Old computers don't get much more obscure than the Sam Coupe, which was designed and built in Wales around 1989 by MGT. It had 512K memory, and a Z80B CPU running at 6MHz (not bad specs, for the era) it might have been the logical upgrade for Sinclair ZX Spectrum owners everywhere, if only the software houses of the day had taken a little more notice of it. Now it remains something of a historical conversation piece.

The SAM Coupé was an eight bit home computer from the early nineties. It ran its own form of BASIC and had a crude disk operating system.

The main problem with the SAM Coupé, apart from the name, was that it was released too late. By its release date in 1989 it was in direct competition with the far superior platforms, the Amiga and Atari ST, which were already fairly well established. Its only advantages were that it was backwardly compatible with most ZX Spectrum 48K games and was cheaper.

It never caught on. The initial release without a disk drive was probably a mistake, tape loading 256K takes a long, long time.

The machine was destined to become a hobbyists machine, with little commercially available software for the platform, users were forced to write their own. Public domain software flourished.

At release the specifications were as follows:

  • Zilog Z80B processor running at 6MHz
  • 256K internal RAM upgradeable to 512Kb. (Up to 4Mb externally.)
  • 2 internal 3.5 floppy drive bays. (The basic model did not come with a disk drive fitted, however.)
  • 6 channel stereo sound
  • Four graphics modes:
    • ZX Spectrum compatible mode.
    • Similar above, but with higher resolution colour attributes. Rarely used.
    • 256 by 192, 16 colour graphics from palette of 128 colours.
    • 512 by 192, 4 colour graphics from palette of 128 colours.
  • Built-in proper QWERTY keyboard
  • SCART output. (Very rare in those days.)
  • Mouse port. (Proprietary interface.)

Rather strangely there were no serial or parallel ports built-in. An extension pack had to be attached to gain these. The proprietary mouse was never released, so a converter to allow more standard mice to be connected was hastily knocked up. There was also a nasty hardware fault whereby a disk left in the drive during power-up could have its contents corrupted.

The radio emissions that spewed from the circuitry were truly horrendous, there is no way in hell it could be released as a consumer product now, with the stringent CE and FCC regulations. In our house I could use the SAM Coupé or we could watch TV, not both at the same time.

The design of the case was distinctive, but not altogether good. It had big blue rubber feet as a feature and the profile looked vaguely like a sports car, hence the name.

The original manufactures, MGT, went bust in 1990. Its founders tried again, under the name of SAM Computers Limited. They lasted until 1992. No more machines were produced after this date, as far as I am aware, despite another company buying the rights to the machine's outdated design.

Despite all the minor faults, it was essentially a good machine. Its lack of software was how I came to learn to program. I now do so professionally, so I can't complain about the SAM too much. It taught me another valuable lesson too: give a new product time to establish itself before you buy it.

The SAM Coupé lives on (in 2001) with a couple of simulators running on the PC and some well-maintained websites, it remains fondly remembered by most people who owned one.

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