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Remembering the Amstrad CPC 464

Looking back to the 1980s, when Amstrad entered the home computer market with their 'all in one' CPC 464.

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Amstrad CPC 464 Computer
Amstrad CPC 464 (Derived from photo by Bill Bertram licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5)

In 1984, Amstrad entered the 8-bit home computer market with the CPC 464. When I first read a review of the machine, I was amazed by how much it had to offer. It was supplied complete with a choice of either a green-screen of colour monitor. There was also had a built-in cassette recorder.

Despite never owning or using the machine, it was a computer which had quite a lot of appeal, and I was a little envious of other people who owned one. I acquired a user guide many years ago, which meant that I knew what I was missing out on!

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Processor and RAM

As with many of the later Z80-based computers, the processor in the CPC 464 was clocked at 4 MHz. The machine wasn’t lacking in RAM either, having a full 64 KB as standard.

Sound and Graphics

Not long after the CPC 464 came out, I switched from the Sinclair ZX Spectrum to the Commodore 64. The CPC 464 had a 3-channel sound chip, which gave it much better sound than the ZX Spectrum. But it wasn’t really a match for the SID chip found in the Commodore 64.

The graphics on the CPC were pretty good too, with a selection of video modes, which supported a range of resolutions and number of colours, from a palette of 27. Most other 8-bit computers had a far smaller colour palette. Standard resolutions included 160 x 200 with 16 colours, 320 x 200 with 4 colours, and 640 x 200 with 2 colours. Raster interrupts could boost the number of colours, with certain limitations.


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Amstrad CPC 464 User Instructions
Amstrad CPC 464 User Instructions

Locomotive BASIC

The CPC 464’s BASIC had some unusual and interesting features, such as the ability to perform timed events, using the EVERY command. I don’t remember seeing that in any other implementations of BASIC back then.

There was also good support for the hardware in BASIC, with commands for things like sound, graphics and joysticks. That made it easier for beginners to program. In contrast, machines like the commodore 64 had a relatively primitive BASIC.

Newer Models

After the CPC 464, there were further models in the CPC range. The CPC 664 replaced the cassette recorder with a floppy disk drive. With the CPC 6128, RAM was doubled to 128 KB. It was also compatible with the CP/M operating system, in an attempt to appeal to business customers.

Unfortunately, Amstrad opted for 3″ floppy drives, instead of the industry-standard 3.5″ size. They used the same drives in the later ZX Spectrum computers, after taking over Sinclair.

In 1990, ‘plus’ versions were released, with more sophisticated hardware. New features included better graphics hardware, with support for sprites, scrolling, and more colours. However, at that point in time, 16-bit machines were taking over. That meant few people were interested in buying the improved 8-bit models.

Conclusion

The original Amstrad CPC 464 had a lot to offer. It was well-specified, easy to set up, and offered good value for money. It’s not surprising that it was a popular machine. In my case, it arrived too late to tempt me away from my Commodore 64 — and it wasn’t long before I switched to the much more advanced Commodore Amiga.

Do you have memories of using the Amstrad CPC 464?
Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Related Articles

Memorable 1980s Home and Personal Computers

Remembering the Sinclair ZX Spectrum
Remembering the Commodore 64
Remembering the Commodore Amiga

External Links

Story of the Amstrad CPC 464 (The Register)
Locomotive BASIC (CPC Wiki)
Amstrad CPC (Wikipedia)
CPC Video Modes (CPC Wiki)


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