Q60: The Super QL

The Sinclair QL is mostly remembered as a flop. Sinclair had become linked to the ZX Spectrum -- which was seen mostly as a games machine -- and Sir Clive's later oddities like the C5. This turned off the business market that the QL was aimed at; using Microdrives instead of floppies didn't help.

However, there was much about the QL that was loved -- its 32 bit multitasking OS for a start -- and, believe it or not, there's still a large QL community out there. The machines themselves are no longer available, however and whilst they were very powerful for their day, they just can't cut it with the PCs you can get so cheaply nowadays.

In step the Q40 and the later Q60: the Super-QLs. A couple of QL geeks with far too much time on their hands decided that the QL needed to updated for the new millennium. These machines are the result; they are the natural progression of QL architecture shoved into a PC box with all the hard disks, ethernet ports and better graphics you could need.

Let's have a look at the stats:

  • 68LC060 CPU, 80 MHz, MMU
  • 68060 superscalar architecture, dual execution units
  • Up to 160 BogoMIPS performance for QDOS+SMSQ/E
  • 4 to 128 MB RAM, PS/2 module sockets
  • 256 to 1024 kB ROM
  • Highspeed 32 bit graphics, with original QL modes
  • 65536 colours at 1024 x 512 pixel resolution
  • Multisync monitor output
  • PC Keyboard interface (DIN)
  • 20 kHz Stereo sound
  • Battery buffered clock, 2 KB nonvolatile RAM
  • Controller for 2 IDE harddisks or CD-ROM
  • 2 Serial ports with 115200 Baud, Parallel port, Joystick port (on IO card supplied with mainboard)
  • Hardware extension slot supports ISA cards
  • Fits directly into Minitower or other standard case
  • Mainboard size 8.2 x 6.3 inch

OK, so it's not exactly cutting edge, but it's usable for many tasks today; you just won't be playing flashy games on it

But what about software support?

A very good question, and one with a possibly surprising answer. The best thing about the Q60 is the choice of operating system:

QDOS Classic
The original QDOS that ran on the Sinclair QL. Well, almost. It's a rewrite with hard-disk and sound support. It's a 32-bit mulitasking OS, remember, and it comes with source code. Microdrive support has long since been removed, I'm afraid.
The QDOS-compatible, but faster and more modern operating system. This OS will still run the majority of original QL programs and also has a much improved BASIC. SMSQ/E includes support for features added since the QL days, such as high-colour graphics drives and sampled sound.
68k Linux
That's right. You've already got Linux on your PC, your palmtop and your dead badger. Why not on your QL clone? Q60 linux has a 2.4 kernel and includes X-Window, web-browser, mp3 player and all the other stuff that you need for your techology-enhanced multimedia life.

From where may I aquire one of these odd peices of equipment?

They're made -- as many of these things seem to be -- in Germany. Pop over to http://www.q40.de/ and you can purchase one. They will set you back a healthy £545 for the basic model and an extra £140 for the 66Mhz one. Expect to pay more to get your OS on ROM and for extra bits of RAM. You may think that this sounds a bit extravagant for something that is mainly of nostalgia value and you'd be right. Just don't tell the QL enthusiasts that; they still think it's the great thing since sliced ZX80s. Just remember: the QL is the computer that Linus Torvalds started off on...

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