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Tracing the History of the Computer - Amstrad


Amstrad is an electronics company founded in 1968 by Lord (and Sir) Alan Michael Sugar in the United Kingdom, and based in Brentwood in Essex, England. The name is a contraction of Alan Michael Sugar Trading. It was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1980 and delisted in 1997. During the 1980s Amstrad began marketing their own personal computers to capture the market from Commodore and Sinclair, with the Amstrad CPC 464. In the 1990s Amstrad focused more on portable computers, and attempted to enter the gaming market. In the mid-1990s Amstrad began to market communication devices.



In 1984 the Amstrad CPC 464 home computer range was launched in the UK, France, Australia and Germany. It was followed by the CPC 664 and CPC 6128 models. "Plus" variants later in the products lives increased their functionality slightly, while building in compatibility with the GX4000, Amstrad's short-lived foray into the video gaming world.

In 1985, the business-oriented Amstrad PCW range was introduced, which were principally word processors running the CP/M operating system and the LocoScript word processing program. The "Amsoft" division of Amstrad was set up to provide in-house software and consumables. Amstrad briefly entered the video game console business with the GX4000 based on the CPC Plus hardware which failed to catch on.

On 7 April 1986 Amstrad announced it had bought from Sinclair Research "...the worldwide rights to sell and manufacture all existing and future Sinclair computers and computer products, together with the Sinclair brand name and those intellectual property rights where they relate to computers and computer related products.", which included the ZX Spectrum, for £5 million.

Amstrad launched three new variants of the Spectrum: The +2, based on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum+ 128K, with a built-in tape drive (like the CPC 464); the +3, with a built-in floppy disk drive (similar to the CPC 664 and 6128), taking the 3" disks that many Amstrad machines used, and a completely new motherboard; and the +2A/+2B, using the +3 motherboard in a +2 case with tape drive.

The company produced a range of affordable MS-DOS-based, and later Windows-based personal computers, the first of which was the PC-1512 at £399 in 1986. It was a success, capturing more than 25% of the European computer market. A year later, in 1987, the Amstrad PCW 8512 was released as a computer dedicated to word processing, it was priced at £499.


In 1988 Amstrad attempted to make the first affordable portable personal computer with the PPC 512 / 640, introduced a year before the Macintosh Portable, at 8MHz it ran MS-DOS and GEM with a variant of the Color Graphics Adaptor (CGA) video card that allowed GEM to display sixteen-color graphics.

1990s - Present

In the early-1990s Amstrad began to focus on portable computers rather than desktop computers. In 1990 Amstrad tried to enter the gaming market with the Amstrad GX4000, similar to Commodore did at the same time with the C64 and the C64 GS. The console was a commercial failure, becoming less popular because it used 8-bit technology unlike the 16-bit Sega Megadrive and Super Nintendo. In 1993 Amstrad released the PenPad, a PDA similar to the Apple Newton, and released only weeks before it. It was a commercial failure, and had several technical and usability problems. It lacked most features that the Apple Newton included, but had a lower price at $450.

As Amstrad began to concentrate less on computers and more in communication, they purchased several telecommunications businesses including Betacom, Dancall Telecom, Viglen Computers and Dataflex Design Communications during the early 1990s. Amstrad has been a major supplier of set top boxes to UK satellite TV provider Sky since its launch in 1989. Amstrad was key to the introduction of Sky, as it was the only manufacturer producing receiver boxes and dishes at the system's launch, and has continued to manufacture set top boxes for Sky, from analogue to digital and now including Sky's Sky+ PVR box.

In 1997, Amstrad supplied set top boxes to Australian broadcaster Foxtel, and in 2004 to Italian broadcaster Sky Italia. In 2000, Amstrad released the first of its combined telephony and e-mail devices, called the e-m@iler. This was followed by the e-m@ilerplus in 2002, and the E3 Videophone in 2004. Amstrad has also produced a variety of home entertainment products over their history, including hi-fis, televisions, VCRs, and DVD players.


Amstrad CPC

Sir Alan Sugar

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