The Acorn Electron is basically a cut-down version of the Acorn BBC-B with which it is partly compatible. After the success of the BBC, Acorn and founder Chris Cury wanted a product to compete with "under £200" computers and especially with the Sinclair Spectrum, its main threat. But sadly, Acorn failed to meet the demand for the new system, mainly because of production problems related to the large custom ULA at the heart of the Electron.
The next year (1984), Acorn decided to anticipate all these problems and focused on producing the Electron in vast numbers. But unfortunately, public demand and enthusiasm were on the wane, and despite an extensive £4-million advertising campaign, a third of the Electrons that were built never made it to the shelves, leaving behind large stockpiles of components that had been paid for but were never used.
Compared to the BBC and its flexible connectivity, the Electron was quite basic with only one expansion port to play around with. Fortunately, Acorn quickly released the Plus 1 expansion offering two ROM cartridge slots, a parallel / centronics interface and a joystick connector.
The built-in Acorn Electron BASIC, largely derived from the famous BBC BASIC, was impressive with innovative features such as the ability to define real procedures with DEF PROC and ENDPROC, or the handling of error events (in 1983 !). There was even an OLD statement which would recover a program erased by NEW. A complete assembler language was also stored in the 32K ROM.
The graphics capabilities were also quite impressive for a computer of this category. Text mode of up to 80 columns and a high resolution of up to 640 x 256 pixels with 2 colors. The custom ULA developed especially for the Electron handled the video display, sound and I/O communications! This was the real heart of the Electron.
The mechanical keyboard was very good. BASIC statements were printed on most of the keys, allowing users to type them in one go. A small amber LED placed on the left part of the keyboard indicated if you were in lowercase or uppercase mode.
Despite being more powerful than the ZX Spectrum, the Electron didn't sell well and suffered from a lack of certain software.
I loved this machine. I bought one in 1985 when it got dumped on the market. It costed me fl 100,$ (appr. 45 euro). Bought some games too (Androids!). Later on I bought the Plus 1 and a double-density 5,25" drive! A new world opened up to me. With the RAM extension, you could load programs into the upper memory, like Pascal. And program the RAM with your on boot loaders. I have programmed a lot (VDU codes!). I frequently bought the Electron User magazine, and type the code from the magazine. When I moved to my current house in 2005 I gave the Electron away to a friend.
Wednesday 15th May 2013
Marc (The Netherlands)
I loved the Acorn Electron. It was my first PC in approx. 1987. A BBC compatible so cheap BBC games from the poxy games shop in Southend,..most worked. I used to start loading the game and then have dinner while waiting!!.. It was pretty great at the time, before games consoles $ game boy. Even wrote some games out of the manual. It was about that time that Commodore64s came along which ROCKED! Thanks Barry Taylor for the C64! It was 20 pounds well spent!