Retro Review: Rotronics Wafadrive for Sinclair ZX Spectrum

What is the Rotronics Wafadrive?

The Wafadrive was a two-drive system for small cartridges containing 1.8mm wide continuous spool tape. In direct competition with the Sinclair ZX Microdrive, this system had a number of unique selling points. The first of which was its price. Originally priced at £129.95 it was soon reduced to £99.95 and then to a staggeringly low £45.95. This was way more competitive than its rival when you consider that a single ZX Microdrive (originally £49.95) requires ZX Interface 1 (another £49.95) to function. Its second unique selling point was that it had a double drive, like many other devices at the time but unlike ZX Microdrives which you had to purchase separately and chain together. The third USP was that it housed a standard Centronics printer port and an RS-232 port. A ZX Interface 1 only has the RS-232 port.

The build quality of the drives is legendary. Unfortunately, less can be said of the Wafas themselves. The mechanism in these (like Microdrive carts) is prone to becoming stuck when stored and snapping the tape when loaded into the unit. You can remedy this somewhat (like Microdrive carts) by tapping them on a hard surface before inserting them into the drive. Each of the loose Wafas that came with this drive all had a small note enclosed informing the user of this method (see pic). The Wafas themselves came in four different capacities; 16K, 32K, 64K and 128K. This produces a massive disparity in loading times with the longer tape spools in the higher capacity Wafas giving much slower load times. Even the 128K Wafas are quicker than a standard cassette though, but Microdrives are still much quicker in comparison to any Wafa.

Using the Wafadrive

The Wafadrive plugs into the I/O expansion port on the rear of the ZX Spectrum and does not require a separate power source. Once plugged in and your Spectrum is powered on you will need to type NEW * which initialises the system. Once initialised the Wafadrive reserves about 2K of the Spectrums own memory for the read/write buffer, system variables and the two drive directories. You now see the Rotronics title message on screen and can now use the Extended BASIC commands in order to use the Wafadrive. All the Extended BASIC commands used on the Wafadrive are suffixed with an asterisk. The commands are much less complicated and easier to remember/type in than the Extended BASIC used by the ZX Microdrive with ZX Interface 1. For instance loading a program in drive A is executed by typing LOAD * “a:program” in comparison to the Microdrive’s convoluted LOAD * “m”;1;”program”. Saving is done by typing SAVE * “a:program” and so on.

In Summary

The Rotronics Wafadrive is a well made piece of professional looking kit. It performs well as long as the Wafas hold out, and that is where the main problem lies. The tape within each Wafa is unbelievably thin and the drive snaps it even if there is the smallest amount of resistance. Even more so than the Microdrives which prior to owning a Wafadrive I though was impossible. Load and save times are good, albeit not as good as the Microdrive, I have been getting a 16K program on a 16K Wafa to load in just under 32 seconds. Around 5 times faster than a cassette. So, a great dual 128K drive system. Just let down by the unreliability of those Wafas!




Coming soon: Sinclair ZX Microdrive and ZX Interface 1 review

Author: Ant Harper

Father, Husband, website developer, avid gamer since the mid-70s and collector of just about anything video game related. 8-Bit microcomputer and Sinclair specialist with a huge Sinclair related collection of his own. Blogs about retro gaming here but occasionally elsewhere when people ask. Bored of Mario and never much liked Zelda. Performs quirkafleegs for cold hard cash. Often found destroying ice crowns in the Lands of Midnight. Remembers: Lunar Lander. Plays: Steel Battalion, Gears of War

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