The launch event with all the namesakes was masterminded by Nick Hewer, now of course better known as the host of Countdown.
It was a home computer that embodied so many contradictions. It was launched months after the British microcomputer boom of the early 1980s had peaked. It was a rush job: the machine that was revealed to the press in the Spring of 1984 hadn’t even existed nine months previously. It was one of the best-produced British micros of …
Talk about re-writing history?
The Amstrad was pretty terrible. The colours were nice and bright, not that you could tell given most families went for the green screen. I certainly wasn't green (screen) with envy when my school mate showed me his running a very flickery Harrier Attack. His mum asked me what I thought and I said "It's crap".
The 464 also suffered from cost cutting which limited its graphic performance. The C64 and Oric machines used RAM that was clocked 2x the speed of the CPU to allow the CPU and graphics chips to both read the RAM without slowing down the machine, not the Amstrad. Look at the "lets compare" video on Youtube for R-Type to see how crap slow the Amstrad version is compared to the C64.
Even if you did decide to use the external modulator/PSU combo (the PSU was built into the monitor), the signal would drift.
Amusing that you bring up R-Type in an attempt to slag off the CPC's performance. It's now documented that the programmer was given 2 weeks to port it from the Spectrum. He was so pushed for time that the only way he could do it was to get the CPC to emulate the Spectrum code. For every frame displayed the CPC has to translate the Spectrum code slowing it down considerably.
25 years later some coders have done the job properly:
Perhaps I didn't explain myself clearly enough. The CPC version had to emulate the Spectrums display.
Both are Z80 machines so much of the base code can remain the same. It's the displays that are different.
Which is pretty much what's happened with the remake. They went back to the base code of the Spectrum version (with the original coders blessing) and started again from there.
Although if you look closely at that version of R-Type, you'll see it's still running in a smaller Speccy-sized screen window as it's still running Bob Pape's Speccy code. What they've done is re-write the graphics routines to draw 16-colour lo-res characters directly to the screen, rather than writing to a fake Spectrum screen buffer, then translating that to med-res (which is what slowed it all down originally). And then gone through and redefined all the 8x8 two-colour characters that make up the sprites and scenery into 4x8 16-colour lo-res characters.
If you look very closely you'll see it still has the whole-character-block occlusion when sprites are overlaid, that was used on the Speccy to avoid attribute clash. And sprites get occluded by the scenery in jumping character-sized chunks before they get anywhere near it.
Yeah that's right @AC. Alan Sugar was so useless, he took ownership of the 8 bit home computer boom, bought out his competitors, dominated the PC market, bought a football team, became a Sir, became a Lord. Now where is he ? Eh ? Well er, lounging round on his yacht in France, piloting his private jet, going on telly, being very fit on his bike, a top Twitterer, driving around his wife of 46 years in their Rolls Royce collection oh Alan where did it all go so terrible terribly wrong, if only you had -
Yes, I'm afraid it is. Look at the giant worms at the end of Level 2 and throughout Level 5, or how the explosions are clipped around the giant ship of Level 3. It's all done with the same character-blocks of the Speccy version, and there are only 32 of them across the width of the playing area, not 40.
The only addition is the fake 'parallax scrolling' effect achieved by a scattering of extra sprites that move slightly slower than the scenery. In fact, since it's all now done with fat pixels, the scrolling is half as smooth as it was originally.
The Oric-1 would give the C64 a run for it's money anyday. Plus, having commands in Oric Basic that directly addresses the sound chip ("zap" anyone?) made creating your own noisy games that little bit easier.
Of course, having to produce your own games because there was bloody near nothing available for it was a bit of a downer.
I must admit myself and my friends (all Spectrum/C64 owners) viewed the 464 machines with suspicion. Even back then Amstrad was known for corner cutting (we knew Sinclair was too but they were more known for tech products than cheap hi-fi) and after all the flurry of promotion the shortcomings became all too apparent and none of us felt like switching. I can't recall anyone at high school having one.
I think the thing that frustrated all of us most were the appalling screen res modes machines were still coming out with. It was all "Oh yes you can have 16 colours but we'll only let you have Duplo brick graphics with them!" We hungered for better.
The later machines improved but by then we were older and so was the tech. The stuff coming over from the US was looking far more interesting once again.
However, looking back it was all good fun.
Me and my chums were suspicious of Amstrad too - entirely because its hi-fi kit was sounded so bad. But the micros turned out to be actually rather good. Numerous contemporary reviews confirm this.
I unfortunately never spent any serious length of time with a CPC beyond fiddling with one in (IIRC) Rumbelows, but my PCW 8256 - later upgraded to 512KB by pushing eight RAM chips into slots on the PCB - was a very solid bit of work both as a working machine and, thanks to a Head Over Heels port, a gaming box too. It was a darn sight more interesting to use and program than the Vax we Computer Dept made available to us first-year Physics undergrads.
When you come to do a PCW article next year, I do hope you mention the games.
The PCW had a 23k bitmapped display that was arranged in a very specific fashion to facilitate the fast display of text at the expense of graphics capabilities. Even drawing something as simple as a pie chart was a programming chore.
When the first game turned up (Batman) the designers at Amstrad were said to be amazed as they didn't believe it was possible due to the complex nature of the display.
The PCW had a 23k bitmapped display that was arranged in a very specific fashion to facilitate the fast display of text at the expense of graphics capabilities. Even drawing something as simple as a pie chart was a programming chore.
When the first game turned up (Batman) the designers at Amstrad were said to be amazed as they didn't believe it was possible due to the complex nature of the display.
I don't see why that would be. The display was optimised for very fast vertical scrolling - not text per se since as far as the hardware was concerned everything was graphics - the PCW lacked a hardware character generator. The top-level graphics structure was an array of pointers to screen lines so lines could be moved up and down the screen simply by moving their references. OTOH there was nothing at all to stop you simply allocating each line to a contiguous memory region and dealing withe the screen as a two dimensional bitmap array.
All Hail Tony Smith!
Thanks for that. You really got my nostalgia flowing. Ah happy days of youth. The tape machine was incredibly reliable on the old CPC464, compared with my friends with Speccies and the like. It wasn't often that it let you down. Although on about level 87 of Gauntlet it did just that to me. I still remember that game really fondly - but never got past 50 again.
Also played a rather good wargame about Operation Market Garden, the parachute landings around Arnhem. Roland on the Ropes, something with Grand Prix in the title and Ace of Aces. That last one was good because if you didn't shoot the enemy down fast enough, but managed to survive air-to-air combat, it did you no good as they'd bombed your runways. So you just had to fly around until you ran out of fuel and crashed. Don't remember much else now.
Now I have to work for a living. Booo! But computer games start almost insantly, and I can play things on my iPad that make the CPC464 look like a pocket calculator.
It has taken me 2 days to read every painstaking line of this great article, which I have enjoyed as much as the other 464'ers. Reg, you really shouldn't be giving this stuff away for free. Anyway, says Tony Smith:
I unfortunately never spent any serious length of time with a CPC....
I did. Using the 464 was a delight, like strolling around a splendid garden. Every part of it was bang on. The price was accessible. It was pleasant to handle. Even tiny details like the volume control were done well. Its abilities - programming in 80 cols, playing many games, doing serious word processing, using CP/M business apps - made it useful to the whole family and it became a true realization of what the 8 bit home computer had promised at the start.
My family went on to acquire green and colour 6128s, a 1640 PC and a PCW 8256, which, using Sage Accounts, ran the family engineering firm for circa 10 years. About that: staff would say how great the 8256 was, how quick it was to start and how bullet proof the hardware was. How often do you hear people in an office actually praise the server ?
"I think the thing that frustrated all of us most were the appalling screen res modes machines were still coming out with. It was all "Oh yes you can have 16 colours but we'll only let you have Duplo brick graphics with them!" We hungered for better."
Something I never understood about the graphics of the day was why was there always a border around the "live" area? Ok, so most computers could only do sub VGA resolution but the pixels weren't directly mapped to the CRT pixels anyway so why not just make them larger instead of wasting 20-30% of the screen space which only occasionally got used for pointless video noise when loading from a cassette.
I think the large borders were to accommodate the amount of overscan on some cheaper TVs.
Some programmers were able to use nonstandard resolutions though; the Amstrad version of Arkanoid used a full-screen mode for its intro (albeit only displaying a starfield and some scrolly text) and portrait mode for the game.
The first time I saw the new R-Type's title screen display, my jaw was on the floor. Full screen, no border. I've seen overscan before but not done that well.
Most of the micros of that era had a massive border. Partly due to distortion at the edge of the CRT displays but also to save memory. Some CPC games increased the border size to save RAM.
There's no such thing as CRT pixels in general; per the original back and white spec scan lines are entirely analogue, as is the display mechanism, and even with colour it's more complicated than that as there's the dot pitch and the type of separation to take into account: a low pass responds differently to a comb, etc.
Given that, why not just use the full screen at any old number of pixels? To comply with the PAL standard, the vertical sync pulse needs to be between 4.6 and 4.8 microseconds. So you need a clock speed that aligns well with that. But you also don't want to use too much RAM and you possibly want to hit a standard column count, like 80 in the case of the CPC. If you're a machine that shares memory but semi-intelligently like the Spectrum then more pixels would mean slower processing in the affected areas. You possibly also want a sufficiently trivial way to determine the start addresses for a line of pixels. And I'm pretty sure the Spectrum at least used video fetch as RAM refresh, so there were additional timing requirements there about hitting certain rows of RAM.
But the CPC, like the BBC and at least EGA and VGA video cards, uses a Motorola 6845 CRTC — cathode ray tube controller. It's programmer configurable to provide any line timings and pixel areas you want. So it's the developer's choice, subject to the comstraint that if they're not careful while developing then they might ruin a screen or two. The CPC also switches some of the address lines around to give linear memory along scan lines, rather than a BBC-style character centric layout, which introduced additional considerations.
Aside: in classic micro style, values you write to it take effect immediately so it's the mechanism by which later special effects were achieved: tell it to start horizontal sync and it'll reload the start address, but jump in at the last minute and tell it not to do so and it'll start doing pixels again in the same frame from a different address. So that's good for panels, split screen scrolling, etc. Stuff they'd eventually call 'Mode X' when someone else eventually spotted it on the VGA cards.
Is there anything actually factually accurate in this post, apart from possibly the assertion that most families bought the green screen version? And indeed, being able to use the computer when mum or dad were watching the TV was invaluable.
The CPC did suffer from Spectrum ports, that's true. But the games that made use of the hardware were far superior and prettier.
The C64 was smoother for games, especially when scrolling was involved, that's true. But it looked crap, and the graphics looked like mud.
The CPC 464 suffered minor slowdown due to the screen display, the C64 did too and managed half the resolution.
The external modulator was rubbish. But as soon as SCART came out you could have a direct RGB signal to your TV very easily. And vice-versa, if you had the colour monitor, you could add an external TV tuner and gain a cheap second TV. I bet even today someone is watching Freeview on a CPC monitor somewhere!
The C64 was a much earlier computer developed under a very dysfunctional leadership team (read about Jack Tramiel, he was crazy).
Amstrad just took off the shelf parts and threw them together.
Given longer to develop the C64 and a more agreeable management culture the C64 would have been much better.
But anyway, the Atari 800's graphic capabilities blow both the Amstrad and c64 away. I think a C64/800 combi would be perfect.
"Amstrad just took off the shelf parts and threw them together."
i.e. they had an idea for a product, thought about the market, and then used readily available, well understood technology to deliver the package, taking care to ensure that there would actually be software to buy - I loved that detail about using batteries to keep the ROM images operative instead of burning EPROMS. And, according to the article, they did have a few production problems on the way which were overcome.
Waiting for the green screen PCW article. Monster machine that, I produced loads of stuff on it.
They are decent monitors and many a ST and Amiga owner carried on using them when they had upgraded from their CPC.
While they are just standard TV tubes rather than the higher dot pitch displays found on high end PC's, Orion went to effort to get them to look as good as possible. In fact the reason the CPC boots to a royal blue background with yellow text was because Orion told Amstrad that this combination would yield the best possible quality display on initial start-up thus giving a good impression.
"most families went for the green screen"
This sounds suspiciously like a "fact I made up". I don't think I even ever saw a 464 with a green screen.
"His mum asked me what I thought and I said "It's crap"."
I hope that was the last time you were invited around, as you were a rude little oik.
I loved my 464. It was a step up from the Spectrum in all regards. In hindsight maybe not as big a step up as it could/should have been, but it was great having a proper keyboard and a tape deck that wasn't constantly needing the volume and audio out cable fiddled with. And not having to always work around attribute clash was a dream.
Yes, it had nothing new that you couldn't find on other computers. But the overall package and price was spot on. Sugar was a business man who knew what he was doing, while Sir Clive was still fumbling around failing to deliver.
Correct. I got one for my 7th birthday and it was bloody brilliant. It didn't need to use the telly or an old tape deck and it lived in my bedroom, where i could sit and play Joe Blade, Dizzy and Chuckie Egg 'till the cows came home.
It may not have been the best, but it provided enough entertainment at the time.
>"This sounds suspiciously like a "fact I made up". I don't think I even ever saw a 464 with a green >screen."
Given the choice between the cheaper green screen and a colour version it's obvious what many budget constrained parents would have done.
If you remember the Amiga 500 and Atari 520 ST wars you'll remember there was only about £20 or so difference in price between the two and that was enough for most parents to go for the ST.
The modulator was certainly no worse than anything Sinclair were including with their machines. The C64 had a better modulator.
Thanks to Amstrad including RGB output, you can hook a CPC up to any SCART equipped TV including modern LCD's with no hassle. In fact the GX4000 is the only games console that I can think of that came with a standard SCART socket on it. Forget paying Nintendo or Sony for fancy proprietary leads, you had a fully wired SCART right there. Having a large collection of old consoles I wish that approach had been used by other manufacturers! Would save a lot of digging around to find the right cables.
Gosh I'm late to the party, but:
The C64 and the Oric both use a 6502. The 6502 runs internally on a two-phase clock, like most chips from immediately before it, but is advanced enough to require only a single-phase clock input, which it doubles. As a result, e.g. the stated clock speed of a C64's 6502 is 1Mhz but if you compare access cycles and wait times, the work it's doing is broadly similar to a 2Mhz purely single-phase CPU like the Z80. Check out the memory access timing diagrams on a 6502 data sheet, then check them out on a Z80 data sheet. Check out the cycle timings for things like an 8bit add.
So, what can you do with 4Mhz RAM? You could connect it to the Oric or the C64's CPU and it would be running at four times the speed. You could connect it to the CPC's CPU and it would be running at the same speed. What you're getting in the CPC versus the other two machines is better described as: RAM that's twice as fast plus a CPU that's twice as fast (but a little more haphazard in its access patterns).
If we're citing game examples, look on YouTube for C64 Chase HQ versus CPC Chase HQ. Look at Hard Drivin'. Look at Carrier Command. Even if you just want to see how the C64 cut corners on the processor, compare the BBC Revs to the C64.
I have a very soft spot for the CPC, in fact I've just acquired a 464 and a 6128 (including buying an SD card floppy drive emulator for the 6128).
It's a very well designed machine, a decent keyboard and was excellent value for money (for much of the 80's a colour 6128 was less than a BBC Micro without a monitor or any storage).
3 million units sold, 1 million of which went to France and where it was the top selling micro for years.
And still great new software coming out today such as this very impressive remake of R-Type:
"Not because it wasn’t any good, but because he didn’t think the ordinary folk who comprised Amstrad’s customer base wanted or needed it."
Oh, not that it had to wait until stuff could be sourced cheap enough?
Or until it was a bit late in the day - so box 'em and flog 'em?
From reading the excellent "Amstrad Story" by David Thomas, the reason appears to be that producing a computer was so far outside the sphere that Amstrad operated in, they didn't even consider it at first. Then Sugar saw all these computers literally flooding onto the market and decided to investigate.
Indeed the impetus for the CPC's design appears to be that Sugar had purchased a number of early 80's micros for himself and had found all of them fiddly and hard to use. So he wanted an all in one design.
While it's easy to knock Amstrad's late entry to the market, they were far more professional than their competitors. Sugar ensured there was a large software library provided by his in house publishing company Amsoft, and sourced peripherals such as printers and disk drives that users wanted. Other companies relied on 3rd parties to supply software and hardware and ended up being starved to death (e.g. the Dragon).
Indeed Amstrad were totally immune to the home computer crash that badly damaged both Acorn and Sinclair. While both those companies had warehouses full of unsold inventory purchased on overdrafts, Amstrad had sold all their kit to retailers. In the aforementioned 'Amstrad Story' Sugar describes how he had incredulous retailers on the phone demanding discounted inventory as they believed he was in the same situation as Sinclair and Acorn. He wasn't, he'd sold all his machines and eventually also ended up buying Sinclair!
He may be a git on the Apprentice. And I don't think Tottenham fans recall him all that fondly either. But Alan Sugar did a lot of good stuff back then.
I know people were sniffy about the sound quality of his Hi-Fi kit. But I don't think my parents could have afforded anything better. So the kit I got to use as kid with twin tape decks, radio and record player in glass cabinet was good enough. My brothers could buy a cheap-ish CPC464 that I got to play with. It would have got a lot less use if it had needed to use the main TV. I never did any proper programming on it, but I learned to like computers, and not be worried by them.
Then I got my first computer. A PCW. With CP/M, Locoscript and Mallard Basic. Plus Locosoft Logo and Graham Gooch's Test Cricket. Weirdly if ever you brought Gooch on to bowl, he always got a wicket...
Anyway this was great for school work, and probably set me on the road to being decent at computer-y stuff. No internets, and it didn't even occur to me to see if there was a weekly PCW user magazine to subscribe to - so I had to learn to use it myself. But that was OK because they shipped it with a really good, spiral bound, manual. This is the first machine where I gave tech support to a mate.
I even had an Amstrad NC100 - a little AA battery powered PDA thing, that was a mostly full-sized keyboard with a 3 line LCD screen. Rather neat actually.
All this stuff came with really good manuals, decent amounts of software, and all the required peripherals and cables. Plus upgrades available if you needed them. At a time when the industry was full of cowboys, who'd sling any old thing out - finished or not.
Plus I've heard a few stories that YouView was a nightmarish competitive-vendor-argue-fest of backstabbing and horrifically complicated ideas that was still many years from market when Sugar was brought in. And he did a lot of pruning, and by all accounts quite a bit of arse-kicking, in order to come out with something that both works - and seems to have a decent user interface.
He also gave us the Emailer and The Apprentice. Ahem! But despite that, I've still got a soft-spot for the old beardy git.
when a hard disk they fitted wasn't compatible with his PCs.
I thought that it was a duff batch of HDs supplied to Amstrad that was the cause of the problem. I seem to recall that Amstrad sued the HD manufacturer and eventually got a load of money. But the damage to Amstrad's reputation was too great, and they never recovered in the PC market.
According to a website called "The Register" Amstrad got $140M from Seagate.
@AC; "His PCs bombed because he was naive about testing things. Which destroyed his reputation when a hard disk they fitted wasn't compatible with his PCs."
Yes, the Seagate drives fiasco irretrievably damaged Amstrad's reputation in the PC market, but FWIW (a) Amstrad sued Seagate and won, which suggests it wasn't just a testing and compatibility issue and (b) Amstrad had already enjoyed massive success with their original mid-80s PC-1512 and its successors by that point. (Sugar claimed that they had been the European PC market leaders at one point).
In the UK, those were the first PC-compatibles truly affordable enough to be targeted at the home market and- despite later criticism of their nonstandard aspects- arguably established the PC as a mass-market format over here.
@Mr C Hill; "And just how much did the Amiga cost at that time? It was north of 700 quid wasn't it IF you could get hold of one."
Worse than that- the original 1985 Amiga 1000 was US $1300 (sans monitor or HDD) when it launched, so probably translated to a lot *more* than £700 once UK VAT and usual UK market padding factored in. (This is probably why the rather more generic but also much more affordable Atari ST was more popular in the early days). The ubiquitous Amiga 500 didn't arrive until 1987, and even that was £500 at launch without a monitor.
This mirrors the situation with the Amiga's spiritual predecessor, the Atari 800 (custom-chip heavy with many of the same design team). That was brilliant and state-of-the-art at the time of its late-70s launch, but it was also bloody expensive.
At any rate, the Amiga was an amazing machine by the standards of the mid-80s, but pricewise wasn't even in the same ballpark as the CPC-464 and friends at the time.
Unfortunately, Sugar also kept the cost of the CPC-464 system down by having it manufactured in the Far East instead of the UK where many computers were made until the mid-80s. He also later transferred Spectrum manufacturing to Taiwan (IIRC) and then China. To be fair, other UK and US manufacturers also started doing this in the mid-80s as well.
Amstrad was never about state-of-the-art, but to be fair, they built some solid computers at an affordable price using off-the-shelf design.
Sugar wouldn't manufacture in the UK partly due to cost but partly due to reliability. He'd also had a number of bad experiences with UK based manufacturers. He changed his tune when he was forced to have the LNB's for the Sky dishes made in the UK and cut a deal with (IIRC) GEC who did a good job.
By making the CPC in South Korea not only was it cheaper but the Orion factory had better kit than you'd find in the UK meaning more advanced techniques could be used in manufacture, reducing cost and increasing reliability.
Meanwhile the likes of Sinclair were bumbling along in the UK using a factory that produced unreliable machines that kept needing to be returned, as well as the old story about every pub in Dundee having someone selling Spectrums that had come out the back door of the factory.
"Unfortunately, Sugar also kept the cost of the CPC-464 system down by having it manufactured in the Far East instead of the UK where many computers were made until the mid-80s. He also later transferred Spectrum manufacturing to Taiwan (IIRC) and then China. To be fair, other UK and US manufacturers also started doing this in the mid-80s as well."
To be fair, Sinclair had already shifted most ZX Spectrum production from the UK to Portugal a year earlier. (Strange to tell now, but in those days many southern European countries had cheap enough wage levels that they were considered a viable alternative to far-east manufacturing - which was how Spain ended up with a huge car industry.)
The quote I remember most about Sugar is that home computers weren't magic, they were just boxes filled with chips.
So you can see why the 464 was just that, a box with chips thrown in it. No magic, no love for custom hardware or advancing the capabilities of computing. The best hardware on the shelf at the time.
You've only got to see how Amiga arrived shortly after to see that computers weren't just chips in a box. If you designed custom chips with care they could do things that could appear to be magical.
And just how much did the Amiga cost at that time? It was north of 700 quid wasn't it IF you could get hold of one.
Custom chips are all very well and good and it's easy for you to point at the success stories, but a little examination of the computer scene at the time reveals that companies were going bust left right and centre thanks to over ambitious machines that were delayed due to companies over-reaching.
A case in point is the Elan Enterprise. Lots of nice technology to impress a few computer geeks. It was horribly delayed, expensive and cost more than a CPC 464 despite having no monitor!
At the same time Sinclair were trying to get the QL to market. Clever 68000 technology, but again late and it went to market bugged and not fit for purpose.
Sugar sold 200,000 CPC 464's in it's first 6 months on sale. He got his machine to market on time and on budget.
Meanwhile the QL contributed to the failure of Sinclair and Enterprise went under. So much for "advancing" computing.
The quote I remember most about Sugar is that home computers weren't magic, they were just boxes filled with chips.
So Sugar knew his niche. His niche wasn't 'best'. Or state of the art. His niche was affordable. The CPC was that, and ran pretty nicely. It had decent sound and graphics, for the time. And didn't have to use the family telly. You could also use it for more grown-up stuff. Ours was just a toy, but my friend's family had the CPC128 with disk drive. Which also got used for games, but did the family paperwork - and I think his Mum used it to word process. She was a freelance translator. Did russian. I've no idea if you could do cyrillic on the thing, but I'd guess a lot of her work was russian to english anyway.
Price can be its own innovation. The PCW was innovative. Not becasue it could do anything special, but because it was so damned cheap, and was good enough to run a small business on. In a way that the earlier micros barely were. The PCW could do office work, came with screen and printer, didn't take up much space, and was dead cheap. I think under £500 - with some softare. It was also reasonably easy to use, by the standards of the time, and had a brilliant user manual.
One of the comments Sugar made in the manual for the NC100 Notebook (PDA thingy) was that he was rubbish at computers, and he insisted on it being made easy enough for him to use. Now that may just be marketing blurb, but it did have a really good UI, and came with a thick manual - that was well-written. It was £100 in about 1990. My PC at the time came with a similar sized manual, that was much, much worse. And that cost £1,200. I haven't seen a manual on a PC since. Whereas the 3 Amstrad computers I've had - have all come with well laid-out, well written and therefore expensive, documentation. That's clearly down to Sugar. Price and ease of use are pretty good things to aim for, in my book...
The 6128 manual is a ring bound work of art. Covers everything including CPM. It's not so much a manual as an entire course on the computer:
And once you were done with that you could move on to the legendary Firmware Manual which you'd order from your local Amstrad dealer. There was much wailing the day that was discontinued (happily its now online).
My Grandad gave my family a CPC6128. The manual was amazing. A big chapter on BASIC, which is what I used to teach myself to program. A big chapter on Logo, although aged 7 I didn't appreciate the purpose of all the functions for operating on lists, and only used it for the turtle graphics. Appendices with programs which you could type in (and then debug your copying errors!)
I worked for GEC on the thermal imaging side when the 6128 came out. I was developing some gunnery control software for a tank and our (terrible) development machine died and I recommended they buy a colour CPC 6128* as a replacement. Which they duly did and it never let me down.
Not bad when you realise for a year it was used to tweak and bug fix the code and burn new EEPROMs whilst beside the tank in the middle or the Thar desert at about 50 degrees in the shade and with fine dust everywhere (The Thar desert is not sand more like like dried mud with the particle size of flour.)
*Somehow along the way the colour monitor must have got mixed up with the green screen monitor from my personnel CPC 6128 at home. Never did find out how that happened.
I think you have described the course of every market inovator ever. It's no good doing an IBM and expecting people to buy the shop. Computer would never have been anything much more than business driven machines some of which ended up in the homes of office workers and middle management by virtue of employment perks.
What Sugar supplied was what Henry Ford supplied. Well made cheap end of the market goods at incredibly affordable prices. Who would be wearing a watch today if it had been up to Harrison to supply them?
I dare say you could make a list of innovations that would have got nowhere had it not been for penny pinching cheapskates like Alan Sugar pulling their share of the carpet out from under the inventors. Only of course, you had to charge the punters something. You still can't give Linux away.
The thing I love best about these articles in these days of online Amazon and Dabs orders is remembering that there once was a time when you ordered your new computer by cutting a section out of a page of a magazine (following the dotted lines), filling in your details (hopefully in handwriting that the supplier could read), popping it into an envelope with a cheque and then patiently and optimistically "allowing 28 days for delivery".
How times change.
Did anyone actually do this?
Most I know bought their C64s / Spectrums / Amstrads from the likes of Comet / Lazer / Boots / Tandy...
I never tried an Amstrad, though I did boot up an emulator once to play an old game I was trying to source on any emulator. It booted up CPM, which with DOS-like syntax did feel very business-like.
Amstrad didn't sell any of their machines mail order.
The clip out coupon on their adverts was so you could mail off to 169 Kings Road Brentwood for a glossy brochure.
Sugar was the darling of Dixons. In fact it was Dixons who alerted Sugar to the Sinclair deal. It appears the banks had approached Dixons with a view to them buying Sinclair, but they took one look at it and called Sugar.
Amstrad also had a franchised dealer network. Our town had one and it had the full range of machines on sale. However the best one was The Bournemouth Amstrad Centre which always had the latest disk games in and a great selection of hardware. Bought my copy of Lemmings in there Summer 1992.
Nothing wrong with them per se, but when Amstrad came to the Netherlands (quite a bit later than the UK launch), the 3" floppy disks really hurt their sales, because by that time 3.5" was clearly the winner in the format wars. I seem to remember even some later more-or-less IBM-PC compatible ones also sported that odd format, but I might be wrong. I definitely remember advising people NOT to buy the Amstrads with these disks, because they would have a hard time exchanging data with everyone else.
Indeed so - IIRC Amstrad got the 3" drives cheap from Hitachi because the format was failing.
They kept it alive enough for a double density version to be included in the Amstrad PCW range, although the PCW 9512 used 3.5" disks in the end.
Data exchange was less of a concern because the disc formats were different on all the home computers anyway. The CPC, despite the 3" discs (yes, "discs" :/) did have an option to use CP/M formatting on the drives which actually made the system more compatible in some ways than other computers. And you could always buy an external 3.5" drive.
The article forgets to mention the old PcW16 - this used a 16MHz Z80.
Getting the drives cheap from Hitachi appears to be a rumour that stemmed from the fact Amstrad looked at 3.5 inch drives but the costs were prohibitive due to the format being new.
Amstrad were still buying the drives in for various machines until 1990 which also puts paid to the "Amstrad bought a warehouse of cheap discontinued drives" story that also floats around. Between a million Spectrum +3's, 6 million PCW's (that had 3 inch drives) and about 1.5 million disk based CPC's, that must have been a bloody big warehouse!
They were. Partly because they were over engineered as they had been designed to be posted through the Japanese postal system without any protection. Examine one next to a 5 inch disk or even a 3.5 inch to see what I mean.
However cost also came down to how much competition there was. As far as I recall there were only ever 2 major manufacturers of 3 inch disks (or disc as Amstrad spelt it). Maxell and whoever Amstrad used for their own brand.
There were smaller manufacturers including IIRC one in Italy but their product wasn't known for being reliable.
£2.99 each is the price etched onto my mind that they settled down at after the great disk shortage of '86 when prices had gone through the roof.
As I recall, my friend had one of the early Amstrad IBM 'compatibles' - well almost compatibles. And it had 3" disks and a turbo mode, or something odd like that. Running Windows 3.0 or 3.1.
Their next model went to 3.5" I think, because I was looking to buy a PC myself at that point.
Although one thing I will say for them, in the 3-4 years I used my PCW, I didn't have a single disc failure. Which I definitely can't say for the decent quality 3.5" ones I had for my later PC.
No Amstrad PC compatible used 3 inch disks. The 1512 and 1640 used 5 inch with later models using 3.5 inch drives.
The CPC, Spectrum +3 and pre 1991 models of the Amstrad PCW used 3 inch. Other machines that used the format included the Tatung Einstein and I believe some Sega micros not usually seen outside of Japan.
"Between a million Spectrum +3's"
Were there really a million +3s sold? According to Wikipedia, there were 5 million Spectrums in total. I don't recall the +3 being that successful (being piggy-in-the-middle between the cheaper Spectrums and the Atari ST), nor that much software being released on disc for it.
"No Amstrad PC compatible used 3 inch disks."
I think the OP was- understandably- getting confused with the PCW, which despite its name wasn't an "(IBM) PC-compatible" but Amstrad's Z80-based word processing system.
That Wikipedia article is the first time I have seen the 5 million figure. 7 million is the figure I've always seen quoted in print and online going right back.
There are many different sources. Crash says Sinclair sold 4 million units pre-Amstrad, another source says 5 million sold pre-Amstrad. A 1992 issue of Your Sinclair claims 7 million were sold in total.
The 1 million +3 sales comes from an article in New Computer Express when Amstrad axed the +3 in 1990.
Remember the Spectrum was the UK's top selling home micro every year between 1982 and 1989 (as reported by C+VG). Amstrad got hold of it April '86. So that's that's still a good 3 years at the top to sell some units. Was also top seller in Spain as well with the CPC second.
At the time, I had written a program for BBC and C64, and AMS wanted to make sure that there would be software for the CPC machine, so we were offered guaranteed sales of 5000 copies if we ported to that format. We did so, but sales were very low (single figures after returns I think!), so we called up the guarantee, but they refused to pay until we actually took them to court.
The CPC464 was the first computer that I ever owned. It's still in my parent's attic somewhere. The only thing I didn't like about it (not the fault of the computer obviously) was the fragile joysticks. I went through more joysticks that underwear in my time. Those micro-switches didn't switch for very long
I think you only needed the Amstrad sticks if you wanted two joysticks.
The 9-pin D joystick port could support two joysticks. The signal lines were shared, but something in there was a line (something like power) which allowed the machine to differentiate between the sticks. To use the second joystick you just needed a simple adaptor to split the lines.
Had one of these. Wasted many hours whilst at university playing adventure games and graphic stuff that was great at the time.
It was the first machine I ever modded (had a *really* good keyboard off a terminal, 8-bit printer port and dual 3" floppies). You could get big stuff onto disk from tape but often couldn't load it again as the DOS took RAM space so you had to part load off disk, stuff that into video RAM, finish loading off disk then get the data back from video space which overwrote the DOS!
I also ran it as a full CP/M machine linked up either as a terminal emulator to various DEC machines or as a true workstation to other CP/M machines. My mate wrote his entire final year dissertation on it and my final year project was specifically targeted at compiling and running large projects on small machines (with the CPC as the sample CP/M machine).
It never broke, it did what you expected and, for it's time, I really can't knock it!
...but with cracking articles like this, it seems like it. Really well done, and thanks.
My own recollection of the time is standing in the rain in York outside some shop or other (I had in mind Dixons, but thinking about it, it was probably Rumbelows) looking at the window display and seriously wanting what looked like a very professional display, but with no chance of affording one of the machines.
You beat me to it. But, yeah, if memory serves then the AY is three channels, each of which may be tone and/or noise whereas the SN is three tone channels plus one noise channel. Also the AY has a small number of fixed volume envelopes — timed patterns of volume ramps that it will repeat over and over again on a channel.
The AY is also marginally better for PCM output because both tone and noise are 1-bit signals and are mixed by logical OR. So I think you can rig it to give you a static non-zero wave for the CPU to throw volume levels at. On an SN you'd just ramp up the frequency beyond the audible range and let the natural low-pass filter of your ears discern the volume gymnastics.
I still have my 464 with green screen in the loft at my parents (long since dead) pretty sure there are still tapes in there as well. I remember being jealous of my friend having the adapter to play it on a tv, it was a revelation to go round, or him to bring the adapter round to mine and witness the games I had spent hours playing on a green screen in colour and being totally different.
The other great thing was the tapes that had games for both the speccy and CPC on either side, meaning you could once again borrow from people that had the game for the speccy. Add on the fact that they were generally 2-3 pounds, with the bigger cardboard boxed versions being closer to £10.
The added bonus of a friend having the same machine was that we could copy each others games onto standard tapes, listening to the screeches as it copied (or turning the volume down if watching tv) was second to the perfect timing needed to record songs from the Top 40 on a Sunday.
@Mr C Hill I also remember the franchise in Aberdeen having the GX and all other manner of Amstrad machines, plus games and such.
They really did want to sell that monitor, which left me unaware you could get one with a colour TV modulator, and overall it was just too expensive.
Amstrad wanted to get into the home computer business when it was clearly driven by kids playing games, but nothing of the design made any concessions to game development. Sure it had a great colour screen, but at the expense of needing to shift an enormous amount of data to update it. The C64, with its character-based screen, and the Spectrum, with its mono screen and colour overlay, weren't just being efficient with screen RAM - they turned out to be efficient to update at speed.
Back-porting the GX4000 technology, adding colour sprites and limited hardware scrolling, was too little, too late. Someone should have realised that the system could have been better designed for games from the off.
Having said that, I personally think that the best-looking games on the Amstrad are the ones that used the medium-res 4-colour mode with a careful selection of palette.
And you'll never convince me that the 3" drive choice was anything other than protectionism - to keep hold of a chunk of the floppy disc market (though compare and contrast console makers licensing their own cartridges...). That was certainly behind the ludicrously petty way the joystick ports on the Amstrad-designed Spectrums was re-wired.
Never got the argument about being too expensive. If you wanted a cheap gaming machine you bought a Spectrum or C64. If you wanted a complete system that could play games but could also run a Word Processor and some CPM apps you got a CPC. Amstrad were aiming their machines above the entry level games machines (which is why they were so keen on bundling CPM).
And it was good value for money. For much of the 80's a CPC 6128 with colour monitor and built in disc drive retailed at £399. Same money would get you a bare bones BBC Micro! Likewise how much did a C64 cost once you bundled in a 1541 disk drive and a dedicated TV/monitor?
That's because, as you said, you bought a 6128 with a disk drive and wanted a colour monitor to go with it, so you probably got your money's worth. If you go back to the beginning, when the 464 was released (which didn't have CP/M) and you didn't want a monitor (and they didn't exactly promote the fact you didn't have to) then the 464 came across as very expensive. And don't try to tell me that the 464 was aimed at the serious business user.
The 464 was aimed as a home computer but they had their eye on the serious home user/small business from day 1 hence why disk drives were available at launch as a bundled extra (my Dad's mate got a 464 with two 3 inch drives in late '84).
The reason Amstrad didn't promote the fact you didn't have a monitor was because the machine was always supposed to be bundled. If dealers chose to separate the monitor out, that was their business.
"That was certainly behind the ludicrously petty way the joystick ports on the Amstrad-designed Spectrums was re-wired."
Yes- the port (an industry standard "Atari" DB9, but with the pins rewired) was trivially simple to convert to Atari-compatible- IIRC- via a dirt-cheap adaptor that simply re-re-wired the connections back to their original positions, allowing the use of almost any joystick on the market at that point.
Given that the Amstrad joysticks my friend got with his +2 were atrociously cheap and nasty, they can't seriously have expected this "ludicrously petty" roadblock to work.
I have to admit it, I drew graphs!
The CPC464 was my first computer, but I had been lusting after even the zx80 when I first saw it advertised in an electronics mag. Sadly my parents had divorced & my Mum had to bring up 4 kids on her own with little support at the time from my Dad. Eventually one of my rich friends got given a zx81 (pre-built) we spent a few weeks together typing in programs & then he loaned it to me because I was fascinated with writing my own little programs on it ,whereas he just wanted to play games, but they weren't really up to much. The same thing happened with another friend's Spectrum.
Then one Christmas we got the green screen CPC464. Which must have been the reason we had been eating little more than rice for 6 months while Mum saved up for it!
As someone who has always been hopeless at arithmetic, I found on a computer numbers made much more sense & I finally got to grips with algebra. I spent my time writing programs, which drew graphs from my inputs (just like the faux 3d column graphs in the picture!). I wrote programs to help me learn my times tables, I wrote a stock market game, and the thing I was most proud of was writing a program that displayed a 3D globe (just line drawing) that I could rotate & change the perspective of.
So the CPC 464 turned my simple fascination for giving machines instructions into a dedicated hobby. Eventually I did a BSc in Software Engineering, but not until my late 20's. Now many of the worlds largest companies use software I have worked on. I doubt any of that would have happened without those few years coding on the CPC.
I loved that machine. I'm still crap at arithmetic though.
As someone who has always been hopeless at arithmetic, I found on a computer numbers made much more sense & I finally got to grips with algebra ... the thing I was most proud of was writing a program that displayed a 3D globe (just line drawing) that I could rotate & change the perspective of.
High five, good sir!
That was when I finally discovered what that "matrix arithmetic" our high school prof was dishing out was actually good for (up to that moment I just seemed like a pretext to make one write down overly large parentheses). The 2nd edition (pink colored) ""Principles of Interactive Computer Graphics" by Newman/Sproull was of invaluable help in this.
Did this on a Z80-equipped Sony Hit Bit though. It was SLOW.
You want "The Amstrad Story" by David Thomas. It's out of print but you can buy a copy for pennies. Covers Amstrad in detail right up to the start of 1990. The author has remarkable access to Amstrad and it's employees and includes quotes and language from Sugar that wouldn't get past a modern PR agency!
A remarkable read that covers all of their 1980's machines and the Sinclair buyout in detail. In contrast Sugars autobiography is very much watered down!
Much of it is fairly dull but IMO it comes alive when Amstrad start looking at the idea of producing the CPC. The bits regarding the Sinclair buyout are also very interesting.
For the 1p + P&P it cost me I'm not complaining but I did skip all the bits where it goes on about the stock market and and starts reading like an FT article. The UK computer industry is generally quite poorly documented compared to the American giants so any insight is good.
Actually, we did use EPROMs (a bank of 4x 8K, as 32K weren't available) for the 50 machines sent to software houses. It was the development prototype at Locomotive which had the battery-backed RAM gadget, mainly because it could go through the erase/reload cycle hours faster than EPROMs.
... then I got the 8512 and used CP/M to run dBase II. Then I got a PC and used the MS DOS port of dBase II, then moved to dBase III, then dBXL, then the SCO port of FoxPro under SCO Xenix ( 4MB of memory, good for six users!), then MicroSoft (!) FoxPro Xenix, which I STILL USE TODAY. So hurrah for AMS, he might be a grumpy waste of space today but he did some good stuff in the past.
One little quirk of the CPC machines was there centronics printer port. It was only seven bits wide: The eighth bit was robbed for the strobe line. The Amstrad printer had a DIP switch to switch between expecting seven or eight bit data. There was a company that produced a little board and a software blob that did some magic to give you a proper eight bit port.
Something forgotten from the review was that you could connect up to 32 external 16K ROM chips to have instant access to software. I remember having an assembler, word processor, spell checker (dictionary was on floppy) amongst other things on-line all the time. I seem to recall a company making an alternate disc operating system for the CPC too.
I also remember (was it DK Tronics?) launching a 256K RAM pack, plus a 256K RAM drive. Some magazine did a tear-down and showed that you could turn a RAM drive into a RAM pack by changing a solder joint. I bought a 256K drive for peanuts, from a guy who couldn't solder and "broke" his (rather expensive) add-on. 15 seconds with a soldering iron fixed it.
I ended up having so many add-ons for my CPC that I blew the PSU in the monitor. (Fortunately, it was just a fuse, but it went as I was drawing too much current on the 5V line). I bodged a PC PSU to drive the motherboard power.
As you can guess, I was a massive fan of my CPC. I learnt a lot about computers from playing with that thing. Not sure where it is now *sniff*. Might have to go and hit EBay.
Pssst, forget Ebay. Go on the Amibay forums and either keep an eye out or post a request. 6128's these days often go for silly money on Ebay but on Amibay prices are more reasonable. You can also pick one up like I did without a monitor and just source a PSU from RS and a SCART cable from Ebay. As much as I love old computers I draw the line at 30 year old CRT's!
Reason they are expensive is that people want 6128's as you can add an SD card reader to them easily (like this - http://www.lotharek.pl/product.php?pid=13 ) . 464's are cheap as they have no disk drive controller and you are stuck loading from tape (unless you can source a DD1 which are also now expensive).
Mine's the one with the Rombo rombox with Protext, Prospell and MAXAM.
Ah the Rombo ROM box, I think that was the killer feature on the Amstrad for me. I upgraded from a Spectrum having decided there was no way I could afford an Amiga, and after evaluating the C64, BBC Micro and Atari the Amstrad represented better value (since I wanted a monitor it was noteably cheaper than the other platforms - factoring in Simons BASIC for the C64). I upgraded my CPC 464 with a disc drive and Protext on cartridge (well, a circuit board with a single ROM on sticking out the back!). Then the Amstrad became the only non PC platform I upgraded and retained compatibility with. I bought a CPC 6128 with second disc drive and ROMBO ROM box, maxed out with Protext, Prodata, Promerge, Prospell, Maxam and BCPL. That lot, the CP/M 2.2 Logo and a copy of Borland Turbo Pascal on 3" disc played a big part in getting me through my degree in the days when getting access to a computer outside the hour at a time booking of the Uni ones was a luxury. I still have my CPC 6128 and associated add-ons. Amstrad really did step in a sum up the best of the 8 bit machines (for most users) - kept me going until I could afford my Amiga.
Thanks Tony for bringing back such fantastic memories. I wrote for the CPC and it was a time of wonder. I remember the first time I finished writing my own version of the firmware, along with disk routines to make copying software. I was 15 and up until 3am nearly every night for months on end.
This device gave me thousands of hours of fun and ultimately paid me through university with royalties.
Brilliant memories :)
> I was 15 and up until 3am nearly every night for months on end.
My parents would have kicked me down the kerb for not doing my allotted homework and practicing unethical workhours.
I was destined for a staid state employee career, with social benefits, high salary, unfireability and with guaranteed pension scheme, all paid for by unnamed proletarian masses.
Sadly, their design to make me accede to the New Aristocracy went astray...
I bought 30 - odd Amstrads for my school at a time when CUB monitors and BBC masters were the norm. They proved amazingly tough and reliable whereas the BBCs were a nightmare. We used PCW's as upgrades from typewriters and CPC 6128s to introduce computing. At some point we built (kit?) mice interfaces and used DMP printers. 'Protext' was a fabulous word processor and simple 'coding' done via LOGO. Happy memories.
My secondary school did as well. As a CPC fan I asked the teacher in charge why they had got CPC's over BBC micros as the answer was cost. As I've mentioned elsewhere, a BBC was 400 quid with no monitor or storage. That got you a 6128 with colour monitor and a disk drive. As the CPC had bundled CP/M, it was a no brainer.
A true great family machine - games for the kids (and at the time they didn't care about 50Hz pixel perfect smooth scrolling, but they did care about lots of colours), but dad could use the excuse of "doing the family finances" too (hence the adverts showing both games and business stuff at the same time) :-)
I did school work in Tasword on my CPC 6128 with DMP2000 printer. More than adequate for essays.
i had a Spectrum then an Amiga,
but I was working in Local Government (and on strike!) paying a visit to my local pharmacy.
We'd had a power cut in the area (so my ICL mainframe in work had reloaded, preventing the 'scabs' from working!) and the pharmacists Amstrad machine had also restarted.
However, it was the locum pharmacist and he couldn't get his application to restart.
I 'coughed' and offered to help him out. Found the right tape (or disc, it was some time ago) and restarted his application.
Was paid a large bottle of men's smellies for my time!
I like the fact that Amstrad company evaluated what was offer at the time and then provided a better value machine themselves. Well Done Sir Alan and his technical people. Where are our innovative coders and engineers today?
My second computer - after upgading from a spectrum - it really felt like a massive step.
disk drive, real colour, great keyboard, etc.
And I remember using the full 128k to digitise a few seconds of 'walk like an egyptian' and playing it back - I thought that was amazing.
I admit that on demoing this to family and friends they maintained all they could here was white noise and hiss, but it was there! It was the future!!
There were some interesting games.
I've just remembered a World War III game I played on the CPC464. It was called Theatre Europe. You had to fight off the Warsaw Pact hordes, or destroy the imperialist capitalist pig-dogs - depending on your taste.
I remember that when you decided to go chemical or nuclear there was a fake teletype screen, and it told you to wait for launch code authorisation. Then a Birmingham phone number came up, which you were supposed to call for your launch codes. Then the nukes flew.
I once plucked up couraget to dial the number, and was rather shocked when it actually rang. All courage deserted me, and I quickly slammed the phone down. I hope that was the software firm's number, and not some random house, or cab firm. I'm assuming the Prime Minister has already got access to his launch codes, and doesn't have to ring up ABABABABAB Cars in Brummie, in order to get them...
Many happy hours wasted. As well as the arcade style games popular at the time, I'm remember there were quite a few innovative ones, that were a lot more complex. Aliens was probably my first go at a first-person-shooter. If you didn't get to the control room in time, then the lights went out, and you were a sitting duck for the face-huggers.
"Howard Fisher, now working for Acorn ... wanted a Basic that would run on the Z80"
Odd. At this point Richard Russell had already finished porting Acorn's BBC BASIC to the Z80, and was finishing off the port to Acorn's Z80 second processor system. And was based in Essex just down the road from Ambit.
Indeed, and IIRC Richard Russell went on to write the BBC Basic for Clive Sinclair's Z88.
But Howard Fisher knew Richard Clayton since college, so why wouldn't he give the job to a chum if the friend was sufficiently competent? I think Fisher specifically didn't want another version of BBC Basic.
Or perhaps he approached Russell but Russell wanted more money than Clayton did. Only Fisher knows that answer to that.
You're being sniffy over semantics. The database capability in Mallard BASIC was excellent and it was a particularly decent language to code in (I used the PCW version which was somewhat inferior at screen handling and any graphics required assembly(*), but allowed for much larger programs by loading code in and out of memory via the RAM drive)
Also, I rather suspect you're replying to Roland Perry.
. He knows a lot about this.
(*) I'm not counting GSX
down my memory lane, my second computer was a cpc6128 and coming from a zx81, it was like jumping far into the future, the CPC6128 was the best machine amstrad ever made, regardless of the 464 hitting a cheaper more populous price point in the end, The CPC6128 hit all the high notes of user desire at a cheap price point, no other home/any machine could match it at the time for the money. And this article sits in alignment with my remembrances neatly, the PCW was the most sold business machine in the UK at the time, simple enough, for the on average older business user whose needs, were mainly word simple office work and printing, to be honest regardless of how many post pcw - amstrad Pc's - 1512's etc they sold, they were no where near as good, and other Pc's soon surpassed them in utility. Alan's good decision making then was knowing when to cut the losses down one route and find the right people or companys for the job, roland perry driving forward a team of bright people that succeeded in delivering a great computer.
I had a Commodore 64, a Spectrum and two Amstrad CPC's 464 and 6128.
The only ones I have bothered replacing are the two CPCs, the reason for that is the CPC6128 was a very good 8-bit comptuer and the 464 was on a par with the C64 and when programmes were written to its strengths better.
The Spectrum no amount of nostalgia will make it anything more than it was, the first but not the best.
The wonderful thing is there is still life in the old dog. People are still producing new software for it. Two of my favourite new games from the last couple of years are the superb Star Sabre and Sub Hunter, both of which are supremely polished. Star Sabre has the kind of pixel perfect scrolling only usually seen on computers that have hardware assistance, and Sub Hunter has an obscene amount of parallax scrolling. Both are extremely polished and fun to play.
And not forgetting Orion Prime with it's superb graphics if you enjoy Point And Click adventures.
There's remakes of R-Type and Bubble Bobble as well. Both polish up the originals superbly. There's also a version of Rick Dangerous updated to take advantage of the 4096 colours and DMA sound of the Plus machines.
All good stuff and combined with new utilities (such as the file manager for the HxC floppy emulator) it means that 30 years on the CPC still has new and exciting things happening.
In hindsight it was still a minor miracle considering my mother is a complete luddite.
My friends in school who had a computer at home had a CPC6128. Obviously, I would have liked that so we could trade games on 3.5in floppies. But nope, we got a 464+ as that cost <£100.
We only ever had two game cartridges, I can't say I have fond memories of either. The manual included instructions for games in Basic. My sister and I spent entire afternoons copying the code so we could play more games, but there were so many typos and errors in the instructions that we only ever got one to work - and that was little more advanced than pong. Saving and loading from tapes only caused more hassle too. Thankfully we got a NES not long after and the 464+ was given away.
I'm too young to recall the original CPC464, but that CPC6128 was popular indeed back then - and appears to be fondly remembered.
I loved the 464 that my parents got me for Christmas 1984. By then I was already enthusing about programming, on the BBCs we had at school, but those were unaffordable, especially considering that they'd also have to buy a cassette player and a screen for it as we didn't have a TV. The CPC, with tape deck and monitor included, was cheaper than the Acorn machine alone, and that alone makes it a better machine.
I was still using it up to 1992 when I used Protext on it to write up my A-level physics project, and to crunch the numbers for my A-level stats project.
In between, I must have spent most of my waking hours hacking on it. It made me the highly-paid IT pro that I am today. Thanks, Alan, Roland, Richard et al!
I had one of these and remember it fondly, but see no mention here of the cut corners on the printer port. If you look closely at that circuit diagram, right in the middle is the pritner port latch - see what the high bit of the output is connected to? That's right, nothing - despit the edge connector on the MOBO having a connection for the eigth bit, to save costs, the controller chip was 7-bit.
I had a fairly good (for the time) 24 pin Epson dot matrix printer. Whilst the CPC464 could print the standard ASCII characters, it couldn't send extended characters (128-255), so I was missing out on the fancy accented and box characters the printer could print. Eventually, I managed to work out that the printer itself had control codes that could tell it to set the high bit on the next character - I remember being particularly pleased with myself, as I must have been 11 or 12 at the time. IIRC, you could buy adapters that sat on the edge connector of the printer port, and in conjunction with a machine code hack to the firmware which sent two bytes per character to the port, seamlessly sent the full eight bits to your printer.
Not quite right. The port (and buffer chip) used for the printer had 8 bits - seven for data and one for the strobe. To have implemented 8-bit data would have meant supplying a whole extra 8 bit port and only using one bit of it.
In other news, the PCW had (including the 24pin capable printer) fewer chips in it than a contemporary 8pin Epson printer.
Not mentioned in the article, the CPC has a little secret. Amstrad were not sure if they were going to market the CPC themselves or just licence it to third parties in each country.
As a result the main board has a jumper on it that replaced the Amstrad name on boot-up with any of the following:
ISP (A brandname of Orion, see below)
Triumph (nobody is 100% sure who, possibly the typewriter people?)
Saisho (brand used by DSG Group)
Solovox (Comet, so Sugar hedging his bets here!)
Awa (Australian electronics company)
Schneider (German electronics company)
Orion (the people who actually manufactured the CPC)
In the event only Amstrad and Schneider were widely used although some have reported that AWA has been seen in the wild.
It is highly likely that some of those companies would not have even been aware their name had been included in the ROM!
All the 464 brand names were ones that might have appeared on a home computer in an electrical store. So "Triumph" is not related to any of the usual guesses, although I don't recall what the correct answer is. My top candidate would be an in-house brand of another UK chain (such as Rumbelows). I just did an eBay search and came up with this collection of Triumph "Vintage hifi separates", http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/hi-fi-separates-/261399503754
based on the 6502 processor then being used in the BBC Micro, the Commodore 64 and the Apple II, and judged in the competitive analysis to be more highly regarded than the Z80
You what?! No way in hell. The Z80 was more complicated to program but the 6502 was just a glorified hardware controller. The real advantage it had over the Z80 was price, not technology.
(*)Programmers had to be able to count beyond three to keep track of the registers :)
The Amstrad CPC464 was my first computer that my parents gave me for Christmas one year when I was about 10. I learned AMSBasic as well as Z80 assembly over the next few years (even though my first assembler was hand typed in from an Amstrad Action magazine listing).
This machine represented a defining point for me as it hooked me on coding forever and decided that software development would be my career choice.
I only had the green screen, longed for a colour screen but was perfectly happy otherwise.
It was a great machine as far as I am concerned.
Over time I saved up and bought the 3" "Floppy" drive, the LightPen, the ROM pack with a text editor (Protext I think) , the speech synthesizer, a BCPL compiler, a proper assembler (cannot remember the name but it was the only professional one available) and tons of games and serious applications on disc and cassette too.
A couple of points on the article though. My CPC464 was dressed in a dark grey casing, not the light casing shown in the images but the article doesn't mention an update (it was definitely not a 464 Plus as that came out later and wasn't very good). What further intrigues is that the processor in my CPC464 whilst still running at 4Mhz was actually a Z80B, not a Z80A. Suggests either an update or that there were component variations over time.
I remember after the 664 was out, Amstrad started selling 3 inch "double density" disks for it. It soon emerged that these were identical the the "single density" disks already being sold for the 464, just re-badged, and more expensive. There was a fuss in the computer press, and it was something of an Arthur Daley moment for Alan Sugar (Minder was big), who shortly afterwards did the reverse-ferret and started selling just one type of disk, at the cheaper price.
I'm inspired by this article to order Sugar's autobiography. What You See is What You Get indeed!
Ok, maybe I'm confusing people as an American, but didn't el reg just recently run an article savaging Alan Sugar as a tech-illiterate boob? But in this article he's a hero?
Is this selective perception or am I getting my Alans mixed up? Alan Kay? No, no... Alan Wake? No.... Alan Wrench? No, not Alan Wrench...
PS: Thanks Register for making these articles on ANCIENT computer technology... most of today's computer users - especially those who grew up on iPhones don't know how GREAT they have it today.
Lets compare my Motorola phone that I paid $100USD for. It has a 1.4Ghz dual-core CPU, 8GB internal RAM (16 add-on card). 1280x720 resolution on a 4.5" display. Its a PHONE, its a camera, its an HD camcorder, it has GPS, a flashlight, can get onto the internet... without wires.
Then, lets go back to 1992 Amiga technology: The Amiga 3000 25mhz (which I own). Its price was $1500USD ($2500 in 1990). It has a 25mhz single core CPU, a 50MB HD and 5MB of RAM (not GB). Its display output (with a $400 SVGA Monitor) at best, could do 720x480x16 colors (AmigaOS 3.0). The computer *DID NOT* include a DVD-drive or any optical drive. NO modem, NO cameras. You got the computer, HD, Floppy drive and a keyboard.
Go to 1986 and you have the $1200 Amiga 1000 which came with 256K / floppy drive and a keyboard... HD, memory, additional floppy drives were external.... its still a sexy little computer.