57 Facts About Acorn Archimedes


Acorn Archimedes is a family of personal computers designed by Acorn Computers of Cambridge, England.

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Name "Acorn Archimedes" is commonly used to describe any of Acorn's contemporary designs based on the same architecture.

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In 1984, Acorn Archimedes presented the Acorn Archimedes Business Computer range, building around the BBC Micro architecture and offering models with different second processors and capabilities, thus responding to and anticipating the current and future trends in computing at the time.

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In 1986, Acorn Archimedes introduced the BBC Master series, starting with the Master 128 which re-emphasised second processors in the form of internally fitted "co-processors".

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Revealingly, Acorn Archimedes's managing director noted, "Over the past two years we've paid the price of having no 16-bit micro.

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Acorn Archimedes was variously described as "the first RISC machine inexpensive enough for home use", powered by an ARM chip and "the first commercially-available RISC-based microcomputer".

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Acorn Archimedes offered a monitor stand that attached to the machine, this being bundled with Acorn Archimedes's Learning Curve package, and PRES announced a monitor plinth and external disc drive case.

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Introduction of the A3000 saw Acorn Archimedes regaining a presence in mainstream retail channels, with a deal with high street retailer Dixons to sell the computer at "business centre" outlets, followed by agreements with the John Lewis and Alders chains.

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Acorn Archimedes sought to secure the interest of games publishers, hosting a conference in August 1989 for representatives of "the top 30 software houses, including Ocean, Domark, US Gold, Grand Slam and Electronic Arts".

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The FPA, replacing Acorn Archimedes's previous floating point podule, was scheduled to be available in 1991.

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The A5000 supported the SVGA resolution of 800 x 600 in 16 colours, although the observation that "Acorn Archimedes machines have simply not kept pace" arguably remained.

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The A4 effectively fit an A5000 into a portable case, having a motherboard "roughly half the size of a sheet of A4 paper", adding extra hardware for power management and driving the LCD, the latter employing an Acorn Archimedes-designed controller chip using "time-domain dithering" to produce the different grey levels.

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Acorn Archimedes foresaw educational establishments taking to the machine where existing models were needing to be moved around between classrooms or taken on field trips, although review commentary noted that "the A4 is too expensive for schools to afford in large numbers" and that contemporary Apple and IBM PC-compatible models offered strong competition for business users.

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Peripherals for the A4 were eventually produced, with Acorn Archimedes providing the previously announced Econet card, and with Atomwide providing Ethernet and SCSI adapters utilising the bidirectional parallel port present on the A4.

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An Acorn Archimedes representative indicated that this solution was pursued to meet retailing deadlines, whereas an ARM representative denied that any "serious delays" had occurred in the development of the ARM250, indicating that the mezzanine board had nevertheless been useful during the design process.

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In 1993, Commodore would subsequently offer the entry-level Amiga A600 at a price of only £199, although with Commodore "losing money on a big scale" while Acorn Archimedes remained profitable, such discounting was not regarded as a threat to the A3010.

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In late 1994, Acorn Archimedes appointed a sole distributor for the A3010 Action Pack and Learning Curve bundles, with the pricing of the former reduced to only £299.

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A7000, despite its name being reminiscent of the Acorn Archimedes naming conventions, was actually more similar to the Risc PC, the line of RISC OS computers that succeeded the Acorn Archimedes in 1994.

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Reminiscent of the BBC Micro upon its release, the earliest Acorn Archimedes models were delivered with provisional versions of the Arthur operating system, for which upgrades were apparently issued free of charge, thus avoiding the controversy around early ROM upgrades for the BBC Micro.

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The software was issued free of charge for registered users, although Acorn Archimedes indicated that it would not produce a "definitive" word processor for the platform, in contrast to the BBC Micro where the View word processor had been central to Acorn Archimedes's office software range.

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However, Acorn Archimedes did announce a port of the 1st Word package, First Word Plus, for the platform.

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Claims had been made of confusion amongst potential purchasers of the machine caused by the lack of available software, with Acorn Archimedes having pursued a strategy of launching the machine first so that independent software developers might have hardware to work with.

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In mid-1988, Colton Software announced PipeDream for the Acorn Archimedes, priced at £114, following on from the announcement of a version for MS-DOS, establishing a long history of product development for the platform, leading to PipeDream 4 in 1992, followed by PipeDream's eventual successor, Fireworkz, in 1994.

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Acorn Archimedes reportedly acknowledged this by indicating the imminent availability of "an 80186 co-processor".

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The podule expansion was postponed in early 1988 (and ultimately cancelled), with Acorn Archimedes indicating that its price of £300 would have been uncompetitive against complete PC systems costing as little as £500, and that the hardware capabilities to be offered, such as the provision of CGA graphics, would be likely to become outdated as the industry moved to support EGA and VGA graphical standards.

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Computer Concepts, having begun development of various new applications for the Acorn Archimedes, was sufficiently frustrated with Arthur and its lack of "true multi-tasking" that it announced a rival operating system, Impulse, intended to host those applications on the machine.

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Remedying various criticisms of the early operating environment, Acorn Archimedes previewed RISC OS in late 1988 and announced availability for April 1989.

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Reactions to the upgraded operating system were positive and even enthusiastic, describing RISC OS as giving software developers "the stable platform they have been waiting for" and "a viable alternative to the PC or Mac", crediting Acorn Archimedes for having improved on the original nine-month effort in developing Arthur in the following twelve months leading up to the unveiling of RISC OS.

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The path editing tools familiar from its predecessor were supported using functionality from Acorn Archimedes's Draw application, and the image enhancement capabilities had "undergone a major revamp".

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One disadvantage of Replay on the Acorn Archimedes systems was the limitation of playback to 256 colours imposed by the built-in video system.

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Acorn had always emphasised its implementation of BBC BASIC in its earlier machines, and the Archimedes was delivered with an enhanced version, BASIC V, that provided additional control-flow structures such as while loops, case statements, and multi-line if statements.

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BBC BASIC on the Acorn Archimedes was considered as a vehicle for cross-platform game development by David Braben and other developers before the Acorn Archimedes was released, Braben being the author of the three-dimensional Lander game supplied with the machine.

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The ability to cross-assemble code in the BASIC assembler for processors other than the ARM was devised, and support from key individuals at Acorn Archimedes was secured, but the company's management were reluctant to incorporate support for other systems in its product, thus curtailing the effort.

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That Acorn Archimedes had been in a position to offer its own C compiler was reportedly the consequence of "a stroke of luck": this product having been originally developed by Arthur Norman and Alan Mycroft for a mainframe at Cambridge University and subsequently offered to Acorn Archimedes.

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Acorn Archimedes followed up by offering a new product, replacing Desktop C, that integrated CFront 3.

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Acorn Archimedes machines used the VIDC1a video chip to provide a wide variety of screen resolutions, expanding on those available on the BBC Micro, including the following:.

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Acorn Archimedes suggested the 19-inch Taxan Viking and Philips M19P114 monitors, with the former being offered in a bundle with the R140 workstation.

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State Machine, founded by former hardware designers from Computer Concepts and Watford Electronics, announced a range of colour card peripherals, starting with the G8 and G8+ in late 1992, followed by the G8 Professional, these cards being demonstrated at the BBC Acorn Archimedes User show in 1992, as was the Computer Concepts ColourCard.

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The ColourBurst was, when reviewed in late 1993, the first 24-bit colour card available for the Acorn Archimedes, supporting various upgrades including the "video switch" capability absent from earlier cards, PAL encoding, and other professional capabilities.

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In late 1993, Computer Concepts announced the ColourCard Gold, developed in conjunction with Acorn Archimedes to offer 15 bits per pixel support in the desktop environment.

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Acorn Archimedes was capable of producing eight-channel, 8-bit, stereo sound, with the video controller chip being responsible for sound generation, it having direct memory access capabilities to independently stream audio data to the output circuitry.

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Acorn Archimedes models based on the ARM3 processor supported a completely new "arithmetic co-processor" or "floating-point accelerator" known as the FPA.

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Acorn Archimedes released a "turbo RAM" upgrade for ARM250-based machines to provide similar performance benefits to an ARM3 upgrade, replacing the RAM with a faster type that then permitted the processor to be run at a higher frequency, thus pursuing the alternative approach to enhancing system performance to that pursued by ARM3 upgrades (introducing a faster processor with a cache).

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In 1993, Aleph One collaborated with Acorn Archimedes to produce Acorn Archimedes-branded versions of the PC cards for use with the A3020 and A4000 which used a distinct "mini-podule expansion system".

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Acorn Archimedes offered bundles of the A4000 with a hard drive and each of the cards.

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Acorn Archimedes would go on to announce Photo CD support in its products in early 1993, with operating system and application enhancements being delivered by the end of that year.

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Acorn Archimedes was launched with provision for an optional Econet module to be installed, this module being the same as that used by the Master series.

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Acorn Archimedes sought to introduce Econet functionality on top of Internet protocols with its Acorn Archimedes Universal Networking suite of technologies.

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Acorn Archimedes announced the availability of its existing BBC Micro productivity suite for use with the board.

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Enquiries about the Acorn Archimedes range were reportedly handled for the US and Canada via Olivetti Canada, with distribution and servicing in Canada being undertaken by Comspec in association with Olivetti Canada.

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Acorn's considerable presence in primary and secondary education had been established through the Archimedes' predecessors – the BBC Micro and BBC Master – with the Archimedes supplementing these earlier models to see Acorn's products collectively representing over half of the installed computers in secondary schools at the start of the 1990s.

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In 1992, the Tesco supermarket chain initiated its Computers for Schools scheme in association with Acorn Archimedes, offering vouchers for every £25 spent in Tesco stores that were redeemable against software and hardware products including complete computer systems, with this promotional campaign taking place over a six-week period.

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Tesco and Acorn Archimedes repeated the scheme in 1993 on the basis of the response to the previous year's campaign, distributing software and hardware at an estimated value of to over 11, 000 schools including 7, 000 computers, and even introducing Acorn Archimedes computers to some schools for the first time.

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An Acorn Archimedes-branded Visa credit card would generate Advantage points for nominated schools.

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Acorn Archimedes was used by music composers and scorewriters to run the Sibelius scorewriting software.

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Acorn Archimedes models saw use in other commercial broadcasting applications including scheduling and CD jukebox control for the Asda supermarket chain's in-store satellite broadcast radio channel.

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Performance and adaptability of the Acorn Archimedes range led these machines to be used in various entertainment venue applications and solutions.

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