The computer is somewhat compatible with the Spectrum, in that it has an extended version of Sinclair BASIC written by Dr. Andrew Wright, the author of BetaBASIC, and it can load a fair proportion of Spectrum games.
The machine was sometimes regarded as a clone of the Spectrum or dubbed a 'SuperSpectrum', but many users would insist that it was more than that.
It was not compatible with software for the 128K/+2/+3 Spectrums, as it used an entirely different memory paging scheme.
It came equipped with either 256 KiB or 512 KiB of RAM, although external 1 MiB RAM packs were available, of which up to four could be connected. External memory required software to be specially written to make use of it, and as such, the main use of external memory is for RAM disks when using Dr. Wright's MasterDOS.
Up to two floppy disk drives can be attached, although the system can load from tape. Due to the large amount of memory required for use of the Coupé's high-colour graphics mode, software for the machine is often distributed on floppy disks (or floppy disk images), as although tape loading is slightly faster than on the Spectrum, this does not make up for the increased amount of data that must be loaded.
Each SAM Drive has a VL1779 (WD1779) floppy controller attached, meaning that it is possible to access both drives simultaneously. Drives slot into bays in the front of the machine, towards the left and right sides.
Disk access requires a DOS, and SAMDOS was provided with the SAM Drive. The original SAM ROM contain a bug in its bootstrapping code, preventing DOS from being loaded from disk. This was fixed in later versions.
SAMCo produced the Messenger which allowed transfer of programs (snapshots) between the SAM Coupé and ZX Spectrum.