Oddball Micros: The hideously ugly (but strangely popular) Amstrad CPC
By James Grahame
The home computer industry was filled with unrestrained enthusiasm in the early 1980s. How else could one explain Amstrad's CPC (colour personal computer)? The keyboard resembled something from a toy catalog: a smattering of lime green, sky blue, fire engine red and (mercifully) basic black. The optional floppy drive was unique as well; it ate non-standard 3 inch floppy discs.
The CPC was introduced in 1984 and went head to head with the Commodore 64 and Sinclair's ZX Spectrum. The system was sold as a package that included the computer, tape drive and monitor - there was no need to pick and choose accessories. A slightly more upscale version included a 3 inch floppy drive in the exceedingly rectangular case. No one could ever accuse this system of being ergonomically designed.
The CPC was based around a 4 MHz Zilog Z80 microprocessor and offered 64K RAM and 32K ROM (which featured Locomotive BASIC). Its display offered sixteen colors at 160 x 200 pixels, or up to 640 x 200 in two color mode. It didn't stack up particularly well against the Commodore 64, which included a more capable 3 voice sound synthesizer and sprite-based graphics. It fared better against the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, since the CPC offered a real keyboard and better graphics.
Amstrad's CPC lineup was quite successful in Europe, where an estimated 4 million units were sold. The company purchased arch-enemy Sinclair in 1986 before morphing into an IBM-PC clone manufacturer and churning out millions of boring beige boxes (along with several incredibly odd portables). [photo: Bill Bertram]