An Amstrad PCW For The 21st Century

If you were a computer-mad teen in the late 1980s, you were probably in the process of graduating from an 8-bit machine to a 16-bit one, maybe an Amiga, or an Atari ST. For the first time though you might not have been the only computer owner in your house, because there was every chance your parents might have joined the fun with a word processor. Maybe American home offices during this period might have had PC clones, but for Brits there was every chance that the parental powerhouse would have been an Amstrad PCW.

Amstrad were the masters of packaging up slightly outdated technology for electronic consumers on a budget, and the PCW was thus a 1970s CP/M machine for the 1980s whose main attraction was that it came with monitor and printer included in the price. [James Ots]’ parents had one that interested him enough that  he has returned to the platform and is documenting his work bringing it up to date.

It was the most recent progress in booting into CP/M from an SD card by hijacking the printer ROM that caught our eye, but reading all the build logs that is only the tip of the iceberg. He’s connected another monitor, made a joystick port and a soundcard, and added a memory upgrade to his PCW. Most of these machines would have only been used with the bundled word processor, so those are real enhancements.

We’ve featured quite a few projects involving Amstrad’s CPC home computers, such as this one with a floppy emulator. Amstrad are an interesting company for followers of consumer electronics of the ’70s and ’80s, they never had the out-there tech wackiness of their great rival Sinclair but their logo could be found on an astonishing variety of appliances. The “AMS” in Amstrad are the initials of the company founder [Alan Sugar], who is rather better known in 2017 as the British host of The Apprentice. It is not known whether he intends to lead the country.

11 thoughts on “An Amstrad PCW For The 21st Century

  1. Their logo was eventually also found on Sinclair products. Well, technically, the other way around. Amstrad bought the Sinclair brand and made a tidy profit selling the Sinclair unsold stock alone. We’ll ignore the Sinclair PC200 that came out of Amstrad, that is a historical machine for all the wrong reasons.

    The PCW was massively underrated. Yes, it was built on an 8 bit Z80 at a time when the world was moving to the 68000 and friends but the inclusion of CP/M made it more useful than the marketing literature would have you believe.

    Great work, [James Ots], I love seeing these old machines still being expanded and upgraded.

    1. Built to a price? Cheap as dirt more like! 5 chips on the motherboard, plus RAM and a couple of 7400 series. It’s successor, the PCW16, had only 2 chips (plus a few RAM). The CPU for the PCW16 was inside the custom chip. Add a Super-IO chip like PCs used to use for serial / parallel / floppy / HDD, and that’s it!

      The 16 in PCW16 was 16MHz, as in how fast it’s 8-bit Z80 core ran at.

      They both must’ve been the computers with the highest % profit made in the 1980s, and possibly ever!

      1. Well the original CPC464 had quite a few more chips on the board than that.

        But Amstrad went through several cost-cutting revisions, custom ASICs, smaller motherboards and so on, as it was profitable to do so. And the CPC was certainly a reliable computer – returns and defects are costly things and Amstrad minimised them, when their competitors had problems.

        But the lack of investment took its toll eventually, no real replacement for the 90s arrived except a slightly more colourful update of the original hardware. If it had included that 16MHz Z80 it might have done better.

  2. Triggered, I have memories of the PCW like, “Don’t buy it!, Don’t buy it! Don’t buy it!… OMG, you bought it anyway….. no I can’t help you install windows on it.”

    1. Why the hell would you need Windows? It word processed way more easily than any Windows abomination of it’s time or since. There was also CP/M if you wanted to use it, although almost nobody did. Plenty of students made their way through college with a PC/W.

      1. That’s like the punchline for an early 90s “Four Yorkshireman” sketch…

        EI: Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, (pause for laughter), eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing “Hallelujah.” and I had to do me homework on t’ Amstrad PCW

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