Acorns land at Bletchley Park

Acorns land at Bletchley Park

Summary: Acorn was a star of British tech in the 1980s, but faded as IBM took hold. Take a tour of the computer maker's lineup in this dig through the archives at the National Museum of Computing

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TOPICS: After Hours
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  • Acorn Master

    In an attempt to prolong the life of the BBC Micro, Acorn repackaged, upgraded and expanded the design with a slightly faster processor, more memory, and a wide variety of configurations, all under the 'Master' brand.

    In play from 1986 to 1993 — not bad for an 8-bit computer — the Master line included versions that ran videodisc software, which were at the heart of the Domesday project. Other versions had 80186 co-processors that could run the GEM operating environment.

    The last one to make any sort of an impact was the Master Compact, which had a 3.5-inch disk drive, a mouse and Acorn's first GUI. This was sufficiently different from the BBC Micro to exclude it from almost all existing software, and by this point nobody was much interested in developing new software for such an archaic architecture.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins


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  • Acorn 32016

    As esoteric as it gets, this is the 32016 co-processor for the BBC Micro. It was also at the heart of the Cambridge Workstation.

    The board was around the 32016, a 32-bit National Semiconductor chip that was a contemporary of the Motorola 68000 but a complete flop in the market. It ran its own firmware called Pandora and an operating environment called Panos. It came with between 1MB and 4MB of memory, and ran at either 6MHz or 10MHz.

    The whole system was intended for use by engineers, academics and scientists who needed to crunch numbers, so a small number of computer languages were provided, such as Fortran, C, Pascal and LISP. There is no evidence that total sales exceeded the total number of languages.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins


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Topic: After Hours

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • As a schoolkid I started saving for an Acorn System One, but I actually ended up getting an Acorn Atom the Christmas after it was released. I taught myself to program in Basic and 6502 Assembler on the Atom (which I still have) using the excellent manual that came with it, "Atomic Theory and Practise". I also learned Forth on it.

    As a member of the South Yorkshire Personal Computer Group I was also in the lecture hall when somebody from Acorn came to demonstrate the BBC. I can clearly remember him smoking away whilst showing what it could do in a very casual off-hand fashion. There was a stampede at the end of people wanting to place orders for the machine.

    Very fond memories.

    I'm surprised you didn't show the Archimedes though.
    70421
  • Fond memories - so much better than many of the alternatives of the day!
    anonymous
  • No mention of the Archimedes or the RiscPC, GUI using ARM Chips back then

    Considering the interest in the Raspberry Pi and the fact that RiscOS, Acorn's first WYSIWYG drag and drop interface was one of the next big leap.. Why start a story and finish it before the end. Acorn was ARM, and I think we all know where that is today.

    I moved from the Electron to the BBC B and then to the Acorn Archimedes and then to a duel CPU (StrongARM 200 Risc) and Intel Pentium 100 two slice RiscPC back in the early 90's and became an Acorn Dealer back then. I have come full circle and now have a Raspberry Pi running RiscOS once more sitting next to my Xeon Intel Powered PC.

    Tom (Electro Technical Officer BP Shipping)
    Tom Waller