Sunday, April 01, 2018

Easy add-on Projects for Spectrum ZX81 & ACE (Redux): Part 1


Re-Design the ZX81 Decoder Board

In the previous blog entry I left off before starting design work on the Decoder Board. The board is an essential build before attempting any of the 'Easy add-on Projects for Spectrum ZX81 & ACE'. In reality it's the first project of the book, even if it's not fully described until Appendix A.

First up I needed to transfer the circuit diagram provided in the book into Fritzing and build up a new circuit board compatible with the ZX81. I really could have made life easier for myself simply by printing the circuit board designs included within the book. My plan however is to use surface mounted ICs' instead of through hole components, both modernising the design and shrinking the boards footprint.

Decoder Circuit as presented in Easy add-on Project for Spectrum ZX81 & ACE

My intention was also to follow the original Decoder Boards layout reasonably closely. Ensuring any projects described by the book would still be referential to the end product. My main concession was to design around the shorter ZX81 edge connector only. This does not prevent a ZX Spectrum from using the device as a Spectrums' BUS is compatible with all signals used by the board.

To make life somewhat easier I combined the top and bottom layers of the circuit board layout presented in 'Easy add-on Projects' pages 166-167 into one image. Using the composite picture as a guide I began the layout my board. I'm quite glad I took this route as I noticed a couple of minor errors I'd made in transcribing the circuit diagram. More interestingly however the described circuit didn't seem to match with the board layouts provided by the book.

Composite Image of top and bottom board layouts as taken from the book.

A couple of traces from IC2 to IC4 appeared to be different between the books board layouts and circuit diagram. This was more than a little confusing. I checked the Jupiter Ace board layout (also in the book) against the ZX81 / Spectrum boards, and the designs seemed consistent. I decided to go about about updating my circuit diagram, bring it in line with the book layouts.

After quite a bit of triple checking I now have a circuit board design ready to send off for fabrication. My new (mostly) SMD board is approximately half the size of the original design, good for keeping fabrication costs down. I've also added a few extra clarifications and helpful labelling to the silkscreen layers.

Now to order some parts, check the design again before sending it off and hope for the best.

Final design for the new Decoder Board

See more entries for this project: ForwardPart 1Part 2Part 3

If You Enjoyed This Share It And Buy Me A Coffee

  • Follow Me on Masterdon
  • Buy Me A Coffee


  1. This is fascinating - did you make your PCB design available (and list of component swaps?). I'd very much like to try this, and get my Spectrum interfacing with the outside world!

    1. Don't think I published it at the time, but here's a link to download the Fritzing File and BOM:

    2. I know I'm late to the party here but I don't seem to be able to download the BOM from the link you provided. You've done some great work here. Do you still accept coffees? ;)

    3. The link should work, it's a http not https link, so the browser might be stopping it from directly downloading. "" And yes all coffee most welcomed :-)