[Ye Olde] 1982: the year of the home computers


Back in the early 80s, the home computer industry was a secor that was growing quite fast. After the success of the “1977 Trinity”, namely Apple II, TRS-80 Model 1 and Commodore PET, the computers started to be “personal” and not the huge drawers of tubes and cables anymore. Now a family could have used the computer to play, for work, for personal accounting etc…

After 1977 a lot of home computers were developed and most of them became very popular: in 1979 Atari launched its series of 8-bit computers (400, 600, 800, XL, and XE) challenged by the TI-99/4, in 1980  were released the Commodore VIC-20 the TRS-80 and the first Sinclair home computer, ZX80, followed the year after by ZX81 and by the world famous IBM-PC that spawned a hell of clones. Always in 1981 saw the light the Acorn BBC Micro and NEC PC-8801.

And then we arrive in 1982.

Even though the computers already cited released between 1977 and 1982 were surely successful, fampus and widely distrubuted (for their times), in 1982 were relessed some of the most iconic among the home computers most of which I’m very attached to.

Area #1 – United Kingdom

Being the most advanced economy in Europe, the U.K. was the most important forge of the old continent in terms on number and sales regarding the home computer market. The most important companies were mainly two: the Acorn Computers Ltd. and the Sinclair Research Ltd., with other two companies, Amstrac and Dragon Data which shared just a small slice of the market left behind by the “majors”.

ZX Spectrum

If 1981 could be considered in the U.K. the year of the BBC Micro that sold 1,5 millions units, even though Sinclair with their ZX81 carved out for itself a large group of aficionados and eventually sold more than a million units, 1982 was definitely the year of the ZX Spectrum.

Presented in April, the Speccy became one of the most famous home computer of the 80s in Europe and is still remember as one of the first computer the 80s teenagers got in their homes. Its compact shape and especially its very low price made the Spectrum the computer of choice for millions of families in the UK and outside the country.

This was by far the most successful computer of Sinclair Research Ltd., having sold roughly 5 millions of units, more than all the other computer ever made by the company (beside the ZX81, Sinclair released also the MK14 in 1977, a computer kit which sold 50k units the ZX80 in 1980 which sold 100k units and the disastrous QL in 1986 which eventually sold 150k units). For further information about the Spectrum you can read my recent post about its 35th anniversary.

The Spectrum with its immense library of games and software, retailed at ridiculous prices is still a worshipped items that fascinates tons of collectors all over the world. Me too 🙂

Jupiter Ace

In contrast with the black Spectrum, the Jupiter ACE was a breath of fresh white. Even if it was even cheaper than the Speccy, since it was retailed at 89.95£, a huge limitation for the distribution of ACE was the use of Forth language instead of the more simple and widespread BASIC, along with the very very small RAM available, just 1k that could be anyway increased up to 48k.

Based on the everlasting microprocessor Zilog Z80, the ACE that was more similar to the Spectrum than what its shape suggest, had a short life and was discontinued after two years, in 1984 and roughly 5k units sold.

Grundy New Brain

Among the flood of cheap home computers of early 80s, Grundy New Brain is a kind of special case. Retailed at 229£, so more than twice the price of the Speccy, its story is tied to BBC Micro one. When BBC conceived the idea of a computer programme, the Department of Industry saw he chance to develop a home computer to sold exploiting the success of the series and addressed to Grundy. BBC eventually, a bit forced by the DoI chose the NewBrain but, when Sinclair Researches undercover the company plans, BBC itself was obliged to address its idea to all computer developers. This turned out to be a bad news for Grudy, since the company eventually closed the deal with Acorn.

The most important use of the New Brain was its utilizatiojn by the Angolan Government and this says it all. The computer was soon discontinued after poor sales even though, on closer inspection, the New Brain was one of the most powerful speciment of its time with 32k of ROM expandable up to the then-astonishing amount of 2MB.

Dragon 32/64

…because U.K. is not only England. So in 1982 a Welsh company, named (guess how?) Dragon Data which chose as a logo (guess what?) a red dragon, tried to break into the home computer market with their machines: Dragon 32 and Dragon 64, where the numbers simply reflect the RAM amount. This computer is quite similar to the TRS-80 CoCo, released in 1980, so the base didn’t sound that much modernity-wise. Differently for many home computers of the era, Dragon 32/64 was based on a Motorola 6809E microprocessor. Even though at the beginning the sales were rather good, the limited hardware capabilities, especially regarding the video preformances, one of the main requirements for the blooming video games industry, were a big issue for the computer that was doomed to failure. Eventually Dragon Data folded in 1984 after 5000 units sold but, ironically the magazine Dragon User continued until 1989, proof that the computer had even for years after a trusted audience.

Area #2 – Rest of Europe

Pravetz 82

In 1982, Europe was still split in two: the western part, under the american influence and the eastern part, beyond the iron curtain, dutiful to the USSR. Even though the countries under the Warsaw Pact were undeniably a step backwards, in Bulgaria, Pravetz gave birth to a series of home computer, of which model 82 is one of the specimens. This nth Apple II clone has a BASIC interpreter and a discrete amount of RAM (48K) but the storage was improved due to the availability of 5.25″ floppy disk drive. Differently from other Pravetz models, the 82 was rather reliableand can be considered the apex on Bulgarian home computer experience during the 80s.

Thomson TO7

Even France had its own home computer. In 1982 Thomson-Brandt releasef model TO7, based on Motorola 6809 processor. Even though the model pictured is a slightly different version, TO7 has a an impossible to use (atleast for me) AZERTY membrane keyboard that reminds the ZX81 one. The computer came with a built-in optican pen. Contrary to what was happening in the UK, where the computer produced were always more compact and cheap, the TO7 was retailed at a sky high price of 7000F (more than 2000€ inflation adjusted) that were later cut in 1984 to 2900F (slightly more than 850€ of today). To this astonishing price you had to add an almost mandatory BASIC cartridge, retailed at 500F (almost 150€) so this pioneering computer was virtually unaccessible to the people but was a discrete success in France until it was discontinued in 1984.

Colour Genie

Some of you would guess why should an home computer made in Hong Hong be in the european list. Well, the Colour Genie was actually produced in Hong Kong, but for german retailers. The Colour Genie was just one of the installments of the series foreran by Video Genie I, II and III (the last one came out more or less at the same time) and it had the peculiarity to bee incompatible with the TRS-80 differently from the other computers of the series backwards compatible with the Tandy. Based on the Z80 CPU and with 16K/32K of RAM. Even though it was a reliable and solid computer it didn’t have a big success, but is still possible to find some aficionados and collectors in Germany even today.

Area #3 – Japan

Japan has a key role in computer and games history mainly for having been the reference point for consoles world from the middle of the 80s (so from the release of NES) until the second half of the 90s (before the release of Sony’s PS1). However Japan was one of the main protagonists even in the home computer world along with USA and UK; to give an example is japanese the MSX standard for the nipponic home computers that flooded the market in the 80s.

Fujitsu Micro 7 FM-7

What we said for the Dragon it’s somewhat true for the FM-7, the computer with which Fujitsu decided to enter the market; sold only in Japan as a smaller version of the FM-8 and loosely based on the TRS-80 CoCo, it was built around two Motorola 6809 microprocessor and had a discrete amount of RAM, 64k. While some computers back then worked with a cassette player, used to store and run programs and games, the FM-7 had a 5,25″ built-in floppy drive. FM-7 supported an enhanced verion of Microsoft BASIC, the F-BASIC, and an extended character set which included also some japanese symbols. The computer was retailed in various formats until the end of the decade (the last model was 1989 FM77AV40SX) and had a good success especially among the hobbysts. It also served as a “base” for the development of its most famous “sequel”, the FM Towns released in 1989.

Sharp X1

The Sharp X1 is probably the most recognisable among the home computers of 1982. It was based on the immortal Z80 processor and cosmetically was undoubtable that the reddish tone of this peculiar home computer (red was only one of the colous available) and its stilish design was immediately identifiable but the X1 was original even software-wise. The main difference from the other home computer was that the X1 hasn’t got a proper BASIC on the ROM but loaded the interpreter from a cassette. This trick completely freed all the RAM available and fro this reason this one of the so called “clean computers”. Moreover, the X1 has a TV tuner inside so that all the computer screens could be superimposed the TV images and the character fonts were completely customizable with 4-bit colors. The X1 was on sale in different models until 1987 when it was replaced by series X68000.

Sord M5

Not only the Sharp X1 relied on the Z80 processor, but even the M5, one of Sord home computers, shared the same heart with most of its “brothers”. Outside Japan had a good distribution in the UK (under the name CGL M5) where was retailed at 190£ and in Czechoslovakia. It suffered the same fate as many others japanese computers, outclassed by the MSX-based models. This computer didn’t last so long but was supported by two of the companies that will be on the front line in the gaming world: Namco and Konami.

Area #4 – United States

Franklin ACE 1000

In 1977 the Apple II hit the market like a storm and a lot of computer developer tried to take advantage of its success to release their products, that are nowadays labeled under the name “Apple II clones”. Franklin ACE 1000 is one of this clones (it’s a clone of Apple II Plus, to pe precise) and was released in 1982, so 5 years after the release of the Apple II. Being almost 100% compatible with the Cupertino computer was surely important for the Franklin but the other side of the coin was that rapidly the Apple decided to sue them. And they won. So by 1984 Franklin adventure was over and the ACE 1000 left the market and sank into oblivion.

Timex Sinclair 1000

After the “big” success in the UK of the ZX81 which sold more than a million units, Sir Clive decided to cross the ocean and develop an american version of its computer in joint venture with Timex. The result was the Timex Sinclair 1000, a slightly improved version of the original computer, with 2K or RAM (insted of ZX81 1K). Even though Sinclairt compuetrs never really hit the US market, the TS1000 has a lukewarm success selling roughly 600k units but its technical limitations and the competition with the old personal computers and with the successful Commodore 64, madeSir Clive venture almost impossible to achieve.

Commodore 64

If there were a symbol of the home computers, well, for sure it would be the Commodore 64. The incredible and wordwide success of this home computer that sold during its lifespan between 12 and 17 millions units obscured all the other home computers of its era and monst of the latter ones. Released in June ’82 was discontinued only in 1994, making it one of the most longeve computers ever released. In Italy (notoriously one of the most retarded contry regarding…almost everything!) this was the computer of choice in the schools until the last legs of the millennium: I remember when I was in middle school in 1998 I attended the computer science activities and we learned (or better we were supposed to learn) the principle of BASIC on the C64. I repeat, in 1998. Four years after the discontinuation of the last C64 model…and we were using what here was called the “biscuit” so the very first C64 version. The C64 was one of the protagonists (and the winner) of the market war against TI99/4A, TRS-80, Atari 400 and VIC-20 that drove down the price of the computer from 595$ to an astonishing 200$. The C64 was so popular and so successful that was compared to the revolutionary Ford Model T. And rightfully. Technically spealking, the C644 was an advanced computer since it has most RAM than its counterparts (the 64 in the name refers to the 64K of RAM) and in its heart beats a MOS Technology 6510 processor. There should be a LLLLLOT to say about the C64, but it’s better to leave something for the anniversary post 🙂

Commodore MAX Machine

Before the C64, Commodore was on the market with the MAX Machine, also known as Ultimax in the US and VC-10 in Germany. Despite Commodore declared that the MAX Machine would have sold it all over the world, in the end retailed it only in Japan. BAck then in Japan Commodore was present with two computers, the MAX Machine and the VIC-20, this one less powerful but with more software support. For this reason the MAX was doomed to failure and was in fact quickly discontiued. But this was a belated favorable point since, for its rarity, is nowadays one of the most desired computer among the collectors.

Atari 1200XL

In 1982 Atari released another computer of their 8-bit series, the 1200XL. The computer actually came out in 1983 but was presented in Decmeber, 1982. Even though the 1200XL was quite powerful for its times, with 64K of RAM it lacked in some hardware features. Moreover when it came out, retailed at 899$ was more expensive than the Atari 800 whose price dropped by the 999$ of 1979 to become more affortdable than the 1200XL. High price and unfriendly hardware is a deadly cocktail and this explains why the new atari flagship was a tremondous flop, combined also with the back then Commodore CEO Tramiel’s market war that put the tombstone over the Atari home computer experience even if the 8-bit line was officially discontinued in 1992.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. thedeviot says:

    Nice roundup! I didn’t even know about some of the European models. A couple of other US models from back in the day, were the Coleco Adam (which bankrupted the company), and the early IBM computers referenced as IBM PC. Later these would be called IBM PC & Compatibles, as a flood of competitors would start making similar models, and undercutting IBM.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. benez256 says:

      Thanks for the message! Unfortunately last year I forgot to prepare a proper article about the IBM PC even if it deserved it since it was one of the most influential PC ever.

      Liked by 1 person

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