Monday, April 22, 2013

My Micro Life (4) : Amstrad PC1640DD

After the BBC Micro expired, due to mysterious circumstances, we were in search of a new computer. It was by now the late 1980s and Amstrad had recently launched the PC revolution in the UK with IBM PC compatibles within the price range of mere mortals. Thus it was decided it was time to jump on that bandwagon and get a proper grown-up computer so we could do proper stuff like word processing and spreadsheets (yawn).

The PC1640DD was an early IBM XT compatible though it did have a few strange foibles such as the power supply unit being in the monitor and a non-standard mouse. Ours had the full 640K of RAM, it came with twin 5.25" floppy drives and... a GUI! That GUI was GEM Desktop and it wasn't very useful on that PC to be honest, especially as we only had CGA graphics, and we had no GUI applications so it had limited use to us, so we mostly stuck to DOS. The most useful software that came with the Amstrad was a business software pack of WordStar, Supercalc and a database i can't remember the name of now mostly because it was rubbish.

For the next few years that PC was our workhorse and my Dad was keen to upgrade it as much as possible. Over the years we got a 32MB hard drive (though because of the idiosyncratic Amstrad PC architecture the hard drive came on an extension card... thus a hard card) and an external 3.5" floppy drive. I also bought MS-DOS 4.01 for it just because i could.

I even installed MS Windows 3.0 on it as that did support CGA mode though it was as useless as GEM but intriguing.

The PC coincided with my arrival at Birmingham Polytechnic so some of the software i used during my HND on the Poly's PCs i also used on the Amstrad including a shareware clone of dBase III which i used for my final year project and Turbo Pascal (v4 which i bought myself as the poly was still on v3) to learn how to program.

However by the early 1990s the PC1640 was starting to look tired and had reached its limits, more or less, in terms of expandability. Besides which i now had a grant cheque and decided it was time to buy my own computer at last, though for some reason i bought for my first computer a cut-down portable version of the Amstrad PC, but that is a story for next time...

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