A true 'arch' de Triomphe!
In 1987 Acorn released a machine with a non-scientific sounding name, the Archimedes.
It was Acorn Computers Ltd's first general purpose home computer based on their own 32-bit ARM RISC CPU.
The name is also commonly used to describe computers which were based on the same architecture, even where Acorn did not include 'Archimedes' in the official name. Many versions of the Archimedes were released over the next couple of years.
This retro computer was one of the most powerful home computers available during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Comparable to the one invented by Gus Gorman in Superman III.
Its' main central processing unit was faster than the 68000 microprocessors found in the more popular 16 bit Commodore Amiga and Atari ST machines ofthat era.
So Acorns latest machine, bouyed by the popularity of the BBC Micro and Master, managed to win a significant market share in the education markets of the UK, Ireland and Australia. Many students and pupils in these countries during the early 90s were exposed to an Archimedes or an A-series computer.Many students at that time had the opportunity to use the machine to learn BASIC, Fortran, Pascal, LISP and even C.
Despite having the technical edge over other machines, (the 8-Bit market while still being stong, was on the wane by this point) the Archimedes only ever met with moderate success beyond the education sector. It did have some popularity in niche markets including professional work such as radio, medical and railway station management and also music publishing.
Another reason why schools chose the Acorn Archimedes over the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST was that students may have taken games into school from their Amiga or ST games collection and would have distracted them from their school work. They got that one right eh?
The machine itself looked more like a PC and less like a home micro, which may have put off many potential buyers. The price of one was also astumbling block for many people, the first incarnation of the archimedes with 512KB of RAM retailed at an incredible £899. You're talking Rockerfeller territory here, especially in 1987.
Computer games were also few and far between on the machine, although Zarch developed by David Braben really showcased the machines capabilities, and gave many teenagers fantasies of patch-work three dimensional rolling landscapes. A BBC emulator was also available for it to load up those classic games from the BBC micro, but was still not enough as games players could access a vast and growing library for the cheaper priced Amiga and ST.
Despite having a superior OS to it's 16-bit counterparts, and sporting eight channel sound it never managed to compete as a home machine. By the early 1990s, the UK educational market began to turn away from the Archimedes, and began to veer towards Apple Macintosh computers or IBM compatible PCs. Perhaps if it had been cheaper and more computer games had been developed for it then who knows?
These machines began to eclipse the Archimedes in multimedia capabilities, which signalled the beginning of the end for the archimedes, and indeed Acorn (which was to break up in 1998 - a real shame).
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Those guys at Acorn really did innovate during the 1980's.
Raise your glasses, doff your caps and raise a toast to Acorn and their achievments! 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.
COMPUTER NAME: Archimedes
MANUFACTURER: Acorn Computer
MACHINE TYPE: Home Computer - but never gained a strong foothold in this sector
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: United Kingdom
RELEASE YEAR: 1987
END OF PRODUCTION: 1989
BUILT IN LANGUAGE(S): BBC BASIC V
KEYBOARD: Complete 102 keys full-stroke keyboard with PC/AT layout
CPU: ARM-2 32 bit RISC (ARM-3 in the A500 series)
SPEED: 4/8 mHz
CO-PROCESSOR: IOC (I/O), MEMC (memory), VIDC (Video and Sound)
RAM: 512 KB (up to 16 MB could be installed)
ROM: 512 KB
TEXT MODES: 132 chars x 32 lines maximum
GRAPHIC MODES: 21 screen modes, including: 640x480 (256 colours), 640 x 512 (256 colours), 800x600 (16 colours), 896x352 (256 colours), 1280x960 (monochrome)
COLORS: 256 maximum
SOUND: 8 voices (very impressive)
I/O PORTS: Top Notch. Centronics, RS423, Video composite, RGB, Econet (network 250 KBits). Optional 4 expansion slots (podule slots), the 400/500 series came with 4 slots.
BUILT IN MEDIA: 800 KB 3.5'' floppy drive, 3.5'' disk-drive, from 20 to 53 MB
OS: ARTHUR (and RISC OS later)
POWER SUPPLY: Built-in switching power supply unit
PERIPHERALS: Various expansion cards
PRICE: A300: from £899 to £1200 - A400: up to £3150, depending on the monitor supplied. Feel free to collapse in awe
Retro Computers and classic games