An Amstrad Portable You Won’t Have Seen

Of all the players in the home computer world in the 1980s, Alan Sugar’s Amstrad was a step ahead in ease of use over its competitors. The Amstrad CPC series of computers came with their own monitors that also had a built-in power supply, and featured built-in data recorders or disk drives as standard. Despite having a line of business computers and an eventual move into PC territory that included portable machines, Amstrad never produced a CPC which wasn’t anchored to the desktop. [Michael Wessel] has taken that challenge on himself with a CPC464 that had a broken cassette recorder, and come up with a creditable take on a portable computer that never was.

Starting with an ethos of not modifying the CPC case more than necessary, the defective tape drive has gone to be replaced with an HDMI TFT screen and a video converter board. In went a 512K RAM expansion, an SD card disk expansion, and a stereo amplifier. A small power supply board also takes power for the unit via USB-C, such that it can operate from a power bank.

The result is a fully functional and hugely expanded CPC that’s as much cyberdeck as it is retrocomputer, and given that if we remember correctly that these machines were CP/M capable it could be of greater use than simply gaming. [Michael] hasn’t entered his creation into our ongoing Cyberdeck Contest, but we think it would make a strong contender.

This isn’t the first Amstrac CPC we’ve shown you, here’s a very different take on a modernized machine.

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An Amstrad NC100 Has A New Purpose In Life

We’re used to laptop computers featuring flip-up screens; this article is being written on one and it’s probable you’re reading it on another one. But there’s another laptop form factor that has gained legions of fans ever since the days of the TRS-80 Model 100, the flat slab with no hinge and both keyboard and display on its upper surface. It’s surfaced most recently in the DevTerm, which inspired [0x17] to have a go at building his own. Instead of starting from scratch though, he’s chosen to use the shell of an Amstrad NC100 from the 1990s.

This series of Amstrad portables followed the company’s tried and tested course of repackaging decade-old technology for the consumer market, and were Z80-based machines that shared much with the company’s PCW series of desktop wordprocessors. The character LCD, mainboard, and keyboard were replaced with a modern LCD, a Raspberry PI, and a custom ergonomic layout keyboard with all associated modules and cables.

The result is undeniably a neat flat form factor laptop computer, and one we could see ourselves using. There may be some questions relating to the repurposing of a retrocomputer when the same result could have been achieved with a bit of CAD work and a 3D printer, but perhaps the machine should speak for itself on that.

Meanwhile this isn’t the first Amstrad laptop we’ve seen recently, the company also did some unusually-shaped PCs in the 1990s.

Audio Cassette Tape Data Retrospective

It has been a long time since we stored software and computer data on audiotape. But it used to be the de facto standard for hobby computers and [Noel] has a great video about the Amstrad’s system (embedded below) which was pretty typical and how the process could be sped up since today, you have perfect audio reproduction, especially compared to consumer-grade audiotape.

The cassette tapes suffered from several problems. The tape had an inherently low bandwidth, there was quite a bit of noise present from the analog circuitry and heads, and the transport speed wasn’t necessarily constant. However, you can easily digitally synthesize relatively noise-free sound at high fidelity and rock-solid frequency. So basically a microcontroller, like an Arduino, can look like an extremely high-quality tape drive.

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Think Your Laptop Is Anemic? Try An MSDOS One

If someone gifted you a cheap laptop this holiday season, you might be a little put out by the 2GB of RAM and the 400 MHz CPU. However, you might appreciate it more once you look at [Noel’s Retro Lab’s] 4.8 Kg Amstrad PPC512 He shows it off inside and out in the video below.

Unlike a modern laptop, this oldie but goodie has a full keyboard that swings out of the main body. The space below the keyboard contains the LCD screen, which [Noel] is going to have to replace with an LCD from another unit that was in worse shape but had a good-looking screen. In this video, he gets as far as getting video output to an external monitor, but neither LCD shows any sign of life. But he’s planning more videos soon.

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Amstrad Portable Gets A Modern LCD Transplant

Playing classic games on the real hardware is an experience many of us enjoy, but sometimes the hardware is just a bit too retro for modern sensibilities. A case in point is the miserable monochrome LCD that was originally installed in the Amstrad PPC640 portable 8086 PC that [Drygol] recently picked up. He decided that his portable Amstrad sessions would be far more enjoyable if he swapped it out for a display that didn’t have 30+ years on the clock.

To quell the complaints of any of the vintage hardware aficionados out there, it’s worth mentioning that the original LCD was actually damaged and needed to be replaced anyway. Granted [Drygol] could have tried to find a contemporary panel to replace it with, but looking at the incredible before and after shots of the modded PPC640, it’s hard to argue he didn’t make the right decision by throwing a modern display into the otherwise largely original computer.

Getting the new LCD’s PCB ready for installation.

[Drygol] says he picked up a cheap 4:3 LCD TV on eBay, and as luck would have it, found that the new panel dropped perfectly into the original frame. Getting it buttoned back up required the removal of the RF can and all the female connections on the TV’s PCB, plus he had to cut some holes in the back of the display enclosure to mount the LCD’s controls, but overall it looks very stock.

Of course, getting the new LCD display in the original frame was only half the battle, it still needs to be connected up to the computer somehow. To get everyone playing nicely with each other, [Drygol] is using a commercially available MDA/CGA/EGA to VGA converter that is installed where the batteries would have gone originally. Wired to the PPC640’s external monitor connector, it allows him to drive the new display without having to use the original LCD interface.

[Drygol] has made something of a name for himself by performing some of the most impressive restorations and modifications of retro hardware in recent memory. From the unbelievable work that went into repairing a smashed Atari 800XL case to his gorgeous custom Amiga A500, his projects are sure to please the retro hardware lovers in the audience.

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Little Emulators Do 8 Bits At A Time

Have you ever wondered how many, for example, Commodore 64s it would take to equal the processing power in your current PC? This site might not really answer that, but it does show that your machine can easily duplicate all the old 8-bit computers from Commodore, Sinclair, Acorn, and others. By our count, there are 86 emulators on the page, although many of those are a host machine running a particular application such as Forth or Digger.

If you are in the US, you might not recognize all the references to the KC85, this was an East German computer based on a Z80 clone. Very few of these were apparently available for personal purchase, but they were very popular in schools and industry. These were made by Robotron, and there are some other Robotron models on the page, too.

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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.