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Acorn Archimedes

The Archimedes was Acorn, Ltd's first general purpose home computer based on their ARM RISC CPU, and spawned a family of machines with various options.

The first models were released in June 1987, as the 300 and 400 series. The machines differed primarily in that the 400 series included more slots (four instead of two) and a ST506 controller for an internal hard drive. Both models included the ARTHUR DOS, BBC BASIC and an emulator for the BBC Microcomputers, and were mounted in excellent two-part cases with a small central unit with the monitor on top, and a separate keyboard and three-button mouse.

Four models were initially released with different amounts of memory, the A305, A310, A410 and A440. The 300 and 400 were followed by a number of machines with minor changes and upgrades:

  • A500 - 4 MB RAM (Archimedes development machine, never sold [1] (http://www.drobe.co.uk/riscos/artifact476))
  • A305 - 512 KB RAM
  • A310 - 1 MB RAM
  • A410 - 1 MB RAM
  • A420 - 2 MB RAM, 20 MB Hard disk
  • A440 - 4 MB RAM, 40 MB Hard disk
  • (A4xx/1 editions with improved memory controller)
  • A540 - 4 MB RAM, 100 MB Hard Disk

  • A680 - 8 MB RAM (RISCiX[?] development machine, never sold)
  • M4 - 8 MB RAM (RISCiX development machine, never sold)
  • R140 - 4 MB RAM, 52 MB Hard Disk, RISCiX Unix workstation
  • R260 - 8 MB RAM, 100 MB Hard Disk, RISCiX Unix workstation
  • R225 - 4 MB RAM, RISCiX Unix network computer

Work began on an upgrade to the Arthur OS as Arthur 2, but with the release of the movie of the same name the OS was renamed to RISC OS 2. This seemed like a good time to introduce a number of new machines as well, and the 300 series was replaced with the new A3000 series in May, 1989.

Unlike the 300, the 3000's were mounted in single-part cases with the keyboard attached to the main unit. This makes them harder to place on a desk because the monitor cannot be put on top. It also eliminated one of the slots, there simply wasn't room for it. Oddly the 400 series continued on after switching a few options. It seems unlikely that the less expensive 3000 style case would be able to save any real amount of money given that the 400 continued to be produced.

  • A3000 - 1 MB RAM
  • A3010 - 1 MB RAM
  • A3020 - 1 MB RAM
  • A3020 Special Edition
  • A4 - 2 MB RAM, Archimedes laptop computer
  • A4000 - 2 MB RAM
  • A5000 - 1 MB RAM, 40/80 MB Hard Disk (A4 design in a desktop case)
  • A5000 ('alpha variant') - 2 / 4 MB RAM, 80 / 120 MB Hard Disk

Despite the name's being reminiscent of the Archimedes naming-conventions, the A7000 was infact low-end RiscPC - the line of RISC OS computers that succeded the Archimedes in 1994.

The Archimedes was the most powerful home computer during the late 1980s; it could run a piece of software faster and with better visual quality than the more-famous Commodore Amiga. This was mainly because the ARM processor was not untypically three times faster than the competition. Despite a technical edge having been fully realised upon the release of RISC OS 2 in 1989, the Archimedes only ever met a moderate success, becoming very much a 'minority' platform (not unlike the Apple Macintosh) outside of niche markets. The education markets of the UK, Ireland, Australasia were among the platform's most dominant zones of importance, along with specialised professional work such as radio and train-station management. Most students in the aforementioned countries who attended school during the early 1990s will have used an Archimedes at least once.

The platform was very unusual in that it was and still is largely unknown outside of a handful of countries where most of its sales occurred. Very few people in Asia or the USA have ever heard of the Archimedes.

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