See Acorn Archimedes Get Repaired And Refurbished, In Glorious Detail

Want to see a 90s-era Acorn Archimedes A3020 home computer get opened up, refurbished, and taken for a test drive? Don’t miss [drygol]’s great writeup on Retrohax, because it’s got all that, and more!

A modern upgrade allowing the use of a CF card in place of an internal hard drive, via a CF2IDE adapter and 3D-printed fixture.

The Archimedes was a line of ARM-based personal computers by Acorn Computers, released in the late 80s and discontinued in the 90s as Macintosh and IBM PC-compatible machines ultimately dominated. They were capable machines for their time, and [drygol] refurbished an original back into working order while installing a few upgrades at the same time.

The first order of business was to open the machine up and inspect the internals. Visible corrosion gets cleaned up with oxalic acid, old electrolytic capacitors are replaced as a matter of course, and any corroded traces get careful repair. Removing corrosion from sockets requires desoldering the part for cleaning then re-soldering, so this whole process can be a lot of work. Fortunately, vintage hardware was often designed with hand-assembly in mind, so parts tend to be accessible for servicing with decent visibility in the process. The keyboard was entirely disassembled and de-yellowed, yielding an eye-poppingly attractive result.

Once the computer itself was working properly, it was time for a few modern upgrades. One was to give the machine an adapter to use a CF card in place of an internal IDE hard drive, and [drygol] did a great job of using a 3D-printed piece to make the CF2IDE adapter look like a factory offering. The internal floppy drive was also replaced with a GOTEK floppy emulator (also with a 3D-printed adapter) for another modern upgrade.

The fully refurbished and upgraded machine looks slick, so watch the Acorn Archimedes A3020 show off what it can do in the video (embedded below), and maybe feel a bit of nostalgia.

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The Acorn Archimedes At 30

The trouble with being an incidental witness to the start of something that later becomes world-changing is that at the time you are rarely aware of what you are seeing. Take the Acorn Archimedes, the home computer for which the first ARM processor was developed, and which has just turned 30. If you were a British school pupil in 1987 who found a pair of the new machines alongside the row of BBC Micros in the school computer lab, for sure it was an exciting event, after all these were the machines everyone was talking about. But the possibility that their unique and innovative processor would go on to spawn a line of successors that would eventually power so much of the world three decades later was something that probably never occurred to spotty ’80s teens.

[Computerphile] takes a look at some of the first Archimedes machines in the video below the break. We get a little of the history and a description of the OS, plus a look at an early model still in its box and one of the last of the Archimedes line. Familiar to owners of this era of hardware is the moment when a pile of floppies is leafed through to find one that still works, then we’re shown the defining game of the platform, [David Braben]’s Lander, which became the commercial Zarch, and provided the template for his Virus and Virus 2000 games.

The Trojan Room Coffee Cam Archimedes, on display at the Cambridge University Computing Department.
The Trojan Room Coffee Cam Archimedes, on display at the Cambridge University Computing Department.

We see the RiscOS operating system booting lightning-fast from ROM and still giving a good account of itself 20 years later even on a vintage Philips composite monitor. If you were that kid in 1987, you were in for a shock when you reached university and sat down in front of the early Windows versions, it would be quite a few years before mainstream computers matched your first GUI.

The Archimedes line and its successors continued to be available into the mid 1990s, but faded away along with Acorn through the decade. Even one being used to power the famous Trojan Room Coffee Cam couldn’t save it from extinction. We’re told they can still be found in the broadcast industry, and until fairly recently they powered much of the electronic signage on British railways, but other than that the original source of machines has gone. All is not lost though, because of course we all know about their ARM joint venture which continues to this day. If you would like to experience something close to an Archimedes you can do so with another computer from Cambridge, because RiscOS is available for the Raspberry Pi.

Sit back and enjoy the video, and if you were one of those kids in 1987, be proud that you sampled a little piece of the future before everyone else did.

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