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back to article Twelve... classic 1980s 8-bit micros

Reg Hardware Retro Week Logo Those were the days, my friend. And, indeed, we thought they'd never end, as we hopped, skipped and blooped our way through Jet Set Willy's mansion, traded between distant worlds in Elite and yet still found time to hack up our own arcade clones in any of a dozen variations of the Basic …

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Mattel Aquarius

Nobody ever seems to mention the Mattel Aquarius in these reviews.

Up to 20K RAM (4K standard), Microsoft Basic, even a colour printer was available.

Had bright blue, Spectrum style 'dead flesh' keyboard and Spectrum style one key press to enter the Basic keywords. My Dad bought one from Tesco and was the first computer I ever tried programming on.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mattel_Aquarius

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Re: Mattel Aquarius

perhaps the reason that it isn't mentioned much is because even the mattel engineers didn't think it was any good, internally joking that it was "the system for the seventies!" (it launched in 1983).

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Re: Mattel Aquarius

I think your dad was one of the very few people who bought one. Which is why nobody mentions it.

Nobody remembers it.

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DJV

Re: Mattel Aquarius

Well, I remember it! I also remember seeing one in Debenhams. I don't think it was ever turned on though.

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Re: Mattel Aquarius

I do remember that one. I have memories of being left to play quite a decent version of space invaders one in a supermarket (asda?) while my parents did the food shopping.

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Emo
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Re: Mattel Aquarius

Well I had one, it was the first computer I learned to program on.

Don't forget the plug in joypads, double cartridge expansion - for RAM and games!

Mowerman was my fave as was the spy shooter I cannot recall.

I feel you pain also :(

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woohoo!

an excuse to link to the oric emulator I wrote from scratch (originally as something to do on my train journey to work :)

http://code.google.com/p/oriculator

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Re: woohoo!

That's interesting. I recently found my real Oric-1 had given up the ghost, when I tried to power it up after many years. Can your emulator read in programs from cassettes, for example after they have been sampled into WAV files?

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Re: woohoo!

yep :)

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Pint

Re: woohoo!

10 PAPER 3: INK 1

20 PRINT CHR$(12);CHR$(10);CHR$(4);

30 FOR I = 1 TO 9

40 PRINT CHR$(27);"N THANK YOU!"

50 NEXT I

60 PRINT CHR$(4);

70 END

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Re: woohoo!

"an excuse to link to the oric emulator I wrote from scratch"

Does it faithfully reproduce the hugely irritating click noise I seem to remember the machine producing with each keypress?

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DJV

Re: Does it...

"Does it faithfully reproduce the hugely irritating click noise I seem to remember the machine producing with each keypress?"

Yes! Aaaaargh!

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#@Stanislaw

You picked the only machine in the list that didn't use basic to make that comment on! Now rewrite that in FORTH!

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FAIL

@sabroni, Re: #@Stanislaw

Nope, that was the Jupiter Ace that used FORTH.

(Of course, FORTH was available for the BBC/Master too.)

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@ Sabroni (Re: #@Stanislaw)

Ahem. I am a former Oric-1 owner. It may be thirty years ago but I do remember programming it in BASIC, not Forth. You're thinking of the Jupiter Ace.

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Happy

Re: woohoo!

That's v. impressive.

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FAIL

Re: @me!

Doh! I'll shut up then.....

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Re: Does it...

Have the "Ping Shoot Zap Explode" sound commands????

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Optional

@ Stanislaw

You forgot:

35 ZAP

:-)

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Re: woohoo!

There's a control code to turn off the key click - from memory it's Ctrl P or Ctrl G - though the latter may just make it go PING for no good reason.

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Re: @ Sabroni (#@Stanislaw)

Early Orics came with Forth on tape in the box, so I guess you could use either.

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These are not often mentioned, but they had quite a following. It was a neat machine, with Z80A and 128kB of memory expandable to 4MB, two asics controlling memory, sound and graphics. The memory worked at twice the clock frequency of the CPU, so the controller and CPU did not interfere (one had the even clock ticks, the other the ODD. Nice machine to play around with. Decent Basic, and word processor on board, very expandable. Linked it up to my Dad's daisy-wheel typewriter (what a racket that was

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Happy

I had an Enterprise 128

that was my optional title which was somehow removed (did I offend? ;-) )

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Happy

Re: I had an Enterprise 128

So you were the one! But seriously, the Elan/Flan Enterprises were vaporware for so long that most people gave up and bought something else instead. By the time it came out, there wasn't much to separate it from the competition, and in any case the home computer market was starting to dry up by then.

I recall lusting after the Lynx and the Memotech MTX512 (as featured in "Weird Science", trivia fans).

Acorn Atoms were still being used to drive experiments in the first-year physics labs at the University of Kent into the early 90s - I wonder if they're still there?

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Re: I had an Enterprise 128

No, you didn't offend - just momentarily confuse! : D

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Re: I had an Enterprise 128

Nice hardware, dreadful software. Who in their right mind thought that double precision FP only on an 8 bit CPU was a good idea? Worse still it was buggy. I crashed one with a simple DIM statement (I used to use a Sieve of Eratosthenes as a performance benchmark, 8 byte variables meant it didn't have space for the array, so helpfully it crashed).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I had an Enterprise 128

I always thought that the Enterprise looked like a really interesting machine, though I never managed to get to see one in the 'flesh'.

Are there any good emulators for it?

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Re: I had an Enterprise 128

"Acorn Atoms were still being used to drive experiments in the first-year physics labs at the University of Kent into the early 90s"

BBC Bs were still in use in the Oxford computing labs as late as 1994 (when I was buying my Viglen 486 PC).

Admittedly it mostly seemed they were used to play the second processor version of Elite.

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Re: I had an Enterprise 128

I guess the BBC Bs were replaced with the NextStations that were still in the Oxford Computing Labs a couple of years ago. I found this out when I managed to blag some spare parts for my Next slab from one of the staff members.

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Pint

Hat's off to the Enterprise, I had one too!

Actually I had an Enterprise 64, purchased from the very hands of Gary Bracey, whom many of you recognise from elsewhere, but back then, he ran a computer shop called Blue Chip Computers in Liverpool!

It was a nice little machine crippled by a lack of decent software, with a few far between decent games such as Sorcery and the immortal 3D Star Strike. This motivated me to start to do 'stuff' with it. I fondly recall playing with a more interesting than usual soundchip on there,

In spite of the main company going bust, the remaining stock of Enterprises were sold off to Hungary and it had quite a decent afterlife and still supports an active user community out there.

Try http://www.ep128.hu/ for a lot more info and nice things.

The original machine has long gone away but I have managed to get a replacement from EBay, (one of the more reasonably priced Hungarian models, not the massively "L@@k Rare!!" overpriced EBay collectors sales over here.) I've even managed to score a scart lead and joystick adaptor, and the emulator loads tape images in real time to the original hardware, once I'd tweaked the latency settings properly. So yeah, I'm pleased.

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Re: I had an Enterprise 128

I was using a BBC Master in an un-named ex-utility in 1997 burning EPROMs for alarm monitoring kit. Alarm monitoring kit that on receipt of an alarm condition would dial up and report it to - a network of BBC Masters.

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Mushroom

Atari 800 series ???

You missed out the one made by the makers or arcade games.

They knew how to make gaming hardware.

A sound chip that could do drum beats, and could be configured to high accuracy for pitch.

A graphics chip with a sophisticated display list (so you could scroll play fields using pointers), and superimpose 4 sprites (players) as vertical columns and missiles, represented in contiguous memory.

The players and missiles had h/w registers to indicate collissions between objects on the playfield and sprites and missiles.

That meant no programming of coordinates to detect collisions was required.

That meant the 1.79MHz 6502 could do more.

Play fort apocalypse on an atari and it was an experience. Play it on a commodore 64 and it was laggy.

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Stop

Re: Atari 800 series ???

They should really have clarified this as "British" micros, or at least those which sold in volume in the UK. I'd have loved an Atari 800, but they cost a fortune (especially in the UK).

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Re: Atari 800 series ???

I *really* wanted an Atari 800 - after realising that I could never afford an Apple II - but weren't they something like £399 in early 1980s money. Then along came Commodore with the C64 which I think my mum and dad picked up for £220 in Rumbelows complete with the cassette drive.

Naturally it was for 'education'.

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Re: Atari 800 series ???

Yeah the Atari 800 and later the XL series were my fans back then. Never could get past the 400's membrane keyboard.

I didn't realize they weren't as popular in the UK as the US. I guess the C64 outsold them but in my programming circle in the US the Atari 800 was very popular.

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Re: Atari 800 series ???

Yep, Atari all the way.

So many fond memories of my 800, 800XL and later ST.

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Happy

That was pure nostalgia for me

I had already experienced some computer programming by the time the ZX81 was launched - in COBOL of all things. But for 18th birthday I was given a ZX81. I loved it. It too me about two weeks to exhaust the BASIC programming capabilities of the 1K machine. And I never looked back.

Over the years I had an Atom, an Oric Atmos, a Lynx, a Dragon32, a Z88, an Amiga, I even had a couple of the MSX machines for a while.

But the ZX81 was always my first love.

Like most schoolboys, I won't be revisiting this old love though, my finger ends couldn't take the pain of the keyboard now (he says using an android tablet).

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Re: That was pure nostalgia for me

Yes, left me with a tear in my eye. Am I the only one sad enough to remember the serial numbers of my VIC 20 (#1274) and my Commodore 64 (#1918, early model with the VIC 20 "square key" keyboard, died so replaced with #6776 with the standard "rounded" keys)

Ahhh, those were the days...

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Sob...

No TI99/4a

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WTF?

Re: Sob...

The big thing I remember about the TI99/4a was the overnight price cut from £999 to £99 when it suddenly realised it had newer, cheaper and better competition. Imagine how you would have laughed if you'd just bought one from Tandy the day before the price cut!

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Re: Sob...

Wasn't that price cut something to do with it requiring the included NTSC TV for the display and they finally discover that was the reason for lack of sales so they stuck in a PAL modulator? Or is that just an urban myth?

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Re: Sob...

Just realised- the TI99/4a was a 16 bit micro so wasn't eligible for this list.

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Every 5 years or so...

... I dig up a 1983 Hamley's catalogue, with various machines in it, from amongst my collection of junk. I can't remember which micros are in in it, besides the Spectrum, but it does feature consoles by Coleco, Atari and Parker.

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Re: Every 5 years or so...

As a kid I used to go play in the Hamley's basement quite a bit. The first computer I remember, ever being displayed was the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A. I think they cost around £500 at the time which was LOADS of MONEY.

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NIce to see Tangerine mentioned...

Though they've now gone the way of the Great Auk, I hold a soft spot for them...

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I remember them all. When it came for me to buy a computer for helping my computer studies at school, I had the choice of a BBC-B, a few on this list, a Tatung Einstein (IIRC BBC compatible) and I went for a ... Sharp MZ-700, a machine with hardly any games, character graphics and you had to load the OS from tape every-time you wanted to use it. Mine had the built in tape drive & plotter. But it was £2 cheaper than the BBC-B \:-|

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Tatung Einstein

Not BBC compatible except in as much as you could get BBC Basic for it. The hardware was much more like the MSX machines, but the software was unique. Being fitted with at least one floppy drive as standard, it had a proper operating system -- supposedly CP/M compatible -- rather than relying on the BASIC command interpreter in ROM. Which is just as well, as there wasn't one: BASIC was loaded from floppy. Instead the ROM contained a "machine monitor" which was a command-line system debugger.

Failed to set the market alight, probably 'cos it was too expensive, but towards the end Dixons were punting them out very cheap, especially for something with a real keyboard and a floppy drive, so that's why I got one. Fantastic machine for hacking, using the machine monitor and a book of Z80 op-codes. I used it to patch in a REPEAT/UNTIL construct that was missing from the supplied BASIC interpreter.

Happy days.

-A.

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Re: Tatung Einstein

My Einstein still works, although I had to repair the power supply when I was 13. This was the machine that got me into machine code programming. MOS was a bit of a pain to use, but the supplied manuals were excellent. The Xtal DOS password protection of files was a nice touch and having BASIC loaded from the 3" disk meant lots of spare memory for games.

Great machine, although blooming expensive, about £500 if I remember correctly.

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Happy

I had the Amstrad CPC464 with the green monitor. My mum and dad must have got that software bundle mentioned in the advert too, because I did get a shedload of tapes including all those games. :)

A few of the tapes didn't work, including Roland on the Ropes, but it was a nice introduction to both computing in general and gaming.

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Go

I had exactly the same. I almost shed a tear reading this article as it brought back so many memories!

Amsoft, Roland on the Ropes, Roland takes a running jump, Pyjamarama, Tombstowne, Oh Mummy, Harrier Attack etc. etc.

Read Errors A and B, turning the keyboard / cassette deck upside down when loading for better reliability....

Build me a time machine and let me go back!

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