The Acorn Archimedes is 25 years old this month. The first machines based on the company's ARM (Acorn Risc Machine) processor were announced in June 1987, the year after the 32-bit chip itself was launched. Four versions of the Archimedes were released in 1987: the A305, A310, A410 and A440. The first two had 512KB and 1MB of …
I can't believe its 25 years, feels like 25 minutes.
I remember talking to the owner of a little computer shop in Stamford near where we lived at the time and who had the A310s in when they first came out. He said one of his customers bought one to replace an Acorn Electron he used to help run his business. He said the chap came back in a few days after he'd bought it and told him he'd transferred the application he was using (sorry, brain needs a defrag, no idea what it was) from the Elk to the Arch and ran it as normal. He went off to make a cuppa and came back, with the Arch claiming it had finished. He thought he'd done something wrong so checked it all out, but his results were all there. The surprise was the Elk used to take all night to do the same processing!
So many things making me feel old this year...
If I remember correctly I went to one of the first big shows where the Archimedes was being shown... May have even been the first big show... The visual stuff being shown off at the time was, bearing in mind I'd only really seen 8-bit systems (e.g. ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64) and early IBM PCs, was mindblowing... The various BBC Micro's with Music 500 and Music 5000 systems were blowing me away with the sounds... I came away with the foldout Archimedes brochure (so nice to see the "paving slab" image again) and the separate single page price list, and *SO* wanted one... Never got one...
The 25 year anniversary doesn't make me feel quite as old as the 30 year ZX Spectrum anniversary earlier this year, but look at the difference in technology that "just" 5 years made... In comparison it's feel like we've been standing still for ages now and it's just the software moving on... IMHO... :)
I remember being around 11 when i was introduced to the Archie's at school. It was like the world had been turned upside down after playing around with an Amstrad 286 for the last couple of years.
I wrote a simple basic program to generate numbers to play on the national lottery when it had just started up, i felt it such a huge achievement at the time, sadly i never carried on learning more languages as by the time i hit year 7 (first year of senior school to the uninitiated) windows was everywhere and playing with excel and access seemed to be waaaaaaay more important that learning to code.
also remember our whole network at prep school was backed up onto a couple of zip disks via the "server" RiscOS workstation for our teacher, and a curious box called "Econet" that i still couldnt tell you what it did, other than having to be switched on in a very specific order.
Loved lander, but at my school it was "Chocks" or "Chucks" cant remember.... that caused the *BEEP* Acorn Reset sound when a teacher came in. A primitive dog fight flight simulator.
These were the days!
Wow, been years since I saw that acronym.
My first programs were written on an A3020 (later a Risc PC 700), using WIMP BASIC. Brilliant stuff. Did anyone else follow the article in Archimedes World on WIMP development? I remember the magazine got shut down before the article finished, so I ended up emailing the guy who wrote it to ask him for the final articles so I could finish my application!
None of this DLL rubbish, just stick a ! (ping!) at the start of your folder name, and shift click to put a !Run and !Boot file in there. Brilliant stuff.
I seem to remember reading about this funning new thing called 'Java' in Acorn User...funny how I ended up starting a tech career with it!
What amuses me is you know how you could shift click on an application and look inside it as it was actually a directory with a ! at the start of the name. In OSX you right click, select "Show package contents" and there you are. Apps in OSX are just directories with the .app extension!
The good ideas never die. I liked mucking about with !Sprites and !Sprites22 just to see how silly I could make my desktop. It always ended up more 'Jackson Pollock' than I'd have liked!
You flew polygon-built ship over a 3D landscape
You repeatedly flipped a polygon-built ship and crashed into a 3D landscape.
Then did it all over again because it was still really impressive.
Re: You flew polygon-built ship over a 3D landscape
The only one where you weren't the centre of the universe and you really did feel "harmless"
I made money out A310 Archimedes
With the A310 only having 1MB people were soon crying out for more RAM. We (CJE Micro's) designed a memory upgrade that could take them to 2MB or 4MB. To fit it, eight memory chips and one decoder needed unsoldered, sockets put in their place and the removed chips fitted to our daughter board. Because of the work involved we used to arrange collection by courier, fitting and return. IIRC 1 to 2 MB was about £300 and going to a full 4MB a mere £450. I've still got a few in stock, I'm prepared to discount them!
We're now doing Raspberry Pi addons and Accessories. We won't be doing a memory upgrade though!
Re: I made money out A310 Archimedes
Awesome, Chris - I bought one of those upgrades, and it completely saved my ass while working on Wolf 3D :) :) :) I think you did my ARM3 and MEMC1a upgrades at the same time!
Made in Glenrothes
Acorn PC, I remember seeing the production line in about 1993, and hearing about all the home built PC's from pilfered bits on the production line. Same story for Canon when they made the mistake of setting up in Glenrothes.
Just add Acorn to the long list of Fail to come out of Glenrothes.
Re: Made in Glenrothes
Interesting. When Sinclair were producing the Spectrum at the Timex factory an awful lot of inventory went missing. That combined with a high fault rate is why Sugar packed production off to the Far East as soon as he could.
There were some really great features of RISC-OS as well.
There were no file extentions, each file had a type ID so you didn't have the problem of a dozen different programs all wanting to be default for ".bak". Or have Autocad decide that it needs to register 100 different extentions for itself.
Technically excellent, but overpriced
I sadly missed out on the Archimedes, although there were a couple at school. It was a good machine, and clearly ahead of its time in many ways.
It's a shame they were so expensive (then again the BBC Micros were too), so they didn't really catch on at home, especially with cheaper Amigas and Ataris. Then again, if they had been successful, maybe Acorn would never have divested ARM and then we wouldn't have the whole ARM ecosystem these days!
Dear ? Oh Dear
Although the prices of the Archimedes see high. The cost of PCs were a great deal higher.
PC prices really only dropped when Amstrad released their PC.
Re: Dear ? Oh Dear
Amstrad released the PC1512 a year before the Archie came out. Base model was £499. So the Acorn did look expensive. For the same price as an Archie you could have had a colour PC1512 with a fancy dan hard disk and probably a memory upgrade.
The Amiga was expensive at launch as well. £599 for an A500 in 1987. By 1992 the updated base model (the A600) cost £299 because Commodore were able to cost reduce the design.
Acorn on the other hand launched at £899, released the A3000 in 1989 for £799 (by which time the Amiga 500 was £399). At that kind of price they were never going to make inroads.
Re: Dear ? Oh Dear
Because having a high price has affected Apple's sales so badly! If you want a quality machine you pay a premium!
"Acorn on the other hand launched at £899, released the A3000 in 1989 for £799 (by which time the Amiga 500 was £399)."
The A3000 had an RRP of £649 on introduction and was widely available for £599 (yes, Wikipedia is wrong), probably less after a few months. It also had 1MB RAM compared to the Amiga 500's 512K and somewhat slower CPU, but whatever.
Some comments from the Project Manager.....
HI. I thought I would provide a bit of feedback having been in the middle of it all at the time at Acorn. First a great article and factually pretty near the mark. Yes, Arthur 0.2 was in EPROM and we thought we would have them back as they were expensive and possibly re-useable. We set a very firm date for the launch, June 1987 if I remember and hence the OS was whatever state it had reached; not an ideal approach but it would have been sad to have left the superb hardware waiting for too long. Were Acorn products over-priced? No, the profit margin was reasonable bearing in mind the high level of R&D and the high technology. PC clones at the time were sold at very tight margins and made in the Far East or under railway arches in the UK with virtually no R&D spend as a result of the vast volumes. When I look back at Acorn Marketing it was some of the best I have ever come across in my career both before and after. Acorn made the best of being a niche player and inevitably struggled just as Apple did for a long time. Someone comments that Archimedes had 'Windows emulation'. No it didn't, it had genuine MS-DOS licences provided by Microsoft. It was the hardware that needed some emulation as many PC applications at the time wrote directly to the PC hardware bypassing MS-DOS much of the time (it was just a Disk Operating System after all not a Machine Operating System as in Acorn products). Finally as someone else has commented acronyms should always be in upper-case so it should be ROM not Rom etc. Why UK journalism insists on treating acronyms in this way when the USA gets it right is beyond me; it makes speed scanning of technical articles more difficult as I always scan for the techno words. So when RISC-OS was developed and launched it was all upper-case and never anything else; rant over :-)
Re: Some comments from the Project Manager.....
MS-DOS? My A420/1 came with DR-DOS. Bloody cheapskates...
Still ended up with 4MB and 25MHz. Still wanted an IDE or SCSI podule...
I saw one of the pre-production ones..
I saw one of the pre-production ones back in 1987 in a demo by Acorn who were touring universities. Everyone in the room was amazed by the thing.. and that was *before* they demonstrated Lander.
Anyone get their RISC OS fix via am Emulator
Wondering if anyone is still secretly satisfying their: Zarch, Elite, Chocs Away.... addictions through a virtual hit on one of the many emulators e.g.
(Many years back I was a Red Squirrel addict)
Re: Anyone get their RISC OS fix via am Emulator
Yep, both hardware and emulated both - although there are some decent ones out there, from the free Red Squirrel and Arculator and RPCEmu, to paid-for VirtualA5000 which later became VirtualRPC.
Ironically, RISC OS even to this day appears to have a warez scene: https://thepiratebay.org/user/antiques/ but I've no idea how active it actually is. Some interesting looking stuff on there, though, really gets the old nostalgia going :-)
Loved my Archimedes
Just like the BBC Micro was the world's best 8-bit micro, the Archimedes - for about a year - was actually the best PC full stop. It wasn't until Intel brought out later generations of its chips in the late 80's that they finally overtook the Archimedes. I never bought a second Archimedes model because I felt that the performance difference wasn't good enough and the gap just widened over time.
Again, like the BBC Micro, Acorn's developers did a fantastic job with the OS - a great (and extendible OS), a much enhanced BBC BASIC and keeping a built-in assembler meant that serious development was possible on the machine you bought. Although paying 50-odd quid to upgrade your ROM set was a stinger back then, it meant that boot time remained 2 seconds, which trounced every other IBM PC clone out there.
Arm (!) yourself with the multi-volume programmers reference manuals and you'd have years of quite fun programming ahead. My greatest efforts were:
* A VT100 terminal emulator written in 100% ARM code that identically matched the behaviour of a DEC VT100 I had access to (including smooth scrolling [in software!], double width/height, flashing etc.). It's extremely rare for anyone even back then to write a terminal emulator entirely in assembly, but I did it.
* Hacks for various games, including completely reverse engineering the codes generated for the Zarch competition that I think was announced in Acorn User. I'd already generated the codes for a massively high scoring game but didn't submit it for fear of being found out. I wonder if the winner did the same thing as me!
* Writing a Scrabble game in a mixture of BASIC and ARM so I could enter the 100 quid Daily Telegraph game (it always found the correct answer). Couldn't release the game because of the terrible copyright hounds of Spears/Hasbro.
* Removing copy protection from games, though I got bored when Magnetic Scrolls The Pawn decided to use a "page 7, line 14, word 2" type protection and also released their game compiled in C (possibly one of the first ever in C?!), which produced such awful ARM code, it became its own form of copy protection :-)
I did eventually tire of the Archimedes though, but I clung onto it for so long that my next machine was an HP PA-RISC Unix workstation followed by an Intel PC with Linux a few years later. I'm still proud today - running CentOS 6.2 on my desktop at work and home - that I can say that my primary desktop OS has *never* been Windows on any machine I've owned.
Went from a Beeb to an A3000, to an A5000, to a RiscPC (and picked up an Arthur A310 somewhere along the way). I use Windows now, but still think RISC OS is the friendlist system I've programmed for, and the ARM is a joy to code. That it is a quarter century old has made all my hair turn grey in, like, five minutes...
Marking the anniversary
Notwithstanding the occasional misunderstandings in this piece, I think it's great to see the anniversary being reported on. This article has generated a fair amount of nostalgic comments here, which are informative in themselves.
Yes, it's a shame that the incredible developments of the last 3 years (shared source RO5 on new hardware) aren't mentioned, but perhaps they're being considered as the subject of a separate article.
And, regarding the acronym style, does that even extend to renaming "Chris's Acorns" to "Chris' Acorns"?
Did anyone else look at the RISC-OS 3's templates file in the rom, and find one with the words "Help, I'm being held captive in a sofrware factory" inside one?
Yes - I loved finding the easter eggs in Acorn's code. That particular one is a reference to an old novel that starts off with the protagonist squeezing some toothpaste onto his toothbrush and seeing a message in it that read:
"Help, I'm being held prisoner in a toothpaste factory!"
I remember playing
moon lander of a core memory PDP an sunderland poly (now uni).
And programming using h-cards and making backups of coursework on paper tape and 8in floppies.
And my first micro was 6502 - a couple of us used to hack the C= pets to hell and back :-)
Nicely written article, highlighting an anniversary I had completely forgotten. I remember however, using these machines at secondary school, we had about 15 of them, all running Clares' Artisan art software. Some rather natty artwork was put together by the kids, sometimes there were tears when that nasty 'Filecore in Use' or 'Address Exception' error plastered itself on your artwork, hanging the machine.
Fortunately, I was able to look beyond such trifles, and learned to appreciate the Arc. I later got an A3000 then a few years later, a RISC PC, spending many lost hours playing E-type, Chocks Away, Zarch, and many more. Even did some programming on it, before using it for desktop publishing and some initial first steps onto the internet.
Happy Birthday Archie!
A Superb machine to use and to write for
The Archimedes and the RISC PC were and are suberb machines to use and to write software for. RISC OS in particular has a user interface way ahead of Windows. I worked on software running under RISC OS (and Arthur) until 2002 and now have to use Windows in my job. It's amazing how often I find myself frustrated when using Windows, because it lacks the features and quality of user interface which RISC OS has.
Danger, Will Robinson !
Those were the days, etc. But please, don't let Microsoft's Windows 9 UI designers see the Arthur piccies....
Virtual Memory confusion
The Archimedes had no paging of RAM to hard disk, and the MEMC certainly wasn't capable of doing it on its own! :)
What MEMC did was offer a virtualized address space so that each application could have its own memory paged into the same address space while it was running, with other applications' memory protected by being hidden. This is a basic feature of most 32-bit processors but it was a first for a home computer.
MEMC had all the hooks for proper virtual memory with disk paging, but it wasn't a feature of either Arthur or RISC OS (although presumably RISC iX had it). Similarly, neither Arthur nor RISC OS offered pre-emptive multithreading - the application had to specifically yield so other apps could get a timeslice.
Re: Virtual Memory confusion
Indeed there wasn't virtual memory built in, but you could buy Virtualise, which provided virtual memory for Dynamic Areas, which were a feature of RISC OS 3.5 and above.
Re: Virtual Memory confusion
Oh, well, quite possibly ... except RISC OS 3.5 was pretty much the end of the line for the machines, and Dynamic Areas required special magical coding to use. Still a fair way from virtual memory as familiar to most of us today. Dynamic Areas were like the DOS Extenders of RISC OS. I'd mercifully forgotten about their existence until now :) It's possible I used one for DOOM, although it's equally possible I didn't.
God, they were awesome.
And Zarch! That was a bloody hard game!
Err, IIRC the MEMC1 could only handle 4MB, which is why on the 16MB A540 expansion, there were additional MEMCs soldered on the board.
The Acorn ARM computers were amazing
And well ahead of their time. Alas, they suffered one critical flaw: Not designed or built in the US. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe a single computer or operating system from the UK has ever had any success on the other side of the pond.
Re: Oh, I got my history wrong
TRIPOS was developed in Cambridge and went on to become the OS of the Amiga (the first remotely real OS I ever cut my teeth on - paved the way for UNIX nicely).
We had these at school
We had BBC Micro's, lab of Amstrad PCW-8256 (with Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy) and a single lab of these Archimede's. They were fab. I was into a lot of art and used the paint package to use all 256 colours (from a huge palette - compared to other computers at the time). Also lost a lot of lost hours to that lander game.