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Amstrad CPC

Posted by Big Boo on June 6th, 2008

Amstrad CPC 464Personally I didn’t have nor even knew anyone who owned an Amstrad CPC home computer, but they were very popular and were one of the “main three” home computers of the mid 1980’s along with the Commodore 64 and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, at least as far as videogames were concerned anyway. If a game was released on either of the latter formats, chances are it was also available on the Amstrad CPC.

There were a number of different models, the first to be released being the Amstrad CPC 464, which was released in 1984. It was sold as a complete out of the box system complete with monitor and built in tape deck, making it a physically long piece of kit. Ironically, given that the CPC initials stood for Colour Personal Computer, there was a reduced cost option of buying a green screen. It’s hard to believe now that computers once only supported green text on a black background!

In 1985 the CPC 664 model was released, which had a floppy disk drive instead of a tape deck. It took 3″ disks, where the magnetic disk itself was encased in a rectangular piece of plastic. The Amstrad machines are the only ones I’ve ever come across that used this disk format, although I believe that some mainframe and terminal systems may also have used them. Later that year this model was replaced by the CPC 6128, which had more memory.

The computers were based around the Z80 CPU (the same as the Spectrum) running at 4MHz. Initially they featured 64K of RAM, with the CPC 6128 having 128K, a fact which makes the model numbering system a little easier to understand! As already mentioned they were sold in a complete configuration which made setting them up a simple process, although they did still have expansion ports for connecting printers and joysticks.

There was a choice of video modes ranging from 640×200 in 2 colours, through 320×200 in 4 colours to 160×200 in 16 colours. Rather bizarrely for a computer, there was a choice of 27 colours that could be selected for display on screen. Computers usually work in powers of 2, but the reason for this odd number was because each colour could have red, green and blue components that were set to either off, half brightness or full brightness, so 3 x 3 x 3 = 27.

Audio wise the CPC could generate three sounds at a time, but was let down somewhat by only having a single built in speaker, although you could connect it up to stereo speakers if you wished.

As far as games are concerned the Amstrad CPC version was potentially the most colourful, given that it had more available colours than either of it’s main competitors, and there were no restrictions on which colours individual pixels could have, unlike the Spectrum which suffered from only allowing two colours to be drawn in any 8×8 pixel section of the screen. There aren’t many games which can be attributed to being Amstrad exclusive though, with the most obvious examples being the “Roland” series of games, which were often versions of classic arcade games centred around the Amstrad exclusive character. These had some wonderful names, such as “Roland on the Ropes” and “Roland Goes Square Bashing“. However, this lack of exclusives didn’t really matter, as the games market at the time was more concerned with arcade conversions and film tie-ins.