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back to article 30 years on: Remembering the Memotech MTX 500

Memotech liked to advertise its MTX 500 and 512 microcomputers with a picture of a speeding black Porsche, but the machines, which made their first public appearance 30 years ago this month, while undoubtedly quick off the mark soon slammed hard into an unforeseen wall thrown up by a sudden, severe change in market conditions. …

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Show of hands, people - who had one?

I did - it was a great machine.

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Happy

Re: Show of hands, people - who had one?

Still got one!

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Re: Show of hands, people - who had one?

I had a 512. I bought it around the late 1980s (1987 at the earliest, but it may have been later). It was from a b&w advert in some magazine or other, and I'm fairly sure the company was Memotech Computer, and I think it cost a mere £43 including p&p and a smidgeon of software (including Speculator).

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Re: Show of hands, people - who had one?

I didn't - I was the one who went for the Camputers Lynx instead - but this article made me a bit sad about that.

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Re: Show of hands, people - who had one?

I still have mine and my Dad has his. He got the SDX add-on (the MTX 2 in the article?)which auto-mapped the 3.5 floppy down to RAM as soon as you inserted it to speed up access times. I upgraded to the FDX with a real monitor rather than the cheap TV I had been using.

They were phenomenal machines for their time...

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Re: Show of hands, people - who had one?

First computer I ever had. Unfortunately it was one of the early models with an eeprom (with the window blacked out) instead of a proper rom. I think this is why it eventually gave up the ghost on me.

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Re: Show of hands, people - who had one?

Yup. MTX 512 with FDX.

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Wow... I forgot all about this one. Beautiful. You should bundle all these articles into a book.

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Use amazon publishing for kindle and charge a tenner. Quick profit and market test. You might be surprised.

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Anonymous Coward

RS128

There was also the RS128 variant which was wider. They also did a single floppy controller extension and a set of language ROMs.. I had the Pascal one and although it wasn't aware of the disk controller you could do nifty things like loading dats in pages and then paging out the pascal rom, page in the disk rom, do your disk operation and then swap back. .

The internal 8bit i/o port was also a nice feature which I used to build a stage lighting controller for my project when I was at polytechnic.

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Picked up a boxed 500 at a boot sale about 5 years ago. As I was about to leave, the seller suggested I take "the rest of the stuff", which turned out to be the stack of boxes it was sat on, containing another 500, a 512, plus the FDX, [maybe a printer as well] and a ton of software. I bumped into the wife, who was not pleased to see me staggering back to the car with the booty. Beautifully built machines though.

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I had one!

An MTX512, the 64k edition. Bought in 1984, still worked fine when I (very reluctantly) had to let it go last year.

Ah the good old days, when the *user manual* for a computer listed all the hardware registers (this) , or the CPU opcodes (Spectrum)

But not as shocking as when I met someone who had not only heard of it, but had written a game for it!

Where are you now, Gremlin?

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Pint

I wrote a game for it, too

I actually wrote a game for it. An electronics mag awarded money to any program that was submitted and ended up listed in the magazine. I was a student at the time, so I could use the money.

In my game, you would collect or grab asteroids with the space shuttle, and you'd better not approach too fast. The asteroids started moving horizontally and fairly slow, but as you grabbed more, they flew faster and increasingly used the Y-axis also, so inevitably you'd crash.

The game was rejected for being too difficult. Ha ... pussies. We don't grab asteroids because it's easy, but because it is hard. In the next issue of the mag was a text based game where they had left out all the text in the listing. Seems like the editors of the mag had no clue how the Memotech Noddy program worked, and how a text based game was built using Noddy.

Anyway, I also managed to write a bunch of reports for engineering school on the Memotech, printing them in 40 characters per line on a dot-matrix printer - with graphics interspersed in the text, if memory serves me right.

It all happened using an old cassette tape deck as storage. One with leather cover and a strap to carry it over the shoulder. I used to dream about attaching an FDX floppy drive, but I could not afford it at the time. A HDX 10 Mb hard drive was even further away.

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Show of hands, people - who had one?

Me, me, me!!

Still got it (512). Sitting on top of the wardrobe. Wish I had the time to get it out and test it.

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Happy

I wish(ed)

I never had one - we had a BBC B - but I remember always lusting after the photos of the Memotech in the magazines - nice looking machine. The BBC B served me well though, and is still here in my study.

Re: "the near-complete collapse in demand after Christmas 1983" - presumably this was caused by the release of MS-DOS 8?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I wish(ed)

Did MS-DOS (and the IBM PC and its clones in general) have any bearing on the UK home and hobbyist market at that time? IIRC it wasn't until the Amstrad PC clones came out around 1986(?) that they started becoming common here, and even then the Atari ST- and later Amiga- were more popular as home machines.

It wasn't until around 1992-93 that the PC clones started to really take over the high-end home market from the Amiga (with the Mega Drive and SNES eating its lunch at the lower end).

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Re: I wish(ed)

The crash essentially happened because once "everybody" had a computer, there were no more customers to sell to. Marketingoids then moved into the "it's six months old, chuck it away" mentality that cripples finances today.

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Re: I wish(ed)

AC 15:19 - I was joking... the current slump in PC sales is being largely blamed on Windows 8, by people who ignore the fact that the PC market is saturated AND 90% of people who bought PCs in the last ten years will be better off with a tablet.

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Re: I wish(ed)

I was speaking to a chap today that shifts several thousand PCs a month. He cant shift stuff quick enough, doing crazy business.

Whats he selling?

Reconditioned dual core 2GB Dell business desktops circa 2008/9 with Vista or 7 on them. The hottest computing tech around at the moment. Like gold dust apparently.

According to him no one wants new i5/i7 stuff. It just sits there. Folks have wised up that the new stuff is largely pointless.

I bet Intel isnt happy about this.

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Re: I wish(ed)

It was Amstrad who bought the price of IBM PC compatibles down in the UK. Comparable units were far more expensive which is why Amstrad grabbed a large market share very quickly. They were knocking out a PC1512 with mono monitor and no HD for £399 + VAT. The top of the range colour unit with 20mb HD cost £949.

If you want to look at how machines impacted the home market, the sales of games is a good indicator. Here's the figures of market share for games from May 1992. The PC is still very low at this stage.

C64 26.1%

Amiga 19.8%

Spectrum 14.1%

Amstrad CPC 7%

Atari ST 7%

Sega Megadrive 6.4%

Nintendo 3.8%

Sega Gamegear 3.2%

Nintendo Gameboy 2.8%

PC comaptible 1.3%

Atari Lynx 0.7%

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Re: I wish(ed)

"According to him no one wants new i5/i7 stuff"

I'd imagine that it is price that is driving his reconditioned dual core/Win7 sales. People need 'good enough and cheap'.

Back on topic: can I really do a lot more on this quad core box running Ubuntu than I could on an Archimedes 310? Remember !TechWriter and the !Sigma spreadsheet, and !Genesis the hypercard/screen editor thingy?

The only extra function I have now really is multimedia editing...

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Everytime I read one of these I find one on fleabay. I've now got a very cool collection of vintage tech and it is an absolute joy to fire up one of these old beasties.

I had to get an RF to composite convertor for some of them mind since either the modern TVs don't like to RF signal or the RF components mean the signal is out of spec.

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Coat

I meant, degradation of the RF components leads to the signal being out of spec.

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Re: RF vs. composite

With many retro micros, the RF modulator is fed with composite video, and a tiny bit of basic soldering can bypass the RF completely and give you a proper composite output. The procedure for a ZX Spectrum is detailed here:

http://womblesretrorepairshack.blogspot.co.uk/2008/11/zx-spectrum-composite-video-mod.html

I have a pretty hefty Spectrum collection, and this has got me out of a pickle with a few where the RF was shot. I'm sure the same principle will work for other models too.

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Headmaster

"degradation of the RF components"

Incorrect. They have not degraded. They were barely in spec to begin with! Many of the modulators used in all sorts of 8 bit computers were cheap, cheerful and were "tolerated" by the analogue CRT TV's that they were plugged in to.

Modern TV's with fancy pants automatic tuning and no manual fine tune control have massive problems.

I can plug my Spectrum or Atari 7800 into a Bush portable from 1994 and have no problem. A late 90's Phillips has more issues getting a stable picture but can be coaxed. A modern LCD? Forget it!

It doesn't end with the RF modulators either. The Amiga needs a few resisters in an RGB cable to get a good picture on a modern LCD, and getting s-video out of a C64 can be hit or miss. Some TV's work with the very out of spec output, others don't. In both cases every CRT I tried worked just fine as they were all remarkably tolerant of out of spec signals coming through their SCART sockets. The fancy pants all digital LCD's get far more upset.

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Anonymous Coward

Geoff Today

Looking at Geoff's current picture he could pass for one of the Sopranos cast.

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Stop

Weird Science?

Wot, no mention of its starring role therein?

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Pint

Re: Weird Science?

Worth a poke:

http://starringthecomputer.com/appearance.html?f=7&c=7

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Your Computer

Your Computer - one of the better mags of the day.

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Happy

I have one too

A MTX500 exactly 18" from where I'm sitting.

Its in the top drawer of my spare desk, for when I feel like typing on a proper keyboard backed by a 1mm steel plate instead of the plastic crap I'm typing on now.

But as for the quality of the thing, one word... outstanding.

So easy to put on an Eprom programmer, then be able to see where in the code to put the hooks so your new eprom can be read by the system, a full memory map, proper Z80 paged interupts and a CTC chip you could re-program to provide your own , the noddy software I tended not to use, and the BASIC was just a way of loading data into memory ready for any assembly code to read, the only real downside I found was the video ram was accessed through the graphics chip so doing loading full frames in took some extra time and effort

But a quick test 5 mins ago... and it still powers up to the familier blue screen... not bad for a computer built , bought and had coffee spilt on 30 yrs ago

Boris

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Alive and well, 30 years on

The Memotech enjoys an active Facebook group (called MEMOTECH MTX-500) with approx 50 members, a collection of half a dozen fan websites, a forum (called MEMORUM), a library of over 100 games (including some recently ported from other retro micros), an emulator (called MEMU), a modern FPGA clone (called REMEMOTECH), and an SD Card add-on with virtual tape support (called REMEMOrizer).

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Happy

Some Memotech users still active today :)

Within the last few years, the Memotech MTX facebook group have grown to around 50 members, Andy Key have made a good emulator called MEMU. Andy also created other devices, e.g ReMemorizer, a kind of SD card Diskdrive unit for the Memotech Computer. Personally I have been busy converting games. With in the last few years, 4 "new" games have been converted for the Memotech computer, mainly converted from MSX but also from ColecoVision

http://www.facebook.com/groups/2443017753

http://www.mtxworld.dk

http://memorum.mtxworld.dk

http://www.nyangau.org/memotech/memotech.htm

http://www.anvil-ict.co.uk/memotech/index.htm

http://primrosebank.net/computers/mtx/mtx512.htm

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Go

RS423

Couldn't the Memotech do RS485, how many are still being used as lighting desks...

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Cool - another one I aint heard of before!

Another great read!

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Windows

Damn. The younger Boyd looks like "Shaft" from those blaxploitation movies.

And that advertisement looks like a vinyl cover.

Stop trying to pull me back to the Reagan years!

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BASIC

I was given an MTX512 for Christmas when I was 10. The relative lack of games was disappointing for a kid that age but I actually had a ton of fun learning to program in BASIC.

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Complicated Causes

Although the Russian deal and an economic slump may have affected the details, PC clones let people buy a 16-bit machine which could have up to 640K of memory for the price of an 8-bit machine which could have up to128K of memory. So as soon as the IBM name meant that there was as much software for PC-DOS/MS-DOS as there was for CP/M, the doom of CP/M machines was sealed.

And MSX fell victim ultimately to the same process.

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Pint

Memories! Leave Me Alone!

I had one of these for years, until it died from being lugged around. It was a brilliant machine, by far a leader in it's class - what a spec. out of the box!

Mine was used for BASIC programming practise but really came into it's own with the Front Panel assembler system - I wrote the assembler code for a home-brew digital sampler / reverb machine (Still got the listing somewhere!) which had 512KB of SRAM as I worked for a major telecoms firm repairing stuff and SRAM was cheaply available :-)

The software development cycle used was laborious by today's standards : Write the code and copy it to a battery-backed (PP3, 7805) SRAM via a homebrew interface board (74LS138, 74LS245, 74LS00, VeroBoard with VeroWire - anyone remember them?) and make sure it worked on the real hardware, then once it did, I'd take the SRAM to work, load it into the EPROM programmer and actually turn it into Firmware!

I even got my employer out of the brown stuff with it when someone went postal and scrubbed some all-important Z80 firmware - hex editing was never so much fun, and I got to show off my marvelous Memotech toy (And comparitively 'funky' I/F Board) to my colleagues.

There was only ever one game I played on it - 'Maxima', written by a 'D. Richie' and published by a software house (Name maybe 'Psi'?) based on the Stoney Stanton Road in Coventry. Co-incidentally, I ended up working with the very same Doug Richie a number of years later - turns out we'd been working for the same firm for ages all along (He was a 'Softie', I was a 'Hardie' at the time). We got a decent jolly off to Atlanta, GA.

That machine taught me more about software and hardware than anything else, was invaluable, and is sadly missed.

Pint is for Doug if he reads this, and the machine's design team for doing it :-)

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Hardware Specs

For the Memotech, you don't need an RF to composite convertor - it has composite out anyway.

The RS 128 was the same size as the MTX500/512 - it just had the RS232 ports and extra memory as standard, rather than being options.

The serial ports (when fitted) were RS232.

The lighting controller would have been interesing - the User I/O Port was a nice feature that I don't think was used by many people at all

regards

Dave

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Awesome machines, easily up there with the Enterprise 64

as part of my museum I've got all the MTXs in many form factors except the S2, they're like hen's teeth. I DO have a prototype 512 that never left the factory though, it was going to be properly aimed at business with an 80 column card and single floppy controller:

http://binarydinosaurs.co.uk/museum/memotech/longmtx512.php

Should photograph my other RS128 too, it has an attached FDX repackaged into a PC case :)

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