CIP by Electronica and Speccy Games  

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The reason why I always felt “at home” with computers is my first homecomputer, a “CIP”. Which was my first, back in the late 80s Versiunea romaneasca pe FataCarte.

photo of on old CIP microcalculator made by ElectronicaI got my first “computer” eons ago, possibly before 1989 (or in 1989): it was a “CIP” or “Automat Programabil pentru Instruire” – I’m not going to bother translating that, but I mentioned it in one of my first articles. It was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum compatible, or a “microcomputer” based on the Z80 processor. Like many other “licensed” from the West products, it was already obsolete by the time we (RO) started making it and it was bigger and bulkier than the original – especially the power source, which was humongous: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger or heavier one since.

Not sure what caused my father to buy it. I don’t think I had requested it, but maybe he thought, too, that borrowing Pong had to stop.

I don’t remember if this was “01” (the very first) or “03” (the most common?), with more photos spread around on the Internet. I’m guessing it was 01, and looked very similar to what you can see in the photo on the right. I had it connected to a small TV and used mostly my “dual cassette player” to load and record games onto it.

Romania (and many other Eastern European countries) were churning out loads of “Speccy” clones, but games (or programs) were not available through official channels. The most popular such clone in Romania was (likely) HC-85, but there were many others, such as Tim-S and Cobra, each with several iterations. Games were “traveling” informally, on cassette tapes, between friends, colleagues, neighbours. I couldn’t just copy a tape in a dual deck, as one would do with music, because minor noise introduced in that process (or even noise reduction designed for regular audio) could cause the copied game not to load. Or was it the poor quality of my tapes / audio equipment? One had to load the game on the “computer” then save it again to tape, in order to preserve the signal strength. My Cip had some special “innovations”, such as the ability to save and load games in “compressed” fashion, with 4 levels of compressions, which in theory reduced the time required to load (or copy) games. In practice, there was an increased chance for errors, causing me to fail to retrieve saved games, so I wasn’t using it much. Someone created a page with that ROM, called PN-BASIC (gc-roms).

Other similar “microcomputers” of that era were best-selling Commodore 64 (story), Amiga (history) and Amstrad (1, 2), and while they were better in some regards, they were also more expensive and were never made (AFAIK) in Romania. There was however even a magazine published after 1990 for HC-85 hobbyists and retrospectives keep being made (nn1, cp).


Though that this little “computer” inspired many into engineering or IT related fields, there are also many who claim that this was a flop, more expensive than the original and long obsolete by the time it was in production. What they forget is that other Eastern European countries were also producing it and production died down around the same time throughout Europe – in other words, this chip was useful and took an uncanny long time to die; the inventor was even knighted by the Queen. The Intel chip(s) that supplanted it did not support at first games that were much better, and besides, they were far more expensive, especially when considering the additional hardware required (memory, sound card, video card etc). My current laptop has two video cards (one nVidia GEForce, the other Vega 8 w/ 2GB RAM) and my hard disk is 1TB Samsung 970 EVO Plus and 32 GB of fast RAM; contrast that with the 16KB of ROM + 16KB of RAM for my CIP (possibly 48KB, can’t remember). My phone has an octa-core chip, 128 GB storage and 4 GB RAM and it’s considered “mid-range”. There’s no comparison between current hardware and the 80s’, but my point is that the Intel-based computers that took over seemed to do less with far more hardware, especially in the beginning. Believe it or not, closer to this day, there have been people who ported Wolfenstein and then Doom to Speccy.

The other “criticism” is that it got an entire generation of computer enthusiasts accustomed to sharing. It took Bill Gates billions in bribes to police and judges through BSA to criminalize such behaviour and consecrate the term “piracy” to describe it, only to re-embrace it as of late. My view is that Microsoft’s Windows is a remarkable legislative and marketing success more so than a technical one owing more to Bill’s father, a prominent lawyer, than to Bill’s coding skills.

As far as I know, sharing games and music was not even illegal back then, as Romania only passed a modern Copyright Law in 1996, after signing TRIPS on 1995-01-01 (and, later, WCT on 2002-03-06). Tracking copyright legislation is difficult, but it’s worth noting that

  • Soviet copyright, on which most laws in the Eastern Block were based, only protected works created or published in the home country and was severely limited.
  • Many developing countries rejected the Berne Convention, which is why UCC was created.
  • USA, world’s foremost IP power, implemented Berne only in 1989.

You can see my previous takes on this subject (IP) in plm, fritzi, pi larg.


Occasionally, I too feel nostalgic for old times and play some of those old games. Luckily, there are emulators for most platform. The games are considered “abandonware” and can be downloaded from a number of archives. For Windows I used the freeware ZX32. I made a 7zip archive of the executable and the few games I still remember and you can get it either from my gDrive or 1Drive. The password is the original name of this blog with number & sign at the end.

But if you want to try it, you don’t need my archive. The freeeware ZX32 I used to use evolved into a much better OSS project, Fuse, with ports for every major platform, including Android: Spectacol by BogDan Vatra (links below). The game ROMs have long been available on sites such as World of Spectrum. I linked my favorite game, one of the first RTS games ever (Nether Earth), below (wos-ne). Most games were what I would call WAMS or “Walk Around Multiple Screens” where all kinds of things were attacking you (it might be called arcade by most though to me that’s too vague and all-encompassing; I didn’t really enjoy them as making a map took time and I couldn’t be bothered. Other games I played and liked are: Zynaps (there was a coin arcade in Costinesti with this one), Chuckie Egg (an addictive WAMS – everybody had it), Highway Encounter (futuristic 3D puzzle), Advanced Tactical Fighter (flight sim), Saboteur (this WAMS was cool in that you would start off a “deltaplan”, Clive Townsend who sounded like a 007 novelist had something to do with it and there’s even a II), Sygma 7 (I remember the loading screen, but playing – not so much), Lode Runner (a WAMS I liked, very fast), Batman Caped (long story here, maybe another time). I also played: Sir Fred, Commando, Dan Dare, Bomb Jack, Cronos, Fred, Dizzy, Enduro Racer.

Find below a number of top game lists made by several publishers.

What do you think? Was Romania’s production of so many clones of Speccy a good thing?

Sources / More info: fuse, pg-spectacol, fb-cip03, wos-ne, gc-roms, wiki-unrated, sc-all, ways-t100, dog-15gr8, cocouk-t10, tr-30best, eg-10

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