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back to article The Lynx effect: The story of Camputers' mighty micro

Not all of the early 1980s British home computers were fated to be as successful as Sinclair’s ZX series or Acorn's BBC Micro. Many were destined instead to be loved solely by keen but small communities of owners. For all these users’ enthusiasm, there were too few of them to sustain the cost of developing, manufacturing, …

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What this article has not addressed is the influence of the IBM PC and its clones on the business world. In the early 80's I was a computer manager and was buying PC's like they were going out of fashion - all because of Lotus 1-2-3 and some home grown software written in Fortran.

I could not have done this on a Lync - we did look at this, the Amstrad, Apple etc - but MS-DOS was the way forward and IBM & Compaq were the beneficeries.

Alan

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Paris Hilton

uhm

Maybe that's because the article isn't about IBM?

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WTF?

Geography is a bit screwed

Cambridge doesn't have a Hill Street, but it does have a Hills Road, and if they moved into Bridge Street opposite the Mitre and Barron of Beef, they moved into St John's College.

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Re: Geography is a bit screwed

I think the author is being confused by a Google maps cock up.

I'm pretty sure that Camputers were in the top floor of 32 Bridge Street (Cambridge wine merchants occupy teh ground floor nowadays) which is just next to Magdalene bridge. Google seems to think that this is in fact Magdalene street (wrong side of the river) and it places 32 Bridge Street on the wrong side of the road in St Johns College. Use Street View to look at the bridge and turn to face the wine shop. I'd insert a google link if I knew how.

I used to work for an educational software publisher that moved into the offices that Camputers vacated - there was a fair amount of Lynx detritus left behind. We spent quite a few years there developing software for the BBC Micro. I seem to remember that SOS Children's Villages were on the floor below and I don't remember who occupied the retail premises on the ground floor.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: Re: Geography is a bit screwed

Absolutely correct. That section of the article was based on a quick perusal of Camputers' addresses in StreetView, which has proved effective in other instances - and is cheaper and less time-consuming than a train journey.

One to watch next time.

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Boffin

Re: Geography is a bit screwed

Incidentally, Sir Clive's last computer company, Cambridge Computer Ltd, had their HQ down the road at 10 Bridge Street.

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Re: Geography is a bit screwed

As you rightly say Camputers was based on 2nd floor as 32A Bridge Street above SOS Villages and also took part of 33 across the road by the river next to Magdalene Bridge - the front of which which is now Galleria Italian restaurant.

GWDS was at 36-38 Hills Road in grotty rooms above a curry house which is now the Saffron Brasserie, and that remained the design base throughout.

Some of the software guys used a house so that they could work without disturbance - I think in the terraces of what was the Kite area off East Road.

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Always fancied one of these...

Technically, it was much more advanced than anything I'd seen up to that point. I remember playing with one in Laskys in Birmingham city centre - I'd only recently managed to get my parents to buy me a Spectrum so there was little chance of upgrading so soon.

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Re: Always fancied one of these...

I bought one second hand in 1987 or so to sit along side my other 8-bit computers. I think I only ever switched it on once, and then just never got around to doing so again.

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I wonder if it would be possible to get your hands on one of these? I used most of the 1980 machines, but never a Lynx. Hmmm... maybe there is an emulator?

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Emulators

Looks like there's only one - PALE (Pete's Lynx Emulator) here: http://heraclion.users.btopenworld.com/palelynx.htm

or here:

http://www.heraclion.co.uk/darkside.htm (both blocked from where I am - dunno if they work)

or possibly CamLynx here: (again, dunno if the link works)

http://www.emu-france.com/?page=fichiers&idMachine=93

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re Get your hands on one of these.

I have one under my hall stairs, in good condition, in it's original polystyrene box.

Enjoyed using it at the time, i remember designing/programming a good golf game, ( one hole per tape though!) but with so few sold there was little else available to support the machine or programming.

And as stated earlier, work began to buy the IBM PC/Lotus 1-2-3 combination.

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Re: Emulators

I don't think they first two are blocked: the first one ends up at a BT-branded Yahoo, and the latter seems to be down.

I do have an old copy somewhere. I remember its beep was louder than the original...

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CP/M

From the story it sounds like Camputers made a mistake trying to target the home and business markets with derivatives of the same machine.

There were plenty of CP/M business computers available in the early 80s, and most of them could comfortably run the operating system and a business application* in 64k. Presumably the Lynx needed 128k to run CP/M because of its ROM Basic. The Osborne 1 that I bought around that time came with two Basics that loaded from disk, one of them compiled.

And why did they suffer problems finding a disk operating system? It didn't seem to be a problem for any of the other CP/M manufacturers. The whole point of CP/M was to simplify this.

* For example, WordStar, SuperCalc, DBase II. The article mentions the hubristically-named Perfect suite of applications, which I used on a 16-bit MS-DOS machine around this time, and found to be buggy junk.

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Re: CP/M

I'm just guessing but if the screen display took 32kb of 48kb, maybe the calculation was that there was no point shipping CP/M until they had enough space to give the more normal close-to-64kb of memory to CP/M + application? So it had to wait until the video display could be paged out; the other CP/M micros were using maybe 1kb for a text mode display, or just shipping all that stuff out to a terminal.

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Go

Pretty nice machine

128kB is enough to do useful work on, even today; although 64kB bank switching is a very odd choice. (If you're switching the code you're currently running, don't you need code in the new bank at the same address? How would you populate an empty bank? There must be some other mechanism...) 512x248 is damned good for the time for a full colour screen, too. Unfortunately it's not so good for the 80x24 text you really want when running CP/M; that gives you characters that are only 6 pixels wide, which is pushing it.

(I still think it's hard to get clearer than the BBC Micro's 80x24 mode 3. Monochrome, though.)

I wonder what the keyboard was like?

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Boffin

Re: Pretty nice machine

The Amstrad CPC6128 (and the PCWs, I think) also used 64k bank switching to achieve 128kb RAM - nothing unusual about that.

The keyboard was a bit better than the Amstrad's - similar to the Electron's IIRC.

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Re: Pretty nice machine

Ah the memories. I spent weeks tracing out the circuit diagram of my Lynx using a multimeter - it was all standard TTL except for the CPU and graphics controller - and eventually got CP/M running with a home-made disk controller and BIOS.

My memory of the bank-switching logic is rather hazy, but I think you could separately control read and write access to memory. So to switch banks, first enable write access into the new bank, copy the code you are currently executing from the old bank to the same address on the new, then switch read access.

Annoyingly my Lynx went for recycling in the last loft clear-out.

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Re: Pretty nice machine

I'd guess that you would bank-switch the RAM, leaving code running in PROM? I don't remember if the Z80 could play PDP-style I&D space tricks to increase address space, I think that some processors of that era could (M68K?).

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Re: Pretty nice machine

I switched pages on an Amstrad CPC256 .The address space was 64K , the page size was 16K . It was an an out command, the argument specifying which memory page, up to 16 as required by the CPC512, became which addressable page, up to 4 . Although swapping over the active page was possible there was never a need.

I am pleased US brought up the CPC128. I never used that but a mate had one, I thought it a good combination of Basic, CP/M and games. This surely was the Lynx killer, or did the Lynx die before Alan Sugar, as he then was, did this.

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Re: Pretty nice machine

The z80 has a 17-bit address range if you include port IO; maybe the solution was as simple as being able to IN and OUT to at least some portion of the RAM that wasn't paged in? Then you could set up a landing area for paging and pass packets back and forth?

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Re: Pretty nice machine

I've now carried out a little research; there was a ROM call to write a single byte to any other RAM page, which is reported to take about 25µs. So slow.

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@Alan Firminger

You are bang on about the Amstrads but they came slightly later than the Lynx. In those days 18 months made a world of difference.

El Reg has developed a nice line in these well researched retro articles. One small objection:

"The 128KB was pitched at businesses and professional users, though you have to wonder now how many of these potential buyers would pop into Laskys or Dixons for their office equipment."

- Lots of them. In '82, computers were well out of the reach of small companies. Business men were as excited about the prospect of "computerising" the accounts as kids were at playing games. 80 column text, CP/M and a "real" keyboard screamed "business!".

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This post has been deleted by its author

Re: Pretty nice machine

The shame.

I have deleted a post of mine correcting errors in the post above, because it contained an error. Full corrections are below.

In the out argument byte the span that referred to a 16K page from 512K of memory had to be 0 to 31 and addressable position was 0 to 3, So it was 5 bits for the source and 3 bits for the destination, the byte was fully used.

And I used a CPC 128 for about ten days. Pete the diver and his colleague wireman wanted to prototype a programmable industrial controller based on a Z80. I said make the controller plug compatible with a CPC 256, I will write an OS that provides a subset of CP/M . So connect the computer to the machine to be controlled and code away in any language. Write until the output runs correctly, then burn it to a ROM and plug it into the controller. A week later they showed up with a CPC 128. It was all working three days later. I hope that is entertaining.

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Anonymous Coward

I had one of these

It had a 6845 video chip , the same as the BBC. It was a well made piece of kit.

Reg can we a tear icon for fond nostalgia ?

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Happy

Re: I had one of these

Ahh.. nostalgia...

I found some old double scale PCB transfers for laying out PCBs by hand the other day. Took me back to the good old days of 0.2" squared graph paper that I used to work out the designs on with coloured pens, followed by drafting film over the top, transfers and tape to make double sized masters. Don't think I used them since 1986.

The good old 6845 had quite a good run for its money, making the transition to the PC world as the video controller in the IBM PC Monochrome, CGA and Hercules displays.

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All I Can Say Is........

More articles like this please.

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Re: All I Can Say Is........

Some technical autopsies wouldn't go unappreciated either.

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Happy

Wow

My first computer, happy days :)

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I'd forgotten about the Lynx. Those mag scans bring back memories of me pouring over adverts wanting one.

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Bank switching

The Amstrad PCW had bank switching, but you could switch any of the four 16kB chunks of memory, so you didn't have switch the block the CPU was executing from.

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The Great Lynx

As a kid my parents bought me a 48k Camputers Lynx to help progress my interest in programming. I absolutely adored the Lynx and rushed to have it upgraded to 96k. I always wanted a 128k Lynx with floppy drives and CP/M.

In recent years I've built myself a collection of old computers (http://www.micromuseum.co.uk) including a 48k Lynx. Sadly I haven't been able to find anything other than the basic 48k model for my collection. Still all these years later, of the 100 plus machines I own the Lynx is by far my favourite machine.

I just wish I'd been able to get hold of more related stuff!

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This post has been deleted by its author

Memories

At last, the Lynx features in this august magazine.

From memory the home entertainment value was missing for the Lynx. Most micros were being sold for 'educational' value and to be able 'to learn to program'. However, kids were persuading parents to get them machines that had a good set of gaming software - no change there.

I recall that I had three text adventure games from Level 9 that were written in machine code to get so much in the Lynx (the term XYZZY still sticks in my mind for getting out that cave) and a couple of simple graphic games to play around with. Programming the micro was fun, but when you could expand the BBC B with cards and ROMs and go further the attraction of the Lynx began to wane.

Left mine in the loft with my first wife.....not her, the Lynx. Wish I had taken it with me now.

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Rare cat indeed

In that ad, I like the way they only compare it to the 16k speccy, when the 48k one was still a lot cheaper than the 48k lynx.

I dont think i ever saw one of these back in the day, dont remember them in dixons, rumbelows etc and certainly didnt know anyone who had one.

Pretty much everyone at school had either speccys or c64s with the odd swotty rich kid having a bbc micro (for which he was teased mercilessly, as was the way).

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Paris Hilton

Wireless World Z80 Computer Chip Kit

I wonder if anyone can do a write up on this neat device. DIY. I used it for stats work. It had a reverse polish maths co-processor which made it interesting.

I am afraid I sold it once I had my spectrum.

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I saw one once but seem to remember the screen was slow to update and the lack of scrolling rings a bell. Thanks for the explanations of how to page memory that you are currently executing in. Always wondered about that.

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inevitable really

The success of the PCW disproves the assertion a 3.58MHz Z80A is too slow for a CP/M machine. True, the PCW had a lot more RAM and some custom display hardware designed to show text and scroll the screen vertically very rapidly but it did rather well. I'd also agree with the software choice - get Wordstar ported!

With a weak BASIC, slow graphics hardware and a stupid choice in bank switching it's hardly a stellar choice.

(side note : the PCW can bank switch in 16kb chunks in a maximum address space of 2MB(!), including having different banks for reading and writing at the same location.)

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The Fundamental Problem

Except for Sinclair, few of the British computer companies had a wide enough customer base to have a lot of software written to run on their computers. CP/M software was shipped on floppy disks, in formats for particular computers - and color graphics, which were used in games, weren't a standard part of the CP/M environment.

Being The Standard let the Apple ][ continue to sell well despite being not much more powerful than the much less expensive Commodore 64, and since the market had already demonstrated this phenomenon very clearly, no one should have been surprised when the IBM PC basically took over.

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Pint

Good times

I remember pouring over the magazines and being impressed by the Lynx.

Great name, reasonable keyboard and graphics as well as promises of expansion to large amounts of memory, but even at the time I was a bit cynical about whether they would deliver the memory and how well it would work in practice. I had already brought a Spectrum and was waiting for Microdrives to appear so had already learnt that when computer makers at the time promised something 'very soon', it might never actually appear.

Once I read reviews that mentioned slow screen handling that was difficult to scroll, I was less impressed and the C64 was a similar price with few drawbacks other than rubbish basic.

On the list of also made it home computers (Lynx/Dragon etc), I am hanging out for the Reg to get around to the Memotech MTX 512. Now that was one sexy looking beast in the adverts, but it obviously failed for some reason.

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Happy

I probably bought 1% of those sold

I got a 48k one when they came out. The keyboard was vastly better than the one on the Spectrum I had and about as good as a friend's Beeb. Somewhat to my surprise, and his annoyance, some of the then popular PCW benchmarks for BASIC ran faster on the Lynx too. Provided you were prepared to wait and didn't expect anything to move, you could do some nice displays on the screen.

But Camputers were soon forced to sticker over the 'RS-232' bit on the box, because it wasn't actually completely RS-232 compatible. If you used a TV, getting a stable picture was problematic because of how much resolution they tried to put on the screen. And the graphics speed was painfully slow: as everything was done as three giant (for the time) bit maps, this meant anything involving the screen involved manipulating three different sets of bits. It's a sign of how bad it was that a software scroll was technically possible, but would have been so embarrassingly slow, they didn't bother. You could type a command - 'TEXT', I think, and memory is telling me it was undocumented in the manual - which just used the green bit map, but the lack of a proper text mode meant it was unusable for writing on compared to the Beeb.

I got rid of the 48k when I got an Atari 800 - a superb bit of kit - but, argh, there were things I missed from the Lynx (the Atari had then unparalleled power for animated displays, but the Lynx's static graphics were better). When Camputers went under, the 96ks had a big price drop. Even so, I still remember the look of disbelief on the shop assistant's face when I asked for one, a Lynx junkie returning for a fix.

Some of the ROM issues had been fixed - although I think the serial port was still pointedly not labelled RS-232 - and it was a nice bit of kit, but... there really is no point in being the only kid on your block with one and when the Amstrad CPC6128 came out, I pounced. Adding a 5 1/4" drive was trivial and I had the machine that the Lynx wanted to be. It got bank switching right, it had a proper CP/M, and you could get a 80 column monitor.

I sold the Lynx on eBay a few years ago for about what I paid for it, albeit losing a big chunk because of inflation.

Had Camputers been properly capitalised, they could have used a ULA to cut the manufacturing cost (as someone else said, the insides were standard 74LS series chips) and competed better on price. But what killed it was the single slow bitmap graphics mode, because that doomed it in the critical games market.

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