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Amstrad PCW : found one!

Amstrad PCW Amstrad PCW

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#1 CatPix OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat May 10, 2014 4:32 PM

For years I have been looking for this (then common, now rare) computer of the 80's; a professionnal tool, the perfect "word processor" machine.

 

gallery_35492_1157_1444333.jpg

 

Released in 1985 by the British company Amstrad, the PCW 8256 and 8512 are aimed to the professionnal market, and for people wanting a simple computer at home.

It needed to be simple of use, and powerful. The simple to use is achieved with a "one wire" unit. One wire to power the unit; one wire for the keyboard. and one wire for the Amstrad printer. You can't make it simpler.

Powerful, with 256 or 512 Ko or RAM, with one or two floppy drives (a special 3" model for this one. later evolutions will have the standard 3"1/4 floppy units).

Well made software taking advantages of the high resolution (90 characters on 32 lines mode, or 720*256 pixels).

The PCW can run both a BASIC or the CP/M OS, a then famous OS in the industrial and professionnal world, allowing a wide range of software to be released on the PCW.

 

Locoscript.png

This is a file manager, Locoscript, on CP/M; as CP/M can't adress more than 64Ko or RAM, Locoscript was cleverly programmed to use the remaining 64 (or 192) Ko of RAM as a virtual drive, making easier to copy and move files from floppy to floppy, especially on the 8256 model with only one physical drive.

 

gallery_35492_1157_861490.jpg

 

On the other hand, the PCW doesn't have any ROM, so you can only use it with floppies (or Hcx Floppy Drive Emulator or the likes of it). The PCW also lack a proper sound chip and joysticks ports (even if the keyboard have the logic for it, there is not ports on it).

This and the monochrome-only display without any video output would make it sounding like a bad choice for a gaming machine?

 

Yet, the machine was so successful (8 millions sold, produced up to 1995, exported to the USA for some time, too) that many games were ported to it. If we're far from his little cousin CPC or from the C64 in term of game choice, there is almost 180 games available for the machine.

 

One expansion card with an AY sound chip (the same than in the Amstrad CPC or Vectrex) and two Kempton joystick port was released, but it's extremely rare and so, only a handful of games use it.

 

Mine suffer from the dead belt syndrom so I can't run anything on it, for now.

My to do list include getting the original Basic and CP/M disks, and one HCx unit for convenience.

 

 

 

(as there is no way to mute sound on a PCW, games have either an option to mute all sounds or have no sound at all)

 


Edited by CatPix, Sat May 10, 2014 4:49 PM.


#2 UKRetrogamer OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat May 10, 2014 7:50 PM

I have a couple of PCWs. They're probably more common in the UK. I have an 8512 and an 8256 (which is easy to upgrade with internal RAM chips and by moving a soldered jumper wire). I had one back in the day and used it with a serial/parallel card and 1200 baud to access BBS systems. Being CP/M based, there was a LOT of free software available for Mr. Sugar's little Green-eyed monster.

 

It's still well supported even now. If you need drive-belts for the 3" disk-drive(s), the RetroComputerShack store on the popular auction site carries them.

 

Nice machines and cheap too, at the time.

 

Apart from Word Processing, they were popular with small UK businesses due to the most widely-used UK accountancy package being released for the PCW. Sage Accounts was one of two popular accounts packages at the time. MAP Accounts was the other.

 

Sage made a PCW port of their accounts system and MAP didn't.

 

Which company is still around today? That's right; I *used* to work as an IT/Network Manager for MAP.


Edited by UKRetrogamer, Sat May 10, 2014 7:59 PM.


#3 UKRetrogamer OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat May 10, 2014 7:55 PM

Mine suffer from the dead belt syndrom so I can't run anything on it, for now.

My to do list include getting the original Basic and CP/M disks, and one HCx unit for convenience.

If you need anything, or any help, just let me know. Either on this thread or by PM. I'm only too happy to help.

 

Ian at RetroComputerShack can help with the supply of Drive-belts. http://www.ebay.co.u...=item3cb46671ce

 

I can help if you need copies of the disks, etc.

 

Just ask.



#4 CatPix OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun May 11, 2014 12:26 AM

I have ordered belts already on eBay, and as I successfully replaced dead belts on a couple of 6128 and one 6128_, I can handle this part easily. If you have tips on how to adapt an Hcx Floppy emulator on the other hand, I'll take them happily.

For the disks, if you have some, I'll be interested too; tho I think I'll try to get French ones. Haveng software in English isn't an issue, but having a keyboard with English layout would be a bigger issue ;)



#5 Goochman OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon May 12, 2014 10:00 AM

I sold these at Sears in the US in the late 80's.  Was a pretty cool machine to do WP on.

 

Didnt these use 3" discs and not 3 1/2" ones?  Something non-standard?



#6 high voltage OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon May 12, 2014 10:15 AM

Wow, it sold more than C64 and ZX in UK, amazing



#7 CatPix OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon May 12, 2014 11:51 AM

I sold these at Sears in the US in the late 80's.  Was a pretty cool machine to do WP on.

 

Didnt these use 3" discs and not 3 1/2" ones?  Something non-standard?

Yes, they use 3" floppies, you can glimpse one on the pictures I made.

 

There have been numerous claims that Amstrad got those floppies because they were cheaper than the Sony 3"1/2, but this is wrong.

When Amstrad created the CPC and PCW line in 1984, the 3"1/2 standard wasn't released yet.

 

5"1/4 floppies were expensive and both the discs and drive were considered too expensive for a low-budget computer.

 

Other formats were either too expensive or too complex to use (like the Quick Disk, which was sold more like a concept than a complet out of the box system, which would have required Amstrad to make or buy floppies from another manufacturer).

 

Also, the 3" were surdy with a very thick shell and a metal cover inside the shell (unlike the 3"1/2 that have this cover externally) Amstrad marketed them as being sturdy enoug to resist the weight of a car running over one.

 

Later PCW models were fitted with 3"1/2 units. I think external 3"1/2 units were sold for the 8256/8(12 line as well.

 

Anyway, it's nice to have a first-hand testimony of someone that sold them in the USA :) Did you sold CPC computers as well? Do you have any pictures or documents about them by luck?



#8 UKRetrogamer OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon May 12, 2014 11:53 AM

I sold these at Sears in the US in the late 80's.  Was a pretty cool machine to do WP on.

 

Didnt these use 3" discs and not 3 1/2" ones?  Something non-standard?

I wouldn't know about the US PCW range but certainly in the UK, the PCW used the same 3-inch format as the Amstrad 6128, 6128+ and Sinclair (Amstrad manufactured) ZX Spectrum +3.

 

Later models shipped with a 3.5"drive.

 

Edit: As I hit post, I saw Catpix's reply come up just above mine, so apologies if we duplicated remarks.


Edited by UKRetrogamer, Mon May 12, 2014 11:55 AM.


#9 Goochman OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon May 12, 2014 1:52 PM

I worked in Sears Computer, Telephone, and Typewriter department in the US. We sold C64's, C128's, and Franklin IBM/Apple clones. Sears had some really nice typewriters with 1 line digital displays and such. Wish I would've kept one of those.

Anyway one day this Amstrad showed up. I knew of Amstrad but never saw one before. It was a pretty cool unit and they came in a single box. We set one up for display purposes but all the software came from the UK so we only sold it as a stand alone Word Processor to compete with the typewriters and not with the computers. I had just gotten my 1040 ST so it didnt do much for me with its monochrome display but we def moved as many of these as we did top of the line typewriters which was quite a few.

They only carried them for a year before we stopped stocking them. Pretty cool to see screenshots of games running on these things.

#10 UKRetrogamer OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon May 12, 2014 8:14 PM

Also, the 3" were surdy with a very thick shell and a metal cover inside the shell (unlike the 3"1/2 that have this cover externally) Amstrad marketed them as being sturdy enoug to resist the weight of a car running over one.

I can attest to their longevity. Of all the media I own covering machines dating back to 1977, I have more 3" disks which read and verify without errors than any other format.

 

At the other end of the scale is the Amiga. For every five Amstrad floppies I can find working, I'll find ONE Amiga disk.

 

It's a pity the drive belts degrade so quickly. I threw out my original PCW8512 due to (what I thought was) drive failure, when in fact it was more likely just a stretched drive-belt which would (now) be easy to source and replace.

 

Apart from the Amstrad-made machines, I also own 2 generations of Tatung Einstein which also use the 3" drives.

 

I wonder how many other manufacturers used this format?


Edited by UKRetrogamer, Mon May 12, 2014 8:15 PM.


#11 CatPix OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu May 15, 2014 3:12 PM

We set one up for display purposes but all the software came from the UK so we only sold it as a stand alone Word Processor to compete with the typewriters and not with the computers.

Why is that? Was it a policy from Amstrad or from Sears? And was it to avoid getting more software?

 

Anyway, I now have a fully working PCW, thanks to UKretrogamer :

 

gallery_35492_1157_1451534.jpg

 

I'm impressed by how this file manager is easy and fast to use once you start to get used to it. I don't think anything alike existed on other computers of the time as a standard software. (but surely, third-party software doing as good or better existed. I remember of PC-Tools for MS-dos, being very powerful and user friendly).

 

The use of the RAM as a virtual disk is truely amazing and handy. It might not be as useful when having two disc drives, but it means you can still copy files from two different floppies and put them back on another one. It feel powerful! :-D



#12 Goochman OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri May 16, 2014 1:56 PM

These PCW units were turnkey - they were supposed to be advanced word processor/typewrites - not computers, therefore no need to stock additional software at Sears.
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#13 JamesD OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri May 16, 2014 9:43 PM

These PCW units were turnkey - they were supposed to be advanced word processor/typewrites - not computers, therefore no need to stock additional software at Sears.

Yeah, I think Sears pretty much advertised it as a word processor. But then I don't think I saw too many Sears catalogs around that time.

#14 ilaskey OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun May 25, 2014 10:53 AM

Many years ago we bought a disk format converter. It had all sorts of drives and ran cp/m. I noticed the 3 inch drive and asked if they got much call for converting to/from those. The guy said never but the drives were cheaper than a blanking plate.

#15 CatPix OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun May 25, 2014 12:50 PM

It's likely that people either used their PCW for their back-up documents, or just printed their most important docs; or kept using their PCW. In mine, when I opened it to replace the drive belts, I found a sticky note on the first disk unit, saying "drive belt replaced 11/03/96" Quite amusing I must say :grin:



#16 19rsn007 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Oct 21, 2018 4:21 AM

Why is that? Was it a policy from Amstrad or from Sears? And was it to avoid getting more software?

 

Anyway, I now have a fully working PCW, thanks to UKretrogamer :

 

gallery_35492_1157_1451534.jpg

 

I'm impressed by how this file manager is easy and fast to use once you start to get used to it. I don't think anything alike existed on other computers of the time as a standard software. (but surely, third-party software doing as good or better existed. I remember of PC-Tools for MS-dos, being very powerful and user friendly).

 

The use of the RAM as a virtual disk is truely amazing and handy. It might not be as useful when having two disc drives, but it means you can still copy files from two different floppies and put them back on another one. It feel powerful! :-D

Sorry for digging up an old topic again, but I have a question.

Is there any place I can find disk images for this stuff?
I have an old PCW10 on my repair desk right now which I got to power up but since I don't have any bootdiscs (3.5" DD) I can't see if it does what it should do.

 

I have searched online for some while now but I can't find any images besides from the 3" 9512 images.



#17 youxia OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Oct 21, 2018 5:02 AM

Phew, PCW 10 seems to be a rare bird. Lucky you.  But  yeah, the software seems to be scarce, the OS, at least. I can source boot disk set for PCW 8256 / 8512 but not sure if it would work on the 10 too.



#18 19rsn007 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Oct 21, 2018 10:08 AM

if you are able to make a .DSK image file out of it, please do.

 

I'd love to try it for you.



#19 youxia OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Oct 21, 2018 11:34 AM

cpmplusg.dsk
locoscrg.dsk
drlogohg.dsk
progutig.dsk
pcwchala.dsk
colos4br.dsk
germmast.dsk
pcwchalb.dsk
stevedsn.dsk
progutie.dsk
drlogohe.dsk
locoscre.dsk
cpmpluse.dsk

 

 

It's an archive with these files in it, description says there are PCW 8256 / 8512 boot disks plus games and some other soft. It's only ~0.5 MB, you can PM me your email and I will send it over.

 

Though, if the PCW uses CP/M as OS, wouldn't it be available on sites like these? http://www.classiccmp.org/cpmarchives/







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