Emulation v The Real Thing

It’s the fourth day of my journey back into the mists of time as I look back at the ZX Spectrum and what made the system great. For the first few posts I’ve looked at a selection of games that I used to enjoy playing and also some newer titles. When I have the chance I still like to play these games although these days I tend to use an Emulator.

Many people are purists and do frown upon the use of an emulator. While there is nothing like playing on the original hardware there is also the convenience of playing using modern technology. For me this doesn’t detract from the gaming experience, it probably should, but it doesn’t perhaps it’s because I am getting older.

Because this is quite a contentious issue I decided that the best people to ask about this subject were my fellow Specchums on the World of Spectrum forums.


I still have my original 48k stored away along with plenty of games but nowadays (as in the last nearly two decades) I use emulators.

I don’t have the heart to modify it to be able to use it over here in the States. If I were to come across a modified Speccy (almost any model) I would definitely get one but that’s for a later day. I’m ok with emulators for now.

I wouldn’t want to mess around modding my machine either even if I needed to in order to use it abroad. It must be a killer having a machine that was designed to run on a PAL television but your in a country that uses an NTSC signal.


you can’t set a debugger breakpoint on a real speccy, but you can’t solder a prototype interface to an emulator, so both are equally useful to me.

Well you can’t argue with that!

Alessandro Grussu

As far as I am concerned, nothing can beat the real thing. Digging the Spectrum out from its box, setting it up, laying your hands on the keyboard, waiting for programs to load… it’s part of the experience we used to have and no emulation can replicate it 100%.

I prefer emulation for day-to-day, regular programming and gaming; real hardware for special occasions, playing demos (it’s amazing to watch the most spectacular of them actually running on our little beasts!) and tests which can’t be performed on emulation.

Alessandro, the forum guru and one whose not afraid to speak his mind puts it brilliantly. The touch and feel of a real Spectrum, especially an original 16k/48k model just can’t be beat. It’s a great feeling running your fingers overs the keys and around the small, sleek form of the original hardware.


I much prefer real thing, the feeling is definetely not the same as with emulators.
On the other hands, we all have a real life, kids, etc…and not always can use the real machine, so emulation is necessary too.

But, as for the experience, real Spectrum is the deal

Real life, it does like to creep in doesn’t it? I too have kids etc and my other half wouldn’t be impressed if I took up our television to boot up the Spectrum and play some classic games. Besides could I trust my (almost) 4 year old son to be anywhere near a classic piece of gaming history?


I am using mostly emulators, but I love the real thing.

The real thing is used on meetings, but my ZX-PC interface for speedloading isn’t working anymore (probably the EPROM) and my programmer is broken too. So I am mostly stuck to emulation now!

Yeah, I like that. Get out the real thing when your having a gaming get together otherwise stick to emulation.


Real hardware for me if I happen to own the original game on tape. We all know that loading time = making a cup of tea time!

Otherwise I’m happy to use emulation as I haven’t got a massive tape collection. Over the past few years I’ve played a load of games that I never would have got round to seeing if I didn’t have an emulator.

I’m trying to write my first speccy game in Z80 at the moment – there’s no way in a million years I would have attempted it without the PC applications at our disposal nowadays. But… I’ve got some blank tapes on order; once I manage to create one and get it working on a real machine I know I’ll be over the moon!

Loading time did indeed = make a brew time, well, as a kid it was go and get a juice and a snack time! One of the great things about emulation is the ability to play the games you never owned or had the chance to play and, like Morkin, I’ve played lots of games I never owned or had the chance to play although I’d still not try and program anything myself!

Mark R Jones

I used emulators for years since I got on the net in 1998. While it’s satisfied my hunger for nostalgia and old Spectrum games since then 6 months ago I set up a real Spectrum back under the TV in my games room. I have lots of real tapes and find it’s slightly a different experience pulling a game off the shelf and loading it for real. Plus, if a tape doesn’t work then I make a note to re-record on to the cassette using a TZX and making it a working copy again. Unless it’s a 128 game you RARELY have to wait longer than 5 minutes to load (does my head seeing interviews with people who supposedly used Spectrums back in the day and they are moaning about having to wait 15 minutes for 48k game to load. Complete ball cocks!) I don’t mind doing something else while the game loads (Usually i come on here!)

So I now use a real Spectrum almost as much as I use an emulator now. Jolly!

I’d love a games room where I could escape too! Jammy bugger!!
I was asked myself quite recently how long games used to take to load from tape, my answer, for a 48k game was around 5 mins although I do seem to recall a 128k such as Carrier Command taking 12 minutes. Having not loaded a physical game for a long time I couldn’t say exactly.


I’m one of the few here clearly that will go for emulation. I have a real speccy kicking about, but I really can’t be arsed with all those cables, plugging it all into a real TV, then a tape deck, waiting until the next ice age for a game to load.. etc etc etc.

Fortunately the speccy is blessed with some superb emulators, that take away all the hassle. Love it !

I’m not going to comment on this one, I will let ZnorXman do that for me as he picked up on a particular point quite nicely…

Read: The next ice age is due in 5 minutes

Ok, I will comment. Part of the fun for many is unpacking and setting up the Spectrum as this is what we all used to do as kids anyway. My 48k was always packed away once I’d finished playing. Is it a hassle to do that now? Possibly, and in the case of sard it is. But I do think it comes to own personal preference.



It seems that most of you live in a multi-story house or a house that has enough rooms for you to have your Spectrum setup most of the time, or at least easily accessible. I live in a small apartment and that forces me to reduce real hardware usage to a minimum. Some WOSsers even have a game room or guys-only room. I’m decades away from such a thing.

My point is that sometimes that choice betweeen emulation and real hardware is not due to a preference. It’s due to circumstances that you can’t control.

I would love to have most of my Speccies and hardware always ready to use, but since I can’t, emulation is my only choice. The goodies are, most of the time, waiting in storage for better days.

Another motive that forces people to stick to emulation is a mean partner. Not my case. My wife supports my hobby and has told me several times I should never sell my Sinclair collection, no matter how bad things may get.

A couple of very interesting points. Space is most definitely something I lack and I’m not able to have a Spectrum setup at all times and I probably wouldn’t want too even if I could – small child remember. So emulation is something I would choose for a similar reason. A mean partner, interesting! I wouldn’t say mine was mean as she happily lets me use the laptop to blog and play games but I suppose she would draw the line at actually having a Speccy setup all the time, again, a bad idea though with a small child around!


Some interesting responses by my fellow Specchums.

The general consensus seems to be that you just can’t beat using the real machine – which isn’t surprising – and that emulation is a good thing as it allows us to experience games we’d never have been able to in the past. Even though many of us still own original hardware and original tapes they do degrade with each use and eventually those tapes will be unusable.

While Mark R Jones has a good solution, to use a TZX image and re-record it onto the tape, not everyone has access to the interfaces to connect a Spectrum or a tape deck to a PC. So for many people Emulation is the best way to experience or even recapture something from their youth.

Alessandro, having read my preview post actually picked up on the above point and notes that it shouldn’t actually be to hard to connect a PC to a Spectrum using the following;

it’s not hard to feed TAP and/or TZX files to your Spectrum! The only device you’ll need in (almost) any case is a simple PC desktop amplifier with a 3.5 headphones socket, and a tape adapter in case you’ve got a +2 (for a +2A/B it’s even easier since, at least according to what I’ve found, you don’t even need to push the Play key!). Both this and the adapter are easy to find and cheap, and relieve you from the task of using our precious original tapes by playing the TAP/TZX files with Tapir, a free program. Just connect your PC to the amplifier and this to the Spectrum with either the original tape cables or the adapter, enable loading mode on your Spectrum, play the files, and voila! Tested and tried

While games and hardware can be picked up for reasonable prices and sites such as Ebay for the majority of people, especially those people new to the ZX Spectrum emulation offers the best way into the scene and a good place to discover the delights that many of us had when were children.

Stay tuned to see what Spectrum delights arrive tomorrow!

About Phendrena

Father, Retro Gamer, PC Gamer.

One response »

  1. […] anniversary of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum with a 7-part blog post tribute- Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.  A must read for fans of this great computer, trust […]

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