Retro Computers - Acorn BBC Micro - Retro Computer

BBC Micro
BBC Micro
British Broadcasting Computing.

Ahhh the BBC, effectively known as the BBC micro. Acorns chunky 8-bit heavyweight computer carved out a unique niche for itself during the 80's.

Back in the early 80's, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) launched what was known as the BBC Computer Literacy Project, which was launched after ITV had shown a documentary series called 'The Mighty Micro'.

This was compelling viewing for the likes of us computer whizz-kids at the time. In the programme Dr Christopher Evans from the National Physical Laboratory predicted the coming computer revolution and its impact on industry, the economy, and even people's lifestyle within the United Kingdom.

This prompted the corporation into action and they decided to base a project on a microcomputer capable of performing various tasks which could then be demonstrated on their 1981 TV series called The Computer Programme. The list of topics included graphics, sound and music, Teletext, controlling external hardware and even artificial intelligence! Truly revolutionary back then.

To go ahead with this the BBC decided to badge a micro computer and drew up plans for what was at the time, an ambitious specification and asked for takers.

Sir Clive Sinclair held discussions with the BBC over the matter, and offered the NewBrain micro to them, but the lovable 'Uncle Clive' and his bid were rejected. The BBC also made appointments to see several other British computer manufacturers of the era such as the Dragon and Acorn.

The Acorn team had already been working on an upgrade to their existing Atom microcomputer. Known as the Proton, the new machine had better graphics and a faster CPU (The 2 MHz MOS Technology 6502).

The machine was only in prototype form at the time, but the Acorn team which was mainly made up of students (including Steve Furber and Sophie Wilson) worked all hours to get a working Proton together to show to the BBC. The Dragon's flame was extinguished, and the mighty Acorn was, erm picked. On demonstration the Acorn Proton actually exceeded the expectations set by the BBC, and was subsequently snapped up. An 8-bit legend had been born.

Now renamed as the BBC Microcomputer, it was unleashed into the marketplace late 1981. It came in various models over the next four years, the A, the B (which were released at much the same time) and finally the B+.

The machine became very popular in educational circles, with many schools from Lands End to John O'Groats using them as teaching tools. Despite being the equal (and in many ways superior) to the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, it never had the same level of cool as those two machines.

Perhaps part due to the name and part due to the fact that your school most likely had them, they almost had an image of 'serious computing' - for learning, for programming, wordprocessing and little else. You didn't want a school computer at home in your bedroom did you? On top of all of this, they were expensive when compared to other home computers of the era - the average cost was a wallet busting £399.

Despite this, the Beeb as it effectionately became known, had an impressive range of software titles, including games (the range of computer games really built up over the years).

Certainly not the best looking of machines, the off-white case and black keyboard gained nil-points from the style police, and the machine itselfwas a hefty beast - I used to use one of these things to prop open the doors to Major Flying Ace Sir Lawrence Bartle Frerre's aircraft hangar.

It had a decent sound chip with three channels and a range of seven octaves which could be output through a built in speaker.The model A had 16k or Ram, the Model B sported 32k or RAM, and the Model B+ released in 1985 sported a whopping 64k of RAM. In it's later life there were even B+ models with a humoungous 128k of RAM.

The model B would probably have gained more popularity if it had had more RAM than it's not quite sufficient 32k.

It was possible to change text modes and graphics modes and the machine also had 16 colours to play with, so on this front it was in line with many other computers of the era. In one aspect is was certainly ahead of it's time - the built in BASIC language was very impressive.

It was possible to create code procedures with BBC Basic using PROC and ENDPROC, case statements were available and even error handling functions were also built in. All of this back in 1981 on a home micro!

Typing code listing was easy enough on the 64 key QWERTY typewriter style keyboard, which also had ten function keys and cursor keys, and was nicely responsive to your commands. There were plenty of peripherals to be had - if you could afford them: disk drives, tape recorders printers and so on.

All in all, the Beeb enjoyed a good lifespan right through the decade as both an educational and home computer, due it's excellent built in BASIC, it's range of peripherals and it's ruggedness.. It was superceded by the BBC master in 1986, but many model B's were still being put to good use in schools in the early 1990's.

All hail the mighty beige and black monolith! A fine retro computer.

We recommend trying to pick up one of these machines.
Look at computers for sale online or even locally.

If you don't want to get hold of the real hardware then try and download an emulator and
download those classic games. Alternatively you could try and play them online.

MANUFACTURER: Acorn Computers
MACHINE TYPE: 8-bit Home Micro (educational machine and classic games)
KEYBOARD: Full-stroke QWERTY keyboard, 64 keys, 10 function keys, arrow keys
CPU: MOS 6502
SPEED: 1.8 MHz
RAM: Model 1 (or A) : 16 kbModel B : 32 kbModel B+ : 64 kb ROM: 32 kb
TEXT MODES: 80 x 32/25 (2 colors) / 40 x 32/25 (2 or 4 colors) / 20 x 32 (16 colors) / 40 x 25 (Teletext display)
GRAPHIC MODES: 640 x 256 (2 colors) / 320 x 256 (4 colors) / 160 x 256 (16 colors) COLORS 16 (8 colors + flashing option)
SOUND: 3 channels plus 1 noise channel over 7 octaves
SIZE / WEIGHT: 1 Tonne ;-) 41 (W) x 34.5 (D) x 6.5 (H) cm / 3700 g (or was it 1 ton?)
I/O PORTS: Superb. UHF TV out, BNC video out, RGB vide out, RS423, Cassette, Analogue In (DB15), Econet port, TUBE interface, 1Mhz BUS, User port, Printer port, Disk-drive connector
POWER SUPPLY: Built-in switching PSU
PERIPHERALS: Controler card for 1 to 4 5''1/4 F.D. drives, Floppy disk unit 5''1/4 250 Ko. Numerical cassette recorder 100 Ko, Second 6502 microprocessor with card
PRICE: (Model A £299) (Model B £399) (UK 1983)

Retro Computers and classic games