Experience Home Computers that Missed the Big Time
Home computers were a class of personal computer which reached
the market in the late 1970s, and
became immensely popular in the following decade, selling many millions
of units. The market was dominated for many years by a small number of
8-bit machines, in particular the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64,
Amstrad CPC and Acorn BBC Micro. The class of computer
was cheap to manufacture; the Commodore 64 manufacturing costs
eventually reduced to a mere $25 (from $135), the ZX Spectrum was
significantly cheaper to produce by making use of cheap
components and a minimalistic approach to design.
Many of the earlier machines (in particular the ZX Spectrum
64) often ended up being very game oriented. However, the later home
computers had more sophisticated hardware which widened their use in
other areas. For example, the Atari ST was used professionally in
music studios, in desktop publishing, and had a wide selection of
office software available. However to many users it was still regarded
as a games machine.
Just a few home computers dominated the 8-bit market. The
Commodore 64 sold about 17
million units, the ZX Spectrum had over 24,000 software
titles released, about 80% of British schools had a BBC microcomputer,
Amstrad CPC sold about 3 million units. With the sheer number of units
sold, it is easy to pick up a second hand machine so that you can
relieve your misspent youth, or see what all the craze was about. There
are also open source emulators available for these machines.
However, there were so many other home computers released in the 1980s
that, whilst not commercial successes, are just as intriguing, in
particular because most of the generation did not experience what they
had to offer. One of the most interesting home computers that flopped
was the Enterprise, developed by Intelligent Software.
|CPU: Zilog Z80A @ 4 MHz.
Memory: 64KB or 128KB, 32KB of ROM.
Custom graphics chip nicknamed "Dave" and custom sound chip, nicknamed
Display: Five graphics mode, maximum
resolution 640 x 512 pixels.
Sound: 3 sound channels and a noise channel,
special effects and programmable envelope generators.
RGB, ROM cartridge slot, RS232/RS423 serial port, Centronics printer
port, 2 external joystick ports two cassette interfaces,
Full size keyboard with built-in joystick.
Release date: 1985
Enterprise's slogan was "With Obsolescence Built Out".
Unfortunately, the machine shipped a lot later than
anticipated, and by the time it finally came to market it had been
by the cheaper Amstrad CPC 464, even though the Enterprise's
specifications were far more impressive. Only 80,000 Enterprise
machines were produced. The low sales volume means that it is extremely
difficult to acquire a second hand machine, and they fetch high prices
as collector's items. So, an emulator is really the only way to
experience the machine's capabilities.
Of course, some of the commercial flops were
with good reason. The Mattel Aquarius sold only about 20,000 units; it
was underpowered and underspecified even for its release in 1983.
Another extremely rare home computer is the Jupiter Ace. The fact that
it stood out from the crowd by having a Forth interpreter instead of
BASIC did not help. Its production run was limited to only 8,000
If you want to revisit the home computing scene of the 1980s,
emulation is often the practical solution. The
emulators featured in this article are free to download and released
under an open source license. There are
emulators here for the Enterprise, Oric, Jupiter Ace, Dragon, Commodore
Plus/4, Cambridge Z88, SimCoupe, Sinclair QL, and more. Machines that
never sold in
real numbers, but still hold a certain fascination. The MESS emulator
experiment with lots of home computers.
To provide an insight into the quality of
software that is available, we have compiled the following list of
emulators. Hopefully, there will be something of interest for anyone
who wishes to
have some fun and reminisce about their misspent youth.
Now, let's explore the 9 emulators at hand.
For each title we have compiled its own portal page, a full description
with an in-depth analysis of its features, screenshots, together with
links to relevant resources and reviews.
|Emulators for Quirky Home
||Portable emulator of the Enterprise 64/128
the Oric series of computers, and the Pravetz 8D
Jupiter Ace emulator
32, Dragon 64, Tano Dragon, Tandy CoCo 1/2
Z88, the iPad of the 1980s
||Emulates the SAM Coupé
Aquarius, Thomson MO5, Tatung Einsten, and many
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Last Updated Sunday, March 09 2014 @ 10:11 AM EST