Comments on the CPC

The author has received a comment on his blog dear reader, posted by a user called “neglectoru”, which included the following:

I’m late to this debate, which is fascinating (though the personal attacks on both sides seem unfortunate).

Your correspondent would like to point out that the author started it and feels the urge to expand on that statement further by blowing a raspberry. But honestly dear reader, this blog was started with the best of intentions but eventually you simply have to “fight fire with fire” which, in this case at least, means responding with personal insults.

The complementary statement to “The C-64 is Crap” is “The Amstrad CPC isn’t”.

Your correspondent rather likes the Amstrad CPC (which explains a chunk of his weekend being spent trying to remember Z80 assembly language and building conversion tools) and it has some good software, but it isn’t a perfect machine and suffers from some design issues; that’s pretty much your correspondent’s overarching point really, none of these systems are without their faults or trade offs so calling one “crap” when everything else has a similar skeleton in it’s closet is petty.

The author has also replied with some pearls of wisdom, so we’ll just take a peek over there as well:

Unfortunately, although the Amstrad CPC6128 was shown at a CES and sold in the USA, it didn’t get much publicity and there was a lot of prejudice against foreign computer manufacturers as well as trade protectionism. This was why the CPC6128 never became popular in the USA.

Ths isn’t entirely true dear reader, the market may have been hostile towards systems from abroad (although these were challenging, oversaturated markets and more machines fell by the wayside than succeeded) but another, more proninent reason for the Amstrad CPC6128 not faring well in the USA is that it arrived in 1985, the same year the Atari ST debuted. With that on the market and the Amiga looming on the horizon, users knew that the 16-bit generation was coming so selling them on a new 8-bit was always going to be an uphill battle.

Here’s a video about someone writing an amazing program on an Amstrad CPC664 doing something which wasn’t thought of while that computer was in production

Please note dear reader that the BASIC program in said video contains quite a few OUT commands which are, in essence, the equivalent of writing to hardware registers with POKE commands. That’s exactly what the author has repeatedly complained about with the C64’s BASIC so it’s nice to see he’s had a change of heart!

And, since the author has once more stepped out of his 1984/5 bubble with that video, here are a couple more showing C64s being used to connecting to Internet Relay Chat (your correspondent notes that, technically at least, he’s one of the users online when that was recorded), posting to Twitter and running as a web server as it takes something of a hammering after the address appeared on Slashdot.

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3 Responses to Comments on the CPC

  1. neglectoru says:

    (Apologies for the longish reply)

    In the interest of equal commenting, I figure I’d say hi here too. 🙂

    I also reacted strongly when I saw the author’s assertions that the Commodore 64 was crap. I first learned how to program with a C-64. I grew up using a Commodore 64. I learned the machine inside and out, and what I learned filled me with a sense of joy and empowerment. I loved programming and became a programmer, a career path I have never regretted.

    And while the C-64 has a major place in my heart, not all my memories are positive. As I mentioned, the 1541’s unaccelerated speed was horrid. I had an Epyx Fastload, which improved things, but it was still not fantastic. I also had three faulty power supplies in the first three years of my Commodore’s life (1984-1986), one of which left the motherboard inoperable. We got it repaired, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth.

    Of course, the flip side was worth it. I did indeed own the Commodore 64 Programmer’s Reference Guide, and used it (in conjunction with a few of the Abacus and Compute! tittles) to gain a strong familiarity with the SID and VIC II. I found good programming tools in Super Pascal, Logo, and eventually geoProgrammer. I wrote games, utilities, terminal programs, and a few other applications.

    I had a lot of resources available to me. My books, magazine, and even back issues of Loadstar are on the shelf next to me right now. I think the network effect of a large community was just as, if not more important than the BASIC built into the ROM. I had lots of resources to learn, and I learned.

    The C-64 was fortunate with its 1982 US release. As you point out, by 1984, the Mac out and Apple was trying to downplay its previous generation. The IBM PC jr, while ill-fated, probably had a lot of market influence on corporate buyers who figured that IBM was going to be the next big thing. The Amiga and Atari ST were just around the corner, dealing another blow to a new 8-bit computer. I think it shocked everyone when the 16 bit machines did not replace the 8 bit ones (I used my C-64 daily until 1990, I’ve never used a machine for 6 years straight since, and missed the Amiga generation entirely, going directly to a 486 running Linux in 1992)

    I’m new to the CPC line, and am curious to learn more about it. It reminds me a lot of the Commodore 128.

    I reiterate my comment about BASIC from the other blog; one BASIC can definitely be better than another, with better programmer tools and a larger vocabulary to handle graphics and sound. But *all* BASIC dialects are a dead end. Line numbers were essential in the minimalist computer designs, but they’re a detriment to any readability. GOSUB 1000? What does that do? Heck, even a rudimentary assembler would let me JSR DrawScreen (or CALL DrawScreen for the Z80 fans) I quickly abandoned BASIC altogether, first learning LOGO and Pascal, and later 6502 assembly.

    Thus, what I’m really curious about is not the tools for the novice programmer (important though that may be.) I’m curious about the tools for the advanced programmer; covering the nuance of the CPC and Z80 in technical depth. Such tomes were and are available for the C-64 / 6502, and I look forward to learning more.

  2. TMR64 says:

    Nobody’s memories of 8-bit computing will be entirely positive; these were primitive machines with high failure rates that were produced to a tight budget, so anyone without rose tinted glasses on will remember those issues; my first Atari 800XL went back because it would get stuck on a red screen after warming up that would survive even short drops in power, whilst the replacement lasted a couple of years before developing a RAM fault and the keys broke on the cassette deck so it was being operated with a screwdriver! We worked around wobbly expansions, ICs wriggling their way out of sockets, unreliable magnetic media, dirty power or household appliances spiking the machine… the list is endless.

    The Amstrad CPC isn’t really like the C128 to be honest (because the C128 is an unusual beast that was in part shaped by the want for C64 compatibility) but it has a fair bit in common with the BBC Micro; the Z80 is clocked at 4MHz which is roughly equivalent to the BBC’s 2MHz 6502 and the display is basically a 16K block of RAM which is used as a bitmap. There are hardware features that allow coarse horizontal scrolling (actually, there’s a few that allow fine scrolling but, from what I gather, they don’t work on some displays) but not much else, with a lot of software simply brute forcing things in software.

    I can’t really comment with any degree of authority about books or tools available in the 1980s because my own, limited experience programming the Amstrad CPC is all relatively recent, but from what I gather Maxam was a popular assembler in the UK which shipped on ROM and used the publisher’s own word processor Protext as an IDE. For books, it was a sparser market here than other machines like the Spectrum or C64 for the reasons we’ve already mentioned, but I remember seeing some specific titles around and there were more general purpose ones like Rodnay Zaks’ Programming The Z80 which crops up a lot in discussion around Z80-based systems generally.

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