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8-Bit To 16-Bit

Updated on March 7, 2017
RetroBrothers profile image

Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,

The transition from 8-bit to 16-bit

Two classic machines from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras
Two classic machines from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras

8-bit to 16-bit

The transition to 16-Bit technology.

For home computer users the late 1980's was an exciting, yet almost sad time.

For anyone who had gotten into the use of a home computer through the likes of a ZX80, ZX81, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Oric1, Oric Atmos, BBC Micro, Vic 20, Amstrad CPC 464 or Acorn Electron, the mid to late 1980's represented the next step in home micro technology.

The 16-bit machines had arrived, and it was only a matter of time before they became the dominant computing force in the home market.

So let us take a look at how the power of 16-bit technology slowly pushed the popular 8-bit machines into the background as the 1980's gave way to the 1990's...

8-Bits of raw power

So, perhaps you were lucky enough to own an 8-bit machine.

With the likes of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 landing around 1982, these machines really allowed home computing to really take off.

Other machines such as Acorn's BBC Model B and the Amstrad CPC464 added further variety to the 8-bit market.

The 8-bit market really gave rise to the 'bedroom programmer' as well as introducing computer gaming to the masses in a way that consoles and desktop games (such as Astro Wars, Tomy Sky Attack and Astro Blaster) never could.

As the years rolled by programmers really pushed the hardware of these 8-bit machines which resulted in some fine Spectrum music and awesome graphics.

The ZX Spectrum was pushed particularly hard by talented Spectrum programmers who managed to squeeze more and more out of the machine.

In fact, by 1987 the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC range were still going strong (with the likes of machines such as the Oric 1, Oric Atmos and Dragon 64 having fallen by the wayside) along with associated publications such as Crash magazine and ZZAP 64.

As the 8-bit market rolled along, the new and powerful 16-bit machines were on the rise. Slowly, surely, they drew their plans against the ageing 8-bit models....

The Amstrad CPC Range Were Great 8-Bit Machines

Amstrad released fine 8-bit machines
Amstrad released fine 8-bit machines

The Atari ST Represented A Leap Forward

The Atari ST Was A fine 16-bit machine
The Atari ST Was A fine 16-bit machine

An Amiga 1200 from Commodore

A Commodore Amiga 1200
A Commodore Amiga 1200

16 Bits of turbo power

The premier 16-bit machines for home use were the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga.

Both machines were released around 1985, but did not really become affordable to the masses until around 1987/1988.

It was around 1988 that these machines really began to take hold.

The graphics and in-game music and sound that was now available really did blow away anything the 8-bit market could offer.

Despite new versions of old machines (such as the Spectrum 128 which was now capable of AY Music and boasted a whopping 128K of RAM) the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga (with it's growing library of Amiga Games) really were streets ahead of their ancestors.

Even though many software houses still catered for the 8-bit market (look at Realtime Software's version of Carrier Command crammed into the humble Speccy!) 16-bit really was where it was going to be at both for the serious user and the home gamer.

Carrier Command On The Commodore Amiga

Carrier Command On The ZX Spectrum

Cannon Fodder Amiga

Time To Move On From 8-Bits

So with reluctance you traded in your old machine or sold it second hand; no doubt with it a vast collection of games that you had built up over the years.

Although you were pleased with your new 16-bit behemoth that you had saved up for over the course of a year, there was no doubt a tinge of sadeness as your 8-bit buddy vanished forever...

Games such as Speedball II, Alien Breed, Cannon Fodder, Turrican II and F-29 retaliator really did make forgetting your old machine a little easier - many of us look back in fondness at great games such as these.

I myself moved from ZX Spectrum Games to Amiga Games in 1991 and now I get the best of both worlds via emulation.

The Amiga was such as leap forward in terms of capability when compared to the humble Speccy and the overall polish that could be applied to well programmed titles was truly jaw-dropping.

The Amiga treated you to the likes of Turrican 2...

Batman proves the ZX Spectrum is no joker...

Exploding Fist On The ZX Spectrum

Time to rediscover just what 8-bits could do

My favourite retro computers are the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore Amiga.

I also have soft spots for the Amstrad CPC464 and BBC Micro - many an hour was whittled away playing games on both of these machines (Cheers to Richard and Lez!).

But now, with emulation on the rise, grab yourself a Spectrum Emulator and indulge in a little Download Spectrum to grab the best on offer for the 8-bit rubber keyed monolith.

Many of these games are timeless with the likes of Exploding Fist, Commando, Bruce Lee, Raid Over Moscow, Ping Pong, Cobra, Green Beret, Firefly, Batman, Thanatos and Saboteur all well worth your playing time.

You'll be surprised just how good those games were considering the limitations of the hardware.

There is simulated two-channel music, superb scrolling effects, playability in spades and lots of innovation.

It's also possible to play many of these classic games online if you don't fancy going to the trouble of downloading an emulator.

What Do You Mostly Play These Days?

What machine do you emulate or use more often?

See results

Who else made the transition?

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    • RetroBrothers profile image

      Martin Allan 7 years ago from Sunny Scotland

      Cheers Phil,

      The jump from 8-bit to 16-bit really was something back then!

    • profile image

      uridium5 7 years ago

      Wicked Article guys, thanks as ever!!! I'd fogotten how good that Batman game was! Wow, what a jump it was for me when I went from the 64 to the Amiga, it was like another world!!!