UK Computers 1978 to 1989

Amstrad CPC464

Amstrad were mentioned earlier when they bought out Sinclair computers and released a number of improved versions. However, Amstrad produced computers in their own right. From the outset, they adopted a different philosophy. A Sinclair Spectrum had to be connected to a TV (and produced a screen no more than adequate quality), a tape recorder, it power supply and possible a few interface cards jammed on the back. You ended up with quite a large desk just to keep it all tidy and connected. The CPC464 came with a monitor which contained the power supply to which you plugged the computer which had a proper keyboard and a built-in tape recorder. The whole lot looked very slick. The price was also excellent for a proper computer monitor. The problem was that it wasn't a proper monitor. It was, simply, an Amstrad TV reboxed and connected to the computer video output. Quality was better than a TV but nowhere near the quality of a proper monitor of the time. The keyboard was also a little clattery but much improved on a Spectrum. After that, things get much better. Amstrad wrote their own BASIC, Locomotive BASIC, which was much more powerful than the majority of others and included timed event handling (every so often, run this bit of the program) and text-based windowing. It was also capable of running CP/M which was the business operating system of the day. The computer also had very good quality 3-channel sound which was easily controlled from BASIC.

The 464 came with 64K of memory and ran on a fairly fast Z80 processor. There was also a 664 which substituted a disk drive for the tape deck. The disk was a 3 inch version(said to be used because they were much cheaper) though actually better than the 3.5" floppy which survives to this day. It was much more robust though you had to flip it over the access side 2. The disk controller, though, was totally standard so you could easily attach a 3.5" floppy externally.

All-in-all, the 464 epitomised the Amstrad company of its day. In certain areas it had to be built down to a price but everywhere else was of very high quality. The 464 was fast and powerful and the fact that the, very cheap, "monitor" was not as good as a proper one was somewhat irrelevant as it was still better than the TV and avoided arguments over "Jet Set Willy" or Coronation Street.

Oric Atmos

This was very like the Oric 1 but with two significant improvement, firstly, those BASIC bugs were fixed and, secondly, it came with a very good keyboard. The design worked really will with the keyboard covering most of the top of the computer and the different colours used were very attractive. That same year came disk drives, modems and printers for the Atmos making it an excellent option. Sadly, the sales did not meet requirements and Oric was soon no more.

Tatung Einstein TS-1

In many ways, the Einstein is in the list under false pretences as it was really aimed at the business market. I was only interested because it was built by Tatung and my first job was at Decca in Bridgnorth who were taken over by Tatung. The computer is something of a monster, certainly bigger than a BBM Model B or Master. It looks exceptional with a very good quality keyboard and one or two 3 inch floppy drives (like the Amstrad CPC664). It was very like the Sharp MZ computers in that it booted into a small monitor program, after which you could load BASIC (Xtal Basic) or boot into CP/M. It came with a Z80 processor (obligatory to run CP/M) and 64K of memory. Unusually, for a business machine, it also came with sprites for games. The computer was also heavily advertised in the home computer press. This confusion over identify, plus the high initial price (£499) doomed the Einstein to failure. Shame for such a well-built computer.