8 bit Memories

1 Comment June 23, 2005

I was reminiscing with some of the younger developers at my workplace about the systems that they grew up with, and rather predictably it seems that most of them have grown up knowing nothing else but x86 architecture (with possibly the odd Amiga or Atari ST thrown in for good measure).

All this got me thinking about the 8-bit machines I cut my teeth on, and started to make me feel really old in the process!


This is the first computer I ever laid my hands on while I was at The Pilgrims School in Winchester. I must have been about 10 when our Maths teacher (a certain Captain Roberts if I remember correctly) showed us this wondrous machine at the end of the summer term in 1981. I remember blagging a couple of hours on the unit and working through some of the BASIC examples in the manual.


But when we came back for the winter term 1981, miracle of miracles, instead of the one lonely ZX80 the maths lab was now equipped with an entire room of ZX81s!

As the intention was to use these machines for educational purposes, there was the issue of loading the maths quiz du jour (written by Captain Roberts) on each machine. The solution that the school came up with was to have one cassette player by the teachers' desk with the output signal split to all ten ZX81s via cables trunked around the room. All the machines would therefore load from the same tape at exactly the same time. Ingenious!

ZX Spectrum

My initial Speccy was a 16k unit (I'd gone halves with my Dad to buy the machine, and I couldn't afford the far superior 48k machine). However, after enduring the chronic wait for the machine to arrive it eventually turned out to be faulty - part of the onboard RAM wasn't functioning and I was only left with approximately 13k usable.

This machine was sent back to Sinclair Research, and arrived back about three months later with a full complement of 48k. After quickly getting bored with "Hungry Horace" and "Penetrator" what else was left to do with rubber keyed wonder? Well, learn BASIC of course.

BBC Micro Model B

A new school brought new computers; the Beeb was the ultimate educational machine - just about anything that you could imagine at the time could be attached and controlled. But the coup de grace with the machine was the quality of the onboard BASIC interpreter. Not only was the dialect ahead of its' time (DEFPROC and DEFFN anyone?), but it also included a full 6502 assembler.

BBC Micro Model B+ 128

This is probably my favourite 8 bit system of all; the B+ 128 had Sideways RAM (ROM images could be loaded into memory and behave as though they were physically installed in the machine), the more advanced 1770 DFS (which caused no end of problems with some of the more 'interesting' disc copy protection systems). This was coupled with my very first personal non-tape based storage medium; a Pace Electronics 5.25" 40/80 track switchable unit. The luxury!

I kept my beloved Beeb until about 1994 by which time I'd collected the Z80 Second Processor (which allowed you to run CP/M) and the Teletext Adapter. Of course, by this stage I'd already been firmly entrenched in x86 development.

Ahh, memories...


1 Comment

  • Gravatar Image
    Peter Jones July 2, 2005 4:45 PM

    Wow! What a nice bit of time travel. I too remember theses machines, although vaguely as most of my time was spent with the TRS-80 and the horrible "school" computer from Research Machines. I loved the TRS-80 and kept using them right up to about 1984, when I was given the opportunity to work in schools with the BBC model B. I can remember drooling over the "massive" 10 MegaByte Winchester drive that the school centre was allowed to test. I also had some time with the TRS-80 color computer and some early IBM comaptibles (which I wasn't impressed by). I still look back on the TRS-80 and the BBC as excellent computers and remember them fondly :D