BBC Micro

Emulate the BBC Micro home computer with Linux

Emulation is the practice of using a program (called an emulator) on a PC to mimic the behaviour of a home computer or a video game console, in order to play (usually retro) games on a computer.

Home computers were a class of microcomputers that entered the market in 1977 and became common during the 1980s. They were marketed to consumers as affordable and accessible computers that, for the first time, were intended for the use of a single non-technical user.

Back in the 1980s, home computers came to the forefront of teenagers’ minds. Specifically, the Amiga, ZX Spectrum, and Atari ST were extremely popular. They were hugely popular home computers targeted heavily towards games, but they also ran other types of software.

BBC Micro
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The BBC Microcomputer System, (also known as the BBC Micro or affectionately the ‘Beeb’), was a series of microcomputers designed and built by the Acorn Computer company for the BBC Computer Literacy Project, operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC Micro was hugely successful in the UK, selling over 1.5 million units, and was widely used in schools across the UK.

The Beeb is based on the 6502A microprocessor, which ran at 2MHz, and has 32K of ROM. The Model A shipped with 16K RAM and cost £299. The Model B shipped with 32K RAM and cost £399. The Model B featured higher-resolution graphics due to the higher RAM.

Nine models were produced with the BBC brand, the phrase “BBC Micro” usually referring to the first six (Model A, B, B+64, B+128, Master 128, and Master Compact), the latter three known under the name Acorn Archimedes.

The machines were designed with a focus on education. They were also considered to be rugged by home computer standards, offered good expansion possibilities, easy to use, and offered a good operating system. The BBC Micro used the highly praised BBC BASIC programming language, a version of the BASIC programming language.

BBC ROMs

The built-in operating system, Acorn MOS, provides an extensive API to interface with all standard peripherals, ROM-based software, and the screen.

Features specific to some versions of BASIC, like vector graphics, keyboard macros, cursor-based editing, sound queues, and envelopes, are in the MOS ROM and made available to any application. BBC BASIC itself, being in a separate ROM, can be replaced with another language.

One of the strengths of the BBC Micro was the way it handled ‘language’ ROMs. The BBC Micro had a limited number of ‘sideways ROM’ slots available, so ROM extension boards became popular add-ons.

The BBC Master took this a couple of steps further with cartridge slots for ROMs and sideways RAM. You could load ROM images from disk into one of four RAM banks, where the software would remain, acting like a ROM, until you powered-down the machine. Sideways RAM boards were also available as after-market add-ons for the Model B.

Emulators

b2
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b2 is a cross-platform BBC Micro emulator. While the emulator’s interface is rather fiddly, and misses a few features, the emulation is excellent. It’s a cross-platform emulator written mostly in C++ with a smattering of Assembly.

There are a few other emulators that are worth exploring. We also recommend BeebEm, an emulator that’s been in development since 1994. BeebEm supports the BBC model B, B+, Integra Board and Master 128. It also supports the Acorn 65C02, Acorn Z80, Torch Z80 and Acorn 80186 second processors. There’s tape emulation, sound support, keyboard mapping, AMX mouse support, and much more. It’s a great emulator.

Another open source emulator worth trying is B-em.

BBC Games

The BBC Micro lagged behind contemporary systems like the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, or Amstrad CPC with respect to the range of gaming software available. This was predominately as the BBC models were perceived as education-focused.

However, the BBC series still amassed a large software base of both games and educational programs. It included the original release of the hugely successful Elite, a pioneering 3D space trading game, and Starship Command, a multidirectional shooter released in 1983.


Other articles in this series:

Home Computers
ZX81Low-cost introduction to home computing notorious for its RAM pack wobble
Amstrad CPCCombined the computer, keyboard and data storage in a single unit
ZX SpectrumOne of the biggest selling home computers
Atari STA popular line of personal computers from Atari Corporation
Commodore 64Hugely popular home computer
BBC MicroSeries of computers designed and built by Acorn
AmigaFamily of personal computers introduced by Commodore in 1985
OricThe underrated Oric-1 and Oric Atmos
DragonBuilt around the Motorola MC6809E processor running at 0.89 MHz

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4 comments

  1. There were so many endearing qualities of the Beeb. Things like its multi-channel audio, multiple video modes and a price that was about half that of an Apple II system.

    Selling over 1.5 million units was impressive for a machine that cost a lot more than toy computers like the ZX Spectrum.

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