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back to article Acorn alumni to toast tech pioneer's 30th anniversary

Some 400 staffers from that flag bearer of the 1980s UK home computing revolution, Acorn, are to gather next month to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the firm's foundation. The original Acorn no longer exists, of course, but the company it ultimately evolved into, ARM, is hosting the gig, which will take place in Cambridge, …

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Happy

Dates seem a bit out...

You've listed supply problems for Christmas 2003, I guess its true as the Electron has been out of production for a very long time - I think you meant 1983.

I had an Electron as my first computer in 1985 - I fully agree the Acorn thing created a very high number of IT professionals. I have been in industry since I was 18 and am only 32 now. Very grateful to Acorn and my parents for the Electron - even if I only I did a small amount of BASIC programming on it.

I also remember using them at my school computer club when I was just 8 years old, those were the days, CTRL-BREAK to boot if I remember correctly.

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Joke

All good BOFH's have a job to do!

Brake out the duct tape and the cattle prod. Some of these people may need our help!

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Paris Hilton

Piggy in the Middle

In theory I could make a sarcastic remark about how the Acorn Electron was not on sale in 2003 and 2004, but I will not do so; I expect that the article will be amended before this message appears, and people reading this message will have no idea what I am talking about.

Instead, I will ask if there is a case manufacturer out there that makes BBC Micro cases suitable for a PC motherboard. I used to love the BBC Micro's keyboard - it was a man's keyboard - and also the general look and feel, and it would be nice to recapture that.

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Alert

Christmas 2003?

Not enough stock for Christmas 2003 and too much for 2004? 8-bit computing was a bit old-hat by then...

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Are you sure it was 2003/2004

I'm guessing the dates are wrong.

I used to visit a pal's place to play with his Acorn 1K Atom

Abiding memory is of him, every so often, having to remove the case and resolder some bit that had melted its solder and come loose

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Coat

Finally, demand is met!

Yep, that 2004 sales period was a doozy; compared to the Xbox and PS2, the little Electron really FLEW off the shelves!

Perhaps you mean 1983 and 1984? Just... a guess?

Coat is not for me. It's for the author.

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Thumb Down

Ahem

Electrons for Christmas 2003, I think not !

Which reminds me, anyone got a spare 6 pin din cable lying around ?

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Anonymous Coward

Christmas 2003 and 2004?

Wow, Acorn created a bit of a time-shift. 20 years in fact.

I can't imagine the Electron would be a major seller in time for Christmas 2003.

1983 would be more likely.

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Happy

History re-written...

"Unfortunately, Acorn made too few Electrons to meet demand in the crucial Christmas 2003 sales period – though the BBC was continuing to be a runaway success. Learning from that experience, Curry and Hauser ensured there would be plenty of Electrons for punters to buy in time for Christmas 2004."

Hmmm, I don't remember this - was there a resurgence of retro-computing 4/5 years ago?

As an aside, my trusty A5000 still amazingly plods along when I fire it up. They were well ahead of their time. The windoze emulation was pretty damn cool and I used to use it a fair bit in conjunction with regular RiscOs stuff (!Impression was a definite workhorse application).

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Happy

Well architected platforms...

...that made these possible over 20 years ago:

In 1985 on the Beeb...

http://www.owonder.com/pagemaker_bbc

In 1988 with three networked Archies...

http://www.owonder.com/bitbopper/classic

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Thumb Up

Gawd bless 'em

I spent many a happy hour hacking away on an Electron and BBC B once I had some cash. I got an Archie when they came out and I'm still doing ARM based coding 20 years later. Thank you all at Acorn/ARM

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Bronze badge

Archimedes descendants

Worth mentioning that the descendants of the Archimedes are still available.

The Castle Iyonix is based on a 600MHz Arm processor.

The A9 is about 2/3 as big as a Mac Mini and has a 400MHz processor.

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Go

Archimedes memories.

My first real exposure to anything resembling a modern PC was an Acorn Archimedes. My primary school owned one of these machines (to be shared between 200+ pupils). When I got to Secondary School in 1994, they had loads of the machines, and many a lunchtime was spent playing network Doom. My school certainly hadn't even heard of Windows at that time.

If Acorn were really trying to flog off a surplus of Electrons in 2004 then I'm not surprised the company went bust! A niche market at best. :-)

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Atom wasn't the first...

I think you'll find they marketed a simple single-board computer with an LED display & hexpad for program entry before the Atom. I seem to recall it being called System 5, which suggests there might have been 4 earlier versions too, but my memory might be playing tricks on that front...

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Thumb Up

Wha? Atom? Where's the Archimedes?

If my poor old crappy memory serves, the Atom was the original home computer that Acorn put out before the BBC piped up that it was on the lookout for a suitable machine to go with its TV series. Acorn revamped and upgraded the Atom to produce the BBC "A" & "B". I don't think the Atom was much of a player in the market before the BBC machines took over. I imagine Atoms must be a collector's item now.

I would have thought that the Archimedes was more worthy of mention, as it introduced the ARM Risc processor to the world. It was the bee's knees for its day.

How about the first thing with a green acorn on? The Acorn 65, which was a couple of Eurocard-size PCBs with a 6502 CPU, a hex keypad and 1KB of RAM. You'd get several thousand times the processing power in a cheapie mobile - it's got an ARM in it!

Hey Reg - I think you've got your dates seriously wrong, unless they really DID try to sell a load of 8-bit micros with 32KB of RAM and a 256 colour display for £200 at Crimbo 2004. That might explain the lack of interest.

Thumbs up for a UK company, even though they got bought by Olivetti.

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Black Helicopters

Acorn electrons for Christmas 2003?

Have I stepped into one of those parallel worlds where the West lost the cold war?

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(Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

Re: Acorn electrons for Christmas 2003?

Story updated with correct dates.

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Dead Vulture

Christmas 2004?

Either Tony is been sarcastic, or he needs to check his article after writing it in a hurry without checking his dates. Either that or its a typo. Whatever, I guess.

Still, its great to see the group have a 30th Anniversary Meet to remember such a landmark machine. The BBC Micro may not have been the best or most powerful UK Computer, but the endorsement by the BBC put it in many schools where they continued to be used past the year 2000! (my secondary school had them running LOGO. Which was crap, but makes a point).

Great bit of kit from the past. Unfortunately, computers like this and their 16-bit successors were wiped out by the IBM PC (due to inexpensive clones and tons of software) and Macs (due to their reputation which continues to this day). Atari's ST range went down and the company pushed their (absolutely bloody awful) Jaguar Video Games System, while Commdore's Amiga went out when the company went bankrupt (okay, its continued to this day, but when did you last see an Amiga for sale?). Some could argue Unix Machines such as SGi and Sun's machines also survived, but at around $10,000 a machine I doubt many parents would buy them for their parents to run Doom II.

Thats my few points anyway. A Good site for more info on old machines is http://www.old-computers.com

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Coat

@Trevor: Acorn 65?

Trevor was probably half-thinking of the Microtan 65 which was the predecessor to the Oric 1 in much the same way as the Acorn System 1 lead to the Atom/BBC Micro and the Mk14 led to the ZX80/81/Spectrum/etc.

The BBC Micro is perhaps my favourite computer of all time, although Acorn did miss a trick with the Electron by not incorporating some form of memory-saving display mode (4 colour low-res graphics, perhaps?) to make up for a lack of Mode 7 Teletext which the BBC Micro had, since the high resolution graphics (no laughing at the back) did use up a lot of the 32K memory. And the Archimedes was a fab computer as well but that goes without saying (I owned one until 1995 when it was sold for a Mac).

Mine is the 6502 assembly language programmer's coat.

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Christmas shortages?

"Acorn made too few Electrons to meet demand in the crucial Christmas 2003 sales period" -- Don't I know it, I searched everywhere at Curry's but all I could find were these new-fangled 'Windows XP' Pentium 4 PC things.

As a point of pedantry, by the way, Acorn's computers, and others based on the same designs, are still being manufactured by companies such as Castle Technology. The Operating System is being released as shared-source and is still used in a number of products.

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Heart

Another vote for Archimedes...

...because those Archimedes machines could be credited for my interest in computing as an early 90s school kid. Here's to 30 years of Acorn/ARM! Don't own any Acorn machines any more but hey, there's always emulation (though you don't get the feel of the old keyboard or the smell of the computer room after school or the big old Cub monitors or the... *sniffs and wipes a tear*)...

Now, if only kids these days had the same kit to play with... I guess they'd just laugh at you if you presented them with it. Shame.

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Happy

@ Dave H

Rodnay Zaks didn't write it did he ? ("How to program the Z80" was the first book I ever bought myself :-} )

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Coat

@ Ashley Pomeroy

You can remap the keyboard and use it on a PC, as found here...

http://www.mini-itx.com/projects/bbcitxb/

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dom
Heart

Ho hum..

I started on the 1k Atom and moved onto BBC & Archimedes but my mum threw most of them out in a garage clearup. 6502/Arm RISC Assembly, Chuckie Egg, the smell of bubbling power packs. Those were the days! (well mostly nights if I am honest)

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Thumb Up

Congratulations!

I remember them well they where in my primary school and some still in my secondary (slowly at the time being replaced by windows 3.1 i think) always fun to use and tough as old boots.

I will raise a bear in the pub to this wonderfull bit of kit wonder if i can get one for my retro tech collection

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Linux

BBC=BOFH in training

I was in high school in those days. Talked a cleaner into opening a door into the server area one day. IT backed onto the library and there was a manual about that pesky econet. Photocopier meet manual. Shortly after the school network was mine Bwahahahah!

26 bytes of machine code could eat any disk, that was put in. I never got a good handle on tapping the reset vector so my virus didn't survive a reboot.

Even after leaving the school I still caused problems. (I shouldn't have told a friend that you dont delete the passwords file).

Now what do I do? Fix these blasted PC's. God! I swear we've had 15 years of M$ sitting on their arse milking the whole Industry sigh....

Penguin, cause that's the way I fix all those M$ machines! Bwahahahahh!

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Silver badge

@David H

Mode 5 was 4 colour, 160x256, occupying exactly 10kb of memory. And switching off 100 of those scanlines to give you 160x156 in a touch more than 6kb of memory was relatively trivial.

I think the mistake they made with the Electron was having a CPU no faster than the C64 for most tasks but no real hardware support for ye olde screen scrolling or sprite compositing. Conversely the BBC had a CPU that was always twice as fast as the C64 and a reasonable aptitude for hardware scrolling. If Acorn had been able to squeeze 16 extra kilobytes of memory into the design, in one of the paged memory slots, they'd have had a much more competitive machine (since the CPU goes faster when accessing that area).

That tedious level of knowledge comes to you courtesy of my work in recent years on an Electron emulator.

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Unhappy

Still got mine

Well, I've still got my BBC B and my Electron anyway. I swapped the Atom for a mate's TI99/4A, which I regretted as soon as I realised that TI's 3 channel sound, floating point arithmetic and colour graphics were no substitute for a BASIC that ran at a tolerable speed and an easily accessible assembly language.

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Happy

Get the old playground rivalry stoked up...

"Oh a BBC? They're awful. The graphics are naff and you can't get a decent version of Manic Miner! Elite is OK, I suppose!"

I had a Dragon 32 ( then a CPC464 ). Now when are they going to get the Dragon party started? There'd be all of 10 people turn up, including the customers!

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Happy

Syntax Error at line 10

I spent hours typing in those programmes from Electron User magazine, and they never worked!

My Electron never set me up for a life in IT as I never got further than:

10 Print "hello";

20 Goto line 10

hello

hello

hello

hello

oh oh Mode 2... the best Mode, think it had 8 colours! Fantastic!

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Happy

Don't start with the BOFH bit...

..because a number of us started with Acorn and a few of us still keep them ticking over. My brace of Risc PCs have saved me time after time in situations where users of a certain US based operating system have been creaming their underwear over the latest bugs, not to mention the large amount of DTP and webbery I have put out since I first upgraded from the old BBC A-and-a-bit about 18 years ago.

As for the Dragon, couldn't they get together with the TRS-80 and Video Genie folk? They just might be able to get enough together to get into three digits. Mind you, I'm not necessarily using decimal here...

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Gates Horns

@OrsonX

Oh dear. Should I correct:

10 PRINT "hello";

20 GOTO 10

>RUN

hellohellohellohellohello.....

And for the rest, here's the various graphics modes in full:

20k RAM:

Mode 0: 2 colour 640x256 (80x32 chars)

Mode 1: 4 colour 320x256 (40x32 chars)

Mode 2: 16 colour (inc 8 flashing) 160x256 (20x32 chars)

16K RAM:

Mode 3: 2 colour text only 80x25 chars

10K RAM:

Mode 4: 2 colour 320x256 (40x32 chars)

Mode 5: 4 colour 320x256 (20x32 chars)

8K RAM:

Mode 6: 2 colour text only 40x25 chars

1K RAM:

Mode 7: teletext

I didn't get where I am today without knowing how many colours you could use in Mode 1...

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@Ashley

Can't find a case made specifically to pretend to be a BBC B, but you might find this interesting, where someones taken an old BBC and turned it into a PC (Seems like a waste of a perfectly good Beeb to me)

http://www.mini-itx.com/projects/bbcitxb/

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Happy

@george johnson

Hey, dragon owner here too. Was using mine to run databases on DRS until 2001 (when I moved to the states). Used the databases to run the family store, among other things. even went to the Dragon store in Valetta, Malta in 91 and 92 to stock up on stuff. Telewriter, and my Juki extra-wide daisywheel printer were fond memories. Printer, and computer are packed up in my fathers attic. Also, for those that think they had good uptimes, my Dragon's record uptime, was 8.4 years.

We had the BBC B at my junior school, and in 1990, got an arch, but no-one knew how to use it. On the rare occasions it'd be pulled out, thered be three of us 10yo's, and the teacher, trying to remember how we got it to work last time. When I went to secondary school, we had 20 of them. (and 30 boxes of 10 floppies which was the collective storage for the whole school. In 94, new computer room, the 20 systems became 35, and a token ring network was built into the new room, for these computers, with a high end acorn running as the server. I wouldn't say the network was slow, but it took over 15 minutes to load the DTP program (impressions) onto 30 systems via the network (which I optomised as much as possible)

97, we got 5 P100's with win95. When I went back early 99 they'd got 5 acorns left out, the rest were Pcs, on a dual ISDN connection. from 91 to 99, a single BBC B was still there, in the corner, we used it to control model railways, or other such systems. it was just so good at that.

Continuing the theme, I ended up at Liverpool Uni, in what we were told was basically the ARM recruiting ground. Most of ARM's CPU designers were taught there by Prof. Eccleston, apparantly.

Modern coputers? They're crap by comparison.

*dodging traffic in memory lane*

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Coat

One of my favorite subjects

Beeb.

Fast, flexible, fantastic.

Was blown away by an 8 bit micro doing 3-D hidden line removal wireframe graphics close enough to real-time to be useable for a game (Elite).

Not only a good teaching machine, but well made, with a consistent OS, and brilliantly documented. Modular, vectored OS calls, overlayed sideways ROMs. The way all home PCs should have bee made.

The only real criticism was that it had too little memory. When using mode 0-4, 20K of the 32K was used for the screen, with 3.5K used for various stacks, buffers, and character maps when using the Cassette fileing system, and an extra 2.75K used if using the Acorn disk filing system (DFS). Woe betide you if you also had Econet (NFS - though not the Sun offering), which took another 1K. Left you with about 5K for your program. Soon learned to turn off the fileing systems that were not in use.

And if you used ADFS, you lost even more. On a normal Beeb, you only really did this if you were running an Econet II fileserver, and you needed a 6502 second processor for that (yes, the Beeb could be networked even before it was popular to do so).

Terms to trigger nostalga. PAGE, RAMTOP, OSCLI, VDU, Fred, Jim, Shelia, OS 0.9E, OS 1.2, BREAK, Escape, Tube, 1MHz bus, Ferranti ULA, Teletext Graphics, Attacker, Snapper, Panic Attack, VIEW, and...

"A plastic flower in a Grecian Urn, Goodbye Peter, now press RETURN"

'Nuff said.

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Coat

@Thomas

Not sure about your comment about the paged ROM area being faster.

The Beeb did use fast (for it's time) RAM, but I'm fairly certain that the ROM area was slowed down to 1MHz, while the processor clock was 2MHz (although this may only have been the early systems with the OS and Basic in EEPROM). The speed was required for the RAM, because the CPU and Display ULA had interleved access to the memory, so that both the display hardware and the processor could access the memory at (their) full speed without slowing down the other.

Where the memory was improved was by bank-switch the language ROM (8000-BFFF hex), and OS ROM (C000-FFFF) with the dispay. Acorn did this with the BBC B+, and Master 128 with the Shadow screen, but it introduced compatibillity problems with programs that did not use the OS routines for writing to the display. I think that Acorn copied the idea from either a Solidisk or Watford hardware add-on to the original Beeb.

But these systems never really reached the same popularity level as the original BBC B. Probably, it's time had just come. I still think that there needs to be an education system as accessible as the Beeb for our schools. PCs just do not engage the same degree of enthusiasm in kids or teachers.

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Linux

Ah, memories

My first exposure to Acorn was at college, which had a room full of Atoms.

Then I went on to a work experience course at the local BBC dealership.

I have owned 3 Acorns in a row:-

1: BBC B with Music 500 MIDI synthesizer

2: Archimedes A3010 with HDD mod

3: Risc PC StrongArm with SCSI 2x CD burner (The only way to burn on Acorn back then)

I still have the RiscPC, but the CD burner was sold on many moons ago.

Good Times, good times.

Tux, because that's how I roll these days.

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Thumb Up

Such great times.

I had the great privilege of working at Acorn from early 1984 until late 1987 and, even though that time included the near-bankrupcy of the company and the Olivetti cash injection(s), it was still the best place I've ever worked. So many amazing memories and Hermann Hauser was a truly inspirational leader (the only person I've ever worked for that I can genuinely say that about).

When I joined the company Acorn was still held up as the main player (along with Sinclair) in the "Silicon Fenn" phenomena, the UK/Cambridge's attempt to create a local equivalent to California's Silicon Valley. I remember being amazed at the number of TV crews that always seemed to be in the building to shoot interviews for various news items and documentaries, at least two a week for a while.

I've booked my ticket for the event and I know at least one person who is flying over from California especially to be there.

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Happy

@ Mister Cheese

LOL!

can't programme - but I did complete Citadel, which made full use of those colours in Mode 2, awesome stuff!

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