Acorn Archimedes

The Acorn Archimedes

In 1987 Acorn released a machine (with a non-scientific sounding name for a change!), the Archimedes.

It was Acorn Computers Ltd's first general purpose home computer based on their own 32-bit ARM RISC CPU.

The name is also commonly used to describe computers which were based on the same architecture, even where Acorn did not include 'Archimedes' in the official name. Many versions of the Archimedes would be released over the next couple of years.

This retro computer was one of the most powerful home computers available during the late 1980s and early 1990s and was Acorn's answer to the 16-bit machines from Atari and Commodore; The Amiga and the ST.

So let's take a look at yet another fantastic computer from Acorn - who's legacy of ARM processors lives on today.

Read on to find out a little about a lesser known yet excellent computer, the Acorn Archimedes.

Acorn Progress With The Archimedes

So - the Archimedes followed in the footsteps of the BBC Micro (and the Master), by winning a significant market share in the educational sector of the UK, Ireland and even Australia.

Many students and pupils in these countries during the late 1980s early 1990s were exposed to an Archimedes or an A-series computer.

Many students at that time had the opportunity to use the machine(s) to learn a variety of programming languages such as BASIC, Fortran, Pascal, LISP and even C!

It should be noted that Acorn's version of BASIC was absolutely brilliant and most would argue that it was the best version available at that time.

It incorporated proper structures programming allowing the user to create procedures and even implement error handling! These are techniques that still apply to software development today...

Anyway, back to the machine itself...

Despite having the technical edge over other machines, (the 8-Bit market while still being stong, was on the wane by this point in time) the Archimedes only ever met with moderate success beyond the education sector.

It did have some popularity in niche markets including professional work such as radio, medical and railway station management and also music publishing.

Another reason why schools and colleges chose the Acorn Archimedes over the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST was that students may have taken computer games into school from their collection - which would obviously have distracted them from their school work!

The machine itself looked more like a PC and less like a home micro, which may have put off many potential buyers who did not a 'business machine'.

The price of one was also astumbling block for many people, the first incarnation of the archimedes with 512KB of RAM retailed at an incredible £899 in the UK!

Not many people had the best part of nine hundred quid lying around to splurge on a home computer back then...

The Acorn Archimedes

Another fine machine from Acorn -  The Acorn Archimedes
Another fine machine from Acorn - The Acorn Archimedes

Gaming On The Archimedes

Back in the 1980s and 1990s buyers wanted lots of good quality games for their computers and this is one area that Acorn never fully conquered.

Of course there were plenty of fantastic games for the BBC Micro - but as the 16-bit machines became more popular there were two at the forefront of gaming: The Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga.

On the Archimedes Computer games were few and far between.

One game (Zarch developed by the legendary David Braben of Elite fame) really showcased the machines capabilities, which gave many teenagers fantasies of patch-work three dimensional rolling landscapes.

A BBC emulator was also available for the archimedes allowing it to load up those classic BBC Micro games (which was really cool at the time) , but was still not enough as games players could access a vast and growing library for the cheaper priced Amiga and ST.

Despite having a superior Operating System when compared to it's 16-bit counterparts as well as sporting eight channel sound capability it never managed to fully compete as machine for the home.

By the early 1990s the UK educational market began to turn away from the Archimedes, and veered towards Apple Macintosh computers or IBM compatible PCs.

Perhaps if it had been more competitively priced and more games had been developed for it then it may well have went on to be a fine all-rounder.

These newer IBM and Apple machines began to eclipse the Archimedes in multimedia capabilities as computing technolgy leaped forward once more.

This signalled the beginning of the end for the machine and indeed Acorn (which sadly was to break up in 1998).

The Archimedes was a wonderful computer that many people will have fond memories from their school days...

The Archimedes Was Setup For Business Use

The Acorn Archimedes could be used for any purpose
The Acorn Archimedes could be used for any purpose

The Launch Video For The Acorn Archimedes

3D Racing in Stunt Racer on the Archimedes

Quality Gaming On The Acorn Archimedes

Okay, so there were not that many games released on the machine - but there are still some that are well worth playing.

The Archimedes was blessed with a select number of quality gaming titles and if you are a retro gaming fan then you must try the following titles:

  • Chaos
  • Flashback
  • James Pond
  • Lemmings
  • Pipe Mania
  • Star Fighter 3000
  • Stunt Racer
  • SWIV
  • Zarch


Fred Harris Gets To Know The Acorn Archimedes

There's No Stopping Fred Harris!

Zarch on the Acorn Archimedes

Zarch was a ground-breaking game that featured a rolling 3D landscape and for a time was only available on the Archimedes.

It was programmed by the legendary David Braben (who was already a god in the gaming world due to the seminal Elite) and was utterly jaw-dropping the first time you laid eyes on it.

It took the medium of 3D to a new level and proved just what this new (and expensive!) machine could do.

Zarch on the Acorn Archimedes

Flashback on the Acorn Archimedes

SWIV on the Archimedes

SWIV on the Acorn Archimedes

SWIV is one of those classic shooters that everyone remembers.

The version that graced the Archimedes is as good as any and proved that this was a machine that could slake the thirst of any arcade addict.

This is a title that was one of my all time favourite Amiga Games and the Archimedes version was just as good.

A fine game that still plays delightfully well all of these years later...

Starfighter 3000 on the Acorn Archimedes

James Pond on the Acorn Archimedes

Emulating an Acorn Archimedes

It is possible to emulate one of these machines on your modern hardware via the use of emulators such as ArcEm and Arculator.

ArcEm is both MAC and Windows compatible, and can also be run on Amiga Operating Systems!

If you want to see what the machine was like without purchasing the actual hardware then emulation is the way to go.

ArcEm running on MAC OS

ArcEm is a fine emulator if you want to have a play with the Acorn Archimedes
ArcEm is a fine emulator if you want to have a play with the Acorn Archimedes

ArcEm running on Amiga OS

Use the Acorn Archimedes on your Commodore Amiga!
Use the Acorn Archimedes on your Commodore Amiga!

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Any Fans Of Acorn Machines? 5 comments

Crewman6 profile image

Crewman6 5 years ago

Never had the pleasure of using one, though I find it amusing that the ARM technology is still prevalent in my brand new Kindle Fire!

Nice to see the reference to Elite, one of my all-time favorite Amiga games. I have a question about the Basic- you mentioned the Archimedes had what is considered the best Basic of it's time. Do you remember, and have you ever used Blitz Basic? It was by far the best and easiest compiled basic I've ever used, and to this day I still haven't found anything to match it for price factor, ease of use, and power.


DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 4 years ago

...and found this one from your Tomy 3D article; my jaw dropped when I saw this! Typical our schools spent about 10 years teaching us on these when the rest of the world were getting into PCs...


RetroBrothers profile image

RetroBrothers 4 years ago from Sunny Scotland Author

Hey Doctor - thanks for the comments!

To be fair to your school the Archimedes was a fantastic computer - when were you using them?

I note you are a fan of the TOMY 3D games - I will be trying to add some more articles soon.

Cheers!


DoctorDarts profile image

DoctorDarts 4 years ago

Hmm, talking from about 1990 to 1998? Maybe earlier?


RetroBrothers profile image

RetroBrothers 4 years ago from Sunny Scotland Author

I suppose from the mid 1990s onwards the PC was more viable - but Acorn created fantastic computers for educational use. The BBC Model B and Master were also brilliant machines

Thanks for the comments.

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