The Secret History of the Amstrad CPC 464
Revealed in the press back in Spring 1984, the Amstrad CPC 464 was a home computer with a built-in tape drive designed to compete with the likes of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and the Commodore 64.
But the computer was something of a rush job. Nine months prior to the announcement of its launch, the CPC 464 didn’t even exist.
The computer would go on to sell more than 3 million units across Europe, despite its release after the peak of the British microcomputer boom of the early 80s.
But what lies behind the secret history of the CPC 464? Let’s take a deep dive into the story behind this often overlooked classic.
What Was Under the Shell of a CPC 464?
The hardware used in the CPC 464, would go on to find a home in a range of successors such as the Amstrad GX4000 console.
The Amstrad CPC 464 used a Zilog Z80A CPC with either 64k or 128k or RAM.
The computer was designed to be an all-in-one unit, with a built-in tape deck for loading software. Storage could either come in tape format, or you could also use a floppy drive.
The power source for the computer interestingly came via its monitor. The monitor came in both color and monochrome.
Just like its competitors, the CPC was a low-cost computer that could serve multiple purposes including playing video games and running business software.
Because the CPC 464 was such a hit, a whole range of compatible accessories and software would get released for it.
How Was the Amstrad CPC 464 Invented?
Amstrad came late to the microcomputing party. It isn’t entirely clear when exactly Amstrad decided that it would enter the market for home computers.
During the early 80s, Amstrad boss Alan Sugar had been dismissive of microcomputers.
This wasn’t because he didn’t think they weren’t any good, he just didn’t believe that his current customer base either needed or wanted a computer.
Who Invented the CPC 464?
The man put in charge of developing the Amstrad CPC 464 was engineer Ivor Spital. He’d been with the company from the very start and had to come up with a competitive analysis of the computers that Amstrad would be competing with.
He then went off and bought a selection of different models to find out how exactly they worked, what set-up was needed to get them going, what extras they all came with, and what the cost of making them would be.
Spital’s investigations showed that Amstrad should and could enter the market and that they could create a computer system that would be sold at a low price, making it suitable for impulse purchases.
Prior to their entry into the microcomputer market, Amstrad had largely created all-in-one hi-fis which came shipped with their own speakers.
Their initial concept would be that the computer would come with its own monitor, have a full-sized keyboard, and a built-in cassette player for loading software. The target price would be £199.
The idea was that a child could have the computer in their bedroom, thus freeing up the family TV.
But Amstrad lacked the experience in developing computer hardware and software. One idea that was thrown around was that they’d re-badge an Asian Apple II clone. Eventually, they would hire contractors to make the computer itself, while Amstrad would design the casing.
The design of the CPC 464 would fall to Bob Watkins, Amstrad’s technical and manufacturing director.
Developing the CPC
In 1983, Amstrad found development partners. Sugar would later describe them as “long-haired hippies who had helped us out previously.” The developers had said that they’d easily be able to design a PCB to go into the casing that Amstrad was creating. They also promised they could do it in a short time-frame.
Work started based on the 6502 processor that was used in the BBC Micro, Apple II, and the Commodore 64. This was thought to be better than the Z80.
However, as time moved on, it was becoming apparent that the development of the CPC wasn’t going to plan.
Later, it would be revealed that one of the two men felt unable to deal with Amstrad’s tight deadlines and had quit. He returned the advance that Amstrad had given him.
The developer was Paul Kelly. Alan Sugar would later claim that Kelly went AWOL. In truth, he was suffering from severe exhaustion.
Kelly eventually recovered and supplied some software to be burned to ROM. Alan Sugar claimed the code was meaningless and was just made to keep Bob Watkins happy.
The flaws in the ROM code wouldn’t be noticed until Toshiba burned it to ROM. The development would be passed over to another team.
Next up would be William Poel and Roland Perry of Ambit. The two men would be responsible for Amstrad entering and rapidly expanding into the UK computer market. They’d also later be responsible for Amstrad’s business computer models.
Under Ambit, the wheels were rapidly put into motion and the pair successfully created and developed the hardware and software needed.
The Launch Of the Amstrad CPC 464
The launch of the Amstrad CPC 464 took place on the 12th of April 1984 at 11:30 am. The chosen location for the launch was a school in Westminster, London. Attendees would get to meet “Einstein, Archimedes, William Shakespeare, Monet, and Ravel.”
They’d actually get to meet the Amstrad CPC 464. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Amstrad CPC 464 would be so popular that Amstrad would be able to buy out popular market leaders Sinclair.
Did You Have an Amstrad CPC 464?
Did you have an Amstrad CPC 464? What are your memories of this machine? We’d love to hear more about your experience with this great microcomputer in the comments section.
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