay more for a package with games and a converter cable for hooking it up to a modern TV.

Whether it works when you finally get it home is another matter... Talking to a specialist retailer like RetroGameBase in London, or your local equivalent, might be a better bet.