Alan Sugar reminds me of Hugh Laurie. In the same way that you look at the star of Jeeves and Wooster and House and think: "What a remarkable actor - but he'd have made a brilliant musician!" I look at Sir Alan and think: there goes the man who could have been one of the best journalists in the country. Two of my wealthiest …
TRS-80 using 6502? Are you sure
Fascinating article, it takes me right back. One thing I remember about the CPC series was that Amstrad shipped them when they said they would, with software available. A big change from the Sinclair approach.
One nit to pick, though. Although the 6502 was used in the PET, Apple II, BBC Micro and others, I'm sure that Tandy's TRS-80 used the Z-80.
More misses than hits
I worked in the late mid 80's to learly 90's repairing Amstrad tat whilst working for a large chain's servicing department. They were produced with the cheapest components you could imagine and we saw more Amstrad returns than anything else. New models would come on the market each month with only the slightest of changes like a Green Led on light instead of a Red Led on light. The biggest joke was the vertical record deck with the twin tape desks. Looked like a condom dispenser and made it hard work playing a record as you had to screw the record in place with a huge plug...madness.
Ohhhh and lovely fake venner finish.....
I've never met Alan Sugar but I have met Felix Dennis and feel I now know both a little better.
My father was works manager at one of the plants that printed OZ and went to a party at a squat with Felix and his co-conspirators after a business meeting back in the 60s. The party was raided for drugs and the police thought him very suspicious in his business suit amongst all the hippies.
I had the good fortune to attend one of Felix's poetry recitals, complete with free wine, a couple of years ago. He's a very interesting man with a great take on things and a funny yet thought provoking way with words. The high class vintage wine was great too!
PCW, PC - brilliant, CPC - less so.
The real, true success was the PCW, and possibly the Z88. A well integrated package that just did enough and offered the expansion capabilities to do much more (the PCW also ran CP/M and had an expansion slot. It could be made to do anything from spreadsheets, basic DTP to (mono!) games and was an excellent business machine). They were the technical success.
The CPC? Nothing special in retrospect. The CPC6128 had a reasonable stab at being a game/business machine, and due to the monitor could actually properly word process, whilst competitors couldn't manage 80 columns. The PCW, incidentally, managed 90x30 which was rather good.
The PC1640 onwards range were technically nothing special, but designed to a price and affordable in the days when PCs were vastly expensive and WordPerfect was still 300 quid..
You're quite right.
Can't think what made me forget that. I even have a Trash-80 clone in the "museum" here!
not long forgotten
Well, I remember the 6502...
More to the point, wasn't it the inspiration for the now ubiquitous ARM design? In computer terms, I reckons that's close to immortality.
The clue is in the name. In those days it was either the 6502 or the Z80.
Z80 computers included the TRS-80, Sharp MZ80-K, Nascom 1 and 2 etc.
6502 was in UK101, Ohio Superboard, Microtan 65, Commodore PET, BBC Micro, Oric Atmos, Acorn Atom, Acorn Electron etc.
Ah - happy days...
Anyone want a PC1640?
Yep, we've recently received 2 of them from an office clear-out.
At least one still works - haven't tested the other. About as responsive as a decently configured Vista machine, though the 20MB HDD is a tad lethargic.
WHO was to blame for the emailer?
Hmmm, quite a nice article, but you can hardly blame Watkins for the emailer.
That nasty little child was firmly from Sugar's family line. He was responsible for the 'vision' and hence spec and doggedly dragged his nasty little offspring through three generations until the board did the kind thing with the burlap bag and the canal.
Wonder whether the quality of Amstrad Skyboxes will drop any further now that Siralan can now be a full time TV innovator? Though the likelihood is that everybody's boxes will 'forget' to record his shows and all will be dandy.
CPC should have done better
The CPC was a very well-specced system with a great BASIC, arguably the best 8-bit of the era on all-round technical abilities, but suffered from typical Amstrad "cheap and cheerful" execution, from arriving to market two years after it's main rivals, the Spectrum and C64, and from having a lot of games which were straight Spectrum ports, which as a Speccy owner back in the day I found quite hilarious!
It wasn't the only 8-bit at the time with 80 character capability - the original BBC-B and Electron both could do 80-columns (though with about 21K out of 32K available used for the display, you couldn't "do" all that much really unless you used expansion ROMs for stuff like wordprocessing).
@Peter Kay: the Z88 wasn't an Amstrad machine, it was Sinclair (operating as Cambridge Computers, well after the Amstrad-Sinclair Research buyout).
Also, Felix Dennis published "Your Sinclair", *surely* he deserves a knighthood for that? ;-)
Sugar in a pickle
AMS's overgrown street trader impression may be very good with some of the meejah, but his products have been a bit more, shall we say, variable. A bit like his fellow traveller Mr Branson in some ways.
Meanwhile, the Sintrom in Oxford mentioned in the article, is that the same Sintrom whose chip shop eventually begat Research Machines, whose own Z80 box was called the RM380Z? I reckon it is.
One two squeezy boy
"In those days I was "editor at large" of what was, then, a singularly powerful trade weekly, MicroScope. This meant that as well as working with Alan, I spoke with several people who provided Amstrad with components and systems for the PC and PCW."
Would this kind of dual-employment be allowed today?
Re - Dave Driver
It definitely was NOT an either/or case !! You completely forgot the 6809 chip which was also quite popular in those days !! You also forgot the Commodore 64 which pre-dated the Pet and the British TRS-80 clone - the Video Genie - and the masses of Far Eastern Apple II clones, i.e. the Franklin, Pear, etc. Some of them came as DIY kit-in-a-bag which pre-dated the ZX80/81 !!
Then there's the grand-daddy of all micro-computers, the Altair DIY job. Ask any kid nowadays what breadboarding means and they'll back nervously away from you holding out a knife or a cross, depending on their religion !!
Just confirming - TRS-80 did NOT use the 6502
As Mike Smith points out, the TRS-80 was Z80 based, not 6502.
I don't know what's more boring...listening to Guy Kewney talk about all the millionaires he knows or listening to Guy Kewney talk about technology (which he is clearly clueless about)
Oh mighty ones, please save us from this journalistic tripe and better screen your content. The Reg is full of such good stuff but this eeedjit needs to go...all in favour say "I"...
Good Insight.... indeed!
Nice piece... I'm a big fan of retro computing, having owned a ZX Spectrum Plus and then a Spectrum +3 in the 80s and I always wonder why Amstrad didn't do more with the Speccy!
I am fascinated by Alan Sugar's business skills, but I have to say he didn't seem to have the best interests of users and computer enthusiasts at heart.
Look at the failure to produce an add on 3inch disk drive for Spectrum +2 owners when the +3 came out!
I rest my case.
TRS-80 *Color* == 6809
According to wikipedia, the original TRS-80's used a Z80, while later "TRS-80 *Color* Computer (Coco)" used a 6809. I can't vouch for that, as I never owned one. But the code I typed into my 6809-wielding Dragon was always listed as "TRS-80" - one example I have to hand describes it as "TRS-80 (32K)", another explicitly describes it as "TRS-80 Colour computer (32K)". So I'd be surprised to discover there wasn't a 6809 variant.
(Ah, 6809s - two users stacks and SEX - happy days *sigh*)
Some sad techie facts.
The Commodore Pet is definitely older than the Commodore 64.
Commodore Pet introduced 1977
Commodore 64 introduced 1982
The Vic-20 was introduced before the 6 in 1981.
The C64 used a 6510 - a modified 6502
The big problem with the CPC systems was they couldn't scroll very well. So, where the Spectrum and the C64 had sideways scrolling games the CPC versions were usually flick screen.
The 1512 and 1640 had non-standard CGA/EGA graphics so a lot of games had to have custom code for these computers.
Pay your hacks more!
...so Guy can afford the Alzheimer's treatment.
I just read Guy's valediction for AMS on The Register, and it looks like that bloke from News 24 is at it again, masquerading as the real Kewney we know and love. Starting with...
"He'd put this together with Bob Watkins, a technical expert in electronics"
Bob was/is a technical draftsperson - happily admited to knowing very little about electronics. Currently successfully running a fast growing office furniture manufacturing business in Essex.
"It was nearly two years later that the man who could have been Watkins's replacement, Roland Perry, approached Sugar with a project to build a world-beating microcomputer, "
It was actually me, and Roland was working for Ambit with me at the time. In those days, Ambit dealt with Amstrad in various electronics ways - including design of CB radio (remember that?) - and I heard from Bob that their "secret" home computer project had got stuck when the designer ran and hid from the wrath of AMS.
But they had all the plastic moulding done, so what they needed was a commodore 64 ish thing that fitted inside.
"To promote him would have been a slap in the face for Watkins who stayed on as CEO until, finally, the Amstrad eMailer showed that he really didn't have Perry's genius for designing to a spec."
Oh dear. Watkins left to work for Binatone for a period after Amstrad sold out of their successful diversion into the Dancall cellphone business where Bob pretty much drive through the creation of the first multiband GSM phone, but returned from Hong Kong to do AMS bidding with the emailer; had Bob been allowed to do what he (and I) wanted it could have been the Minitel 2000 terminal it was screaming out to become but wasn't.
Sir Alan's "Arkwright-esque" and ferociously omniscient proprietorial behaviour was a great asset at the beginning, but clearly become less appropriate towards the end when a company with a £23m cash mountain could not think up what to do with any of it.
I could go on at greater length, but I value my kneecaps. Especially where Guy's remarks on nepotism are concerned, although I don't think he was alluding to nephews ... Perhaps AMS should have used his £23m and instincts to create the self-closing cash register ..?
Love to all
No mention of the NC-100
A half decent portable similar to the NEC PC8201A, Tandy 100 series, and Cambridge Z88. It had a horrible 'user friendly' interface suitable only for technophobes, but had BBC Basic and PCMCIA card slot.
What a great article! I never realised his price points were based around credit card limits! Pure genius! Just a little thing so tiny and insignificant, exploited by a real pro!
I was basically raised an Amstrad junkie! We had an Amstrad Car stereo in our old VW van, the second home computer was an Amstrad 464 ( first was a Dragon 32! ), the third was a CPC6128 then the first PC we ever owned was, yep, Amstrad 1640 ECD (EGA)! I even convinced five of my schoolmates to get 464's so we could "trade" games and copy them on, yep, one of my mates had a double-deck Amstrad Hi-Fi unit! We beat the life out of it everyday for 3 years!!! If it wasn't for Mr Sugar I wouldn't have a good job in IT. He made it possible for average hardworking Joes, like my old man, to afford to the technology they knew would set their kids on the road to jobs in the new wonderful world of computers!
Thanks Alan for everything! Now how about getting Murdoch to re-release an updated 464 or Speccy?
Geeking isn't just for computers
Alan Sugar started his business selling from the back of a Mini Van.
I notice no-one mentions how Sugar used the Elan/Enterprise's pre-launch publicity to infliuence the colour scheme of the 464 and benefit from the delays that the technically superior Enterprise suffered ;)
Blah blah blah...
A dinosaur gushing about another dinosaur. I thought this site was about what's going on now rather than being an archive of anecdotes from ancient history. Maybe we can have an informative article about how Alan Turing was a really nice chap by some old hasbeen claiming to be be a good friend of his.
Seriously, can the staff at El Reg not find anyone to write articles other than their dads?