Amstrad was founded in the UK by Alan Sugar (now Sir Alan Sugar), in 1968, as a company that traded in electrical goods. "Amstrad" stands for "Alan Michael Sugar TRADing".

However, it's most well known for its range of computers throughout the 1980's and 1990's.

"Toy" Computers

Amstrad produced a range of 8 bit computers to rival machines such as the Commodore 64, the ZX Spectrum and the Atari 130XE.

  • The Amstrad CPC464 had was released in 1984 and had a Zilog Z80A processor running at 3.3 MHz, 64 KB of RAM and a built in tape drive. It had full colour support, but was sold with either a green screen or colour monitor.
  • The Amstrad CPC664 was the same specification as the 464, but had a built in 3 inch disk drive.
  • The Amstrad CPC6128 was the same specification as the 664 except it had 128 KB of RAM

These machines had one of the best versions of BASIC included with a home computer, including direct memory and machine code access, graphics an sound commands, disk access, text windows, and custom macro creation. It supported three video modes - 180x200 in 16 colours, 320x200 in 4 colours and 640x200 in 2 colours - each one using 16 KB of the RAM.

It was widely used at home for games and eduction, and (according to OzJimbob) was the official South Australian education department machine. However, it never caught on in the UK in education due to the widespread BBC computer.

"Spectrum" Computers

In April 1986, Sir Clive Sinclair sold his computer business to Amstrad. (Interestingly he also sold the rights to the name of the company, meaning he can't start a company now and call it "Sinclair").

Amstrad then produced two enhancements to the existing ZX Spectrum range.

  • The Spectrum +2 - Essentially a Spectrum 128 with a built in tape drive. Looked a lot like the CPC464.
  • The Spectrum +3 - Essentially a Spectrum 128 with a built in 3 inch disk drive. Looked a lot like the CPC664.

Due to the changing market by that point, and compatibility issues with existing Spectrum software, neither of these machines really caught on.

Semi-dedicated word processors

Amstrad produced a range of what were basic computers, but were marketted as dedicated word processors. These were first released in 1984.

  • The Amstrad PCW 8256 at first sight just looked like a green screen monitor with 1 or 2 3 inch disk drives on the right hand side. However, this was a fully featured computer system with the same processor as the CPC464 but with 256 KB of RAM. It came with wordprocessing software and a choice of dot matrix or daisy wheel printers.
  • The Amstrad PCW8512 was exactly the same as the 8256 but with 512 KB of RAM.
  • The Amstrad PCW9512 was a redesign on the 8256. The software and internal specification was the same, but it was physically redesigned to look more like a computer (disk drives below the monitor for example). It also replaced the non-standard 3 inch disk drive with a 3.5 inch drive.

PC Compatibles

Amstrad is very well known for its cheap and cheerful PC clones.

The Amstrad PC1512 was launched in 1986. It had an Intel 8088 processor and 512 KB of RAM, and was IBM compatible. The power supply was integrated with the monitor, and it had a lot of cheap parts to make a usable albeit restricted PC. It was offered in various models, with single or double 5.25" floppy drives, or a single floppy drive with a 10 MB or 20 MB hard disk. All were available with either a black and white or colour monitor.

It used an "enhanced" CGA graphic mode, which could display 640x200 pixels with 16 colors (or grayscale). It was sold with MS-DOS 3.2, DR-DOS plus 1.2 (an operating system from Digital Research), GEM (a graphic interface, also used in the Atari ST, TT & Falcon), GEMPAINT and GEM BASIC.

The Amstrad PC1640 was essentially a 1512 with an extra 128 Kb of RAM. It also had a few other enhancements, including true EGA (640x150 in 16 colours).

More recent PC compatibles

After the 1640, Amstrad produced a large number of PC clones. I won't detail them here, as they're the same as most others... increasingly powerful processors, more RAM etc. Always quite generic and cheap, but functional.

The Amstrad E-Mailer

The E-Mailer was a new product for Amstrad. It was a "phone and more" - it looked like a phone, but with a small LCD screen and a pull-out keyboard. The idea was that it used a dedicated E-Mail service, on a pay-as-you-go basis. However, as you paid to receive E-Mails, as well as send them, it didn't catch on very well.

The second version, released more recently, has been more popular, but still arguably hasn't justified its investment.

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