Retro Computers - Acorn Electron - Retro Computer

Acorn Electron
Acorn Electron
Not quite an elec-tion winner.

The Acorn Electron was an 8-bit Micro manufactured by Acorn and released in 1983. It was basically a budget version of the Beeb, or 'The poor man's Beeb' as it was known down our way.

Realising that the BBC Model B could not really compete with the ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 due to the high price, Acorn decided to manufacture a budget Model B to compete against those machines. They were hoping to compete in the same price bracket and to hopefully grab a corner of the computer games market.

Acorn did not manage to meet the demand of the new system, and the majority of purchasers decided to go with either Sinclair or CBM's micro's rather than wait around for Electrons to become available.

By the turn of 1984, Acorn really ramped up production of the machine and attempted to meet public demand. Sadly, interest by this point had fallen quicker than UK house prices, and it had to gracefully admit defeat against the rolling juggernauts of the ZX Spectrum and C64 - now the premier machines for arcade gaming and text adventures.

Many Electrons never even made it into the shops, who knows what happened to the stockpiles? (Perhaps they are stored in a large warehouse somewhere being studied by top men, Top Men...)

Compared to it's daddy (The BBC Micro), the Electron was quite basic with only one expansion port to play around with. Fortunately, Acorn quickly released the Plus 1 expansion offering two ROM cartridge slots, a parallel / centronics interface and a joystick connector for those all important arcade games.

The built in Acorn Electron BASIC was largely derived from the famous BBC BASIC, and was equally impressive with innovative features such as the ability to define real procedures with DEF PROC and ENDPROC, and it too included the handling of error events. There was even an OLD statement which would recover a program erased by NEW. A complete assembler language was also stored in the 32K ROM. Impressive. Most impressive.

The graphics capabilities were also very good for a computer in this category. A text mode of up to 80 columns and a high resolution of up to 640 x 256 pixels with 2 colors was available. The custom ULA developed especially for the Electron handled the video display, the sound, and also the I/O communications. Features such as this were the real meat and potatoes of the Electron.

The sound generator inside the machine was pretty good, but not as good as the BBC's. It was capable of one channel output, but three channel sound could be mapped to it and output through the speaker, giving a rough approximation to true three channel sound. Not quite as good as the AY sound chip but not bad overall.

The mechanical keyboard was overall very good, and very responsive. BASIC statements were printed on most of the keys, allowing users to type them in one go (a la Speccy).

A small amber LED placed on the left part of the keyboard indicated if you were in lowercase or uppercase mode, which did look rather cool. Despite being more powerful in many areas than (Dare I say it?) the ZX Spectrum (better keyboard, better sound, better built in BASIC) the Electron did not go on to sell well and suffered from a lack of certain software. The 32KB of memory was also stumbling block.

The machine itself was better looking than the BBC, and did not need a hydraulic lift to move it around whenever you re-arranged your room. The beige coloured box and keys coupled with the grid pattern and Acorn logo across the top of the box had a certain visual appeal. It was certainly less serious looking than the Beeb.

Another decent machine from Acorn Computers that deserves a cursory nod at least. With better marketing it could have been great as a home computer and games machine. Still - 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: Home 8-Bit micro (with some classic games)
BUILT IN LANGUAGE(S): Acorn Electron Basic + 6502 assembler
KEYBOARD: QWERTY full-stroke keyboard (56 keys), basic statements accessible through keys and 10 function keys (0...9 keys + FUNC)
CPU: MOS 6502A
RAM: 32 KB
ROM: 32 KB
TEXT MODES: 20 x 32, 40 x 25, 40 x 32, 80 x 25, 80 x 32

GRAPHIC MODES: 160 x 256 (4 or 16 colors), 320 x 256 (2 or 4 colors), 640 x 256 (2 colors)
COLORS: 8 colors + 8 flashing versions of the same colours

SOUND: 1 channel of sound + 1 channel of white sound, 7 octaves. Three virtual sound channels mapped to the single available physical channel
SIZE / WEIGHT: 16 x 34 x 6.5 cm
I/O PORTS: Expansion port, Tape-recorder connector (1200 baud), aerial TV connector (RF modulator), RGB video output
POWER SUPPLY: External PSU, 18v
PRICE: £199 (UK- August 1983)

Retro Computers and classic games