Aviva Directory » Computers & Internet » Systems & Hardware » Computer Systems » Vintage Computers » Acorn Computers

Known for its Acorn Electron, Acorn Archimedes, and BBC Micro computers, Acorn Computers was especially popular in the United Kingdom.

Acorn began producing computers around the same time as Sinclair, another British company. Chris Curry left Sinclair Radionics, Clive Sinclair's previous company, to co-found Acorn. Sinclair encouraged Curry to leave Radionics and get Science of Cambridge (SoC) up and running, both of which were Sinclair companies.

In June of 1978, SoC designed a microcomputer kit that Curry wanted to develop further. Sinclair overruled it, so Curry quit and, along with Hermann Hauser, founded Cambridge Processor Unit (CPU) as the vehicle to continue development on the computer. CPU used Acorn Computer Limited as a trading name through which to launch its first microcomputer kit, known as Acorn System 75. As the brand grew, CPU became the holding company, while Acorn was responsible for development work.

Renamed Acorn System 1, Acorn's microcomputer was a semi-professional system designed for engineering and laboratory uses, although its price was low enough to appeal to computer enthusiasts as well. The System 2 allowed for the expansion of the system by putting the CPU card from the System 1 into a 19-inch Eurocard rack that allowed to optional additions and shipped with a keyboard controller, external keyboard, text display interface, and cassette operating system with a BASIC Interpreter built-in. System 3 added floppy disk support, and System 4 came in a larger case to accommodate a second drive, while System 5 was much the same as System 4 but with a newer 2 MHz of the 6502 8-bit microprocessor.

As Sinclair began development of the Sinclair ZX80, Acorn began work on the Acorn Atom, to target the consumer market. For the Atom, the internals of the System 3 was placed inside the keyboard. A business model was also produced, both released in 1980.

Soon after the Atom was released, work began on a 16-bit processor to replace it. Originally planned as the Acorn Proton, Acorn entered into a contract with the British Broadcasting Corporation to build a microcomputer system, which became the BBC Micro, a series of computers produced by Acorn from 1981 to 1994. Designed with an emphasis on education, it was known for its durability, expandability, and for the quality of its operating system, Acorn MOS.

Sometimes known as the Beeb, the BBC Micro went into production around the same time as the Sinclair ZX80, and proved to be Acorn's most successful line.

Several versions of the BBC Micro were produced over the years, the most popular being its Model B. Using a sales policy much like Apple did in the United States, children in the UK would use the BBC Micro at school, and those parents who could afford it would buy one for use at home. While designed for education, there were plenty of games developed for the Micro. Although marketed outside of the UK, the BBC Micro failed to gain traction in markets like the United States.

Released in 1983, the Acorn Electron was designed to be a cut-down. affordable PC. The Electron featured the full-stroke keyboard style of the BBC Micro but was half the size and price. Although the Electron used the same BASIC programming language as the Micro, much of the software designed for the Micro was not compatible with the Electron. The Acorn was for those parents who couldn't afford to buy a Micro for their children to use at home. A victim of the UK video game crash, the Electron was discontinued in 1985, although games continued to be developed for it for many years after.

In 1985, Olivetti gained a controlling interest in Acorn, which continued as a subsidiary company.

The following year, Acorn released a successor to the BBC Micro, known as the BBC Master, which remained in production until 1993. The BBC Master had 128 KB RAM standard and used wither the Acorn MOS or DOS Plus operating systems. Although intended to be compatible with the Micro, there were problems in older programs, particularly games. Several versions of the BBC Master were produced, including the Master 128, Turbo, AIV, ET, 512, Scientific, and Compact.

In 1987, the Acorn Archimedes line was introduced. This was Acorn's first general-purpose computer based on its own Acorn RISC Machine (ARM) architecture. The first of these machines was a desktop machine. Designed for educational purposes, later versions of it came with RISC OS, featuring context-sensitive menus, a taskbar, and other innovations that neither Apple or Microsoft had yet introduced.

Archimedes models included the A305, A310, A440, A410/1, A420/1, A440/1, A3000, and A5000, the A3000 was the first to use the RISC OS. Unlike previous models, the A3000 came in a single-part case similar to the BBC Micro, with the keyboard integrated with the base unit.



Recommended Resources

Search for Acorn Computers on Google, Bing, or Yahoo!