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-   -   Lost Computers - The Acorn Archimedes (http://eab.abime.net/showthread.php?t=5268)

Bloodwych 29 June 2002 17:06

Lost Computers - The Acorn Archimedes
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When people talk about the top desktop computers of the late eighties/early nineties, the usual contenders emerge – Amiga, Atari ST, Mac, PC.

Although the Amiga was technically a very advanced machine for its time, by 1987 a very worthy competitor hit the scene that decided to skip 16-BIT and head straight into 32. It was developed and produced in my home country of England and it was indeed a beast. If you have never lived in the UK you’ve probably never experienced this machine.

The most powerful (for serious applications) and definitely the most underrated computer of this time was the English designed and built 32-BIT Acorn Archimedes. It was the first RISC computer ever sporting its custom ARM CPU (providing power above all it’s rivals hitting 4-5 MIPS), had an excellent multitasking operating system ahead of it’s time, internal IDE controller as standard, internal PSU, displayed 256 colours on screen at once on high res 640x*** non-interlaced modes (up to 1152x*** in 2 colours or more depending on VRAM) and blasted out 8 voice 48 kHz stereo sound with the ability to place every voice freely anywhere between the left and the right channel.

Much like the Amiga’s superior hardware when it first emerged, it was underrated by the consumer market due to its expensive price and “serious” user tag. It had much success in schools but failed to capture the imagination of home users, mainly because the Amiga/Atari-ST hard already flooded the market with their cheaper prices and vast array of games. Due to this fact, this computer continued to receive great support through educational software but little in the way of games emerged. Those games that did appear tended to be simple efforts or perfect ports of the Amiga versions, but the extra capabilities of the Archimedes – more sound channels, higher res and extra colours - were rarely used.

It’s very hard to compare the Arch and Amiga from a technical point. The arc was never meant to be a games machine, lacked a blitter/copper and was better suited for serious and 3D applications. The extra speed from the Risc design and fast memory access usually allowed the Arc to power it’s way past it’s 2D gaming weaknesses, but I can’t help thinking how a few dedicated video chips could have turned it into one kick-ass games machine had the budget allowed.

Many of the several Archimedes models that emerged were ahead of their competition by some margin in the “serious/business” users bracket including the RISC OS – apart from being run completely from ROMS (no disk needed, zero boot time!) it wasn’t pre-emptive (it waits for the user to lead it), featured full multitasking and you can easily move files and data between compatible applications (and most of them are compatible) by using a unique drag and drop system. It also supported 3 mouse buttons. The mac, PC and Amiga weren’t even close to the RISC OS in these early times. Even though technically they were miles ahead of any competitor with the unique RISC design the exact same Commodore effect hit Acorn - bad marketing and a lethargic development schedule more or less killed the company.

So here is my thread to let the world know that the Amiga wasn’t the only technically brilliant machine to lose out to moneybags Microsoft and IBM. The Acorn Archimedes was developed on a shoe string budget, incorporated an efficient and state of the art RISC design and had one of the best OS of it’s time. Even on this limited budget, they continued to produce machines up until late 1998 although development had slowed down considerably and plodded along after it’s lightening start. After producing computers for 20 years including the BBC Micro and electron, eventually Acorn went the way of Commodore.

If life was fair and technical achievement decided success, we’d be living in a Commodore Amiga, Acorn Archimedes dominated world. Both these machines deserved continued success. It’s just a shame the technically weaker designs won. :(

Below is a screenshot of the early RISC OS 2 and an Acorn A3000. More expandable computers with separate keyboards were available too. I still had WB1.3 on my Amiga while using these operating systems at school! In 1992 they got replaced with the A3010, then the A5000. Finally, all schools ditched the Archimedes and brought in PC’s. :(

If anyone’s interested, I’ve seen A7000’s going for as little as £50-£100 around the net. Don’t know if they’re still in stock, but these were some kick-ass RISC machines! If only Acorn had decided to add dedicated gaming hardware to this lightening fast design.

Now I’ve introduced you to this lesser known machine, how about someone doing a thread on the Sharp X68000 made known to me by Akira – apparently a very successful and from the sounds of it powerful game-dedicated computer from Japan.

If Acorn had combined the Archimedes lightening fast Risc design with Sharp’s hardware game features (hardware sprites, hardware scrolling, genlocking, up to 16 perspective or playfields) I shudder to think of the possibilities!

oldpx 29 June 2002 17:10

I heard Acorn was not popular for it was marketed as an educational computer and therefore wasted.

I always wondered what X68000 was like. The only emulator I saw was in japanese.

Paul 29 June 2002 17:24

I remember having to use 1st Word Plus and Artisan. Also I remember Poster (Not sure on the name) at school.

I once had a go at using the CD-ROM, watching a video clip. But I did something I shouldn’t (can’t remember what) which made the bar at the bottom fill with CD-ROM icons. I was not popular with the teacher after that. Opps:laugh

Bloodwych 29 June 2002 18:22


Originally posted by Burseg
I always wondered what X68000 was like. The only emulator I saw was in japanese.
Don't be put off!!!

I've just downloaded 2 of the best X68000 emulators and some games. Got them running in no time.

Get everything you need from here

The games are truely amazing for a 68000 computer, better than the SNES and Megadrive in most cases which were released years later. Looking at it's workstation design, it must have been very expensive however back in the late eighties.

oldpx 29 June 2002 18:44

The screenshot of gradius x68000 looks great!!!

Akira 29 June 2002 19:40

Acorn is nice. I almost bought an A5000 :D RiscOS is something nice to use!!!

I'll try to do something about the X68000 :) It's like a bloody CPS2 machine, really. Pishes all over the other 16 bit computers of its time (sorry Amiga!)

Twistin'Ghost 29 June 2002 23:25

Excellent thread, Bloodwych! I have emulators for all of these machines discussed here, plus CD's full of software for them. I stockpiled this stuff some time ago, yet never managed to incorporate the time to fully explore the experience of these machines. But I did read up lots on them and always found it fascinating. And very often I will follow Acorn auctions, etc. or study the differences between game software that exists on Acorn/x68000/etc. and the Amiga, and even the way they were marketed and packaged compared to the Amiga. These are cool machines. If I recall correctly, the educational software for Acorn machines was more serious than the more kiddie-oriented educational fare on other systems (including the Amiga). Being that I have become somewhat of a connisseur of edutainment, I should probably dig this stuff back up and have another go at it.

Can you maybe explain the differences in the different Acorn machines and whether they are compatible with each other? I have downloaded software from usenet floods that are labeled as BBC Micro or Electron, yet I really don't understand the differences here. Then you mention the A5000, A7000, etc., so I'm a little lost on that part.

Looking forward to the x68000 thread now!

Tommo 30 June 2002 13:18


Can you maybe explain the differences in the different Acorn machines and whether they are compatible with each other?
BBC Micro - 8-bit machine. Fast for it's time.
Electron - Cut-down version of BBC Micro. BASIC is compatible with BBCs, but is slower.
A3xx/A4xx/A3xxx/A4000/A5000 - First gen Archimedes machines, as Bloodwych described above.
A7000/RiscPC - Second gen Archimedes machines, with enhanced graphics abilities. Mostly backwards compatible with first gen Archimedes.

A cheap way to get hold of Acorn machines is from schools - mine is throwing out loads of RiscPCs and A5000s, and I'm going to get hold of most of them.

Akira 30 June 2002 20:05

Hey guys, I'd like similar threads about the SAM Coupé and the Atari Falcon. From what I know, the SAM wasa terrific machine, and the Atari Falcon moped the floor with the A4000 :D

Ian 30 June 2002 20:08

The Falcon was alledged to be brilliant, too bad not enough people bought them to find out:(

I'm sure if Atari weren't going down the pan when it was released we'd all know a lot more about it;)

An emulator is in the works though, so we may find out just how good it was soon:)

Akira 30 June 2002 20:29

Yep, what I read about that was gobsmacking! I want one :D

RetroMan 30 June 2002 21:11

Well, the Falcon is a damn nice machine indeed :) But what is a nice machine without any software that makes use of it ??? NOTHING !! I´m afraid, but the Falcon lacks software that makes use of it´s advantages and therefor it´s a fine but nearly useless machine :(

MOS-6581 30 June 2002 23:24

I have a Sam Coupé with 512K ram, it's one of those rarer computers I've managed to get for my collection. I haven't used it much (I must get around to doing that), but from what I've have seen of it, I wasn't too impressed by it. Maybe that will change when I use it some more? Having said that, I would rather have a Commodore 128D with a 1581 drive!!! But I got more chances getting another Sam Coupé than a Commodore 128! :mad :laughing

Akira 01 July 2002 05:10

Hey, I swap you a 128 for a Sam! :P I have shitloads of them around...

Unless you want a plastic case 128D... I want one of those too!

BTW I'd like to hear about your collection! Check out the corresponding thread in the Nostalgia and memories forum, I just lifted it up for you to post :)

[edit: oops! its on this forum, general discussion :P click here! ]

Bloodwych 02 July 2002 13:20

We need more of these "Lost Computers" threads I've started on machines such as the Falcon, X68000 and Sam Coupe.

From my limited knowledge, the Falcon brought the ST up to and even slightly beyond Amiga standards with it's 030, added blitter (finally!), decent colours and sound chip.

The X68000 I'm just becoming familiar with and I have to say I'm impressed.

Finally, the SAM Coupe must be one of the most powerful 8-BIT's ever made. More so than the top of the range MSX?

RetroMan 02 July 2002 13:33


Originally posted by Bloodwych
....added blitter (finally!), ....
The Atari STe also featured the blitter chip ;)

Ian 02 July 2002 13:54

The major thing about the Falcon was the DSP chip I believe.

And this is probably the only reason it isn't emulated right now, aparently to even have a chance of emulating this chip you must have a great deal of knowledge of how it worked in the first place.

The only people who know (Enough about it) are the programmers that wrote stuff for the Falcon and used the chip.

7-Zark-7 02 July 2002 16:38

@Ian. Well, that should be about maybe 5 people tops then!!
Seriously, it was a nice machine, I hate to admit it. I never owned one, but an Atari-devout mate of mine had an ST & a Falcon. He was amongst the first people in Australia to get one I think- though the store he ordered it through went bust around the same time Atari went belly up in Oz too!!
I seem to recall that the bitmap Bros. were going to do The Chaos Engine or something similar, & actually had a working version but they canned the project due to poor sales of the Falcon.
I know nothing of the Archimedies, but how good was that David "Elite" Braben game Virus/Voyager for it-or was it jusyt a demo?

RetroMan 02 July 2002 17:35

The so called game Virus was released on the Archie and renamed to Zarch :) Still worth a look (great game :D) !

Ian 02 July 2002 17:44

And let's not forget the Archie version of Elite was/is the best version according to popular opinion;)

Anybody wants some Archie games, just give me a shout, I have all the TOSEC set and will put them (Not the whole collection though;)) in the zone for everyone to try:)

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