The Amstrad PCW 8256 was a dedicated word processing computer (PCW stands for Personal Computer Wordprocessor). It was supplied with everything necessary, the word processor, printer and dedicated keyboard (with Cut, Copy, Paste and Print keys). This model had great success because it was the first word-processing system available for such a low price. Once again Amstrad used the same principles with this professional computer as it did with the CPC-464 on the home-computer market. Two years later, 700 000 PCW systems had been sold!
All the hardware was located in the monitor case, as well as the 3" floppy disk drive. An optional secondary disk drive could be added (360 kb/side). There was only one power cord used for the printer, monitor and keyboard - it couldn’t be simpler.
Actually, the PCW was odd in that it has NO ROM. The boot sequence was loaded into the main CPU from the printer control ASIC and only had enough smarts to load and run the first sector from the floppy drive.
The printer was an Amstrad matrix printer (90 cps in draft mode and 20 cps in letter-quality mode), but it was not possible to connect another printer to the PCW. To use another printer, optional RS232 or Centronics interfaces were available.
The system was supplied with a word processor (on disk) developed by Locomotive Software (the company who made the BASIC language for the Amstrad CPC series) called LocoScript. Dr. Logo and a Basic called Mallard Basic were also delivered on disks (fun fact: Mallard is the name of an old train engine). This Basic was powerful and offered a lot of file-management capabilities. The Amstrad PCW-8256 was also delivered with CP/M+.
Locoscript was powerful but somewhat austere. You had to read 700 pages of documentation in order to master it. It used 154 Kb RAM, and the remaining 102 Kb could be used as a virtual disk. Each floppy disk, called a volume, could be divided in up to 8 sub-volumes. A particular page layout could be assigned to each of these sub-volumes. The system displayed text in an odd but useful 90 x 32 resolution. Of course as it was text-based software, you could not see exactly what would be printed (no WYSIWYG here). Another drawback was that it was not possible to link a document with an address book or a database, to generate multiple documents (this was to be corrected with LocoMail, LocoFile and LocoScript 2 a few years later). The 320k disks stored up to 90 pages of 2000 characters.
In Germany, the PCW series was called Joyce
Another PCW model was launched a few months later: the Amstrad PCW 8512. It has the same characteristics apart from having 512 Kb RAM to handle bigger documents, and two 3" floppy disk drives. The top one is a single-sided, 40-track (180 Kbyte) drive, the bottom is a double-sided, 80-track (720 Kbyte) drive. 40-track disks could be read in the 80-track drive, but it's not advisable to write to them there because the 80-track drive has a narrower head. It had slightly darker plastic mouldings than the PCW-8256, grey instead of white. It was followed by the Amstrad PCW 9512.
The PCW systems were still used in 2000 by some people and a lot of CP/M software is still available.
Contributors: Andrew Ball, Allan Stirling
Please consider donating your old computer / videogame system to Old-Computers.com or one of our partners from anywhere in the world (Europe, America, Asia, etc.).
There is a project to build your own PCW WiFi Modem here: https://github.com/VapourSoft/PCWWiFiModem
I''d like to just say hello to Geoff Barnard who gave me enough interest in computers to allow me to make a life out of it.
Wednesday 24th August 2022
Keith Saunders (Stockton-on-Tees, England)
Jerri - I''d be interested to know more about your game project.
I still have my PCW, it is still working, I still use it. As do many others. It is still a perfectly viable CP/M computer. Still much interest in such retro machines.
Monday 2nd May 2022
Geoff Barnard (Guisborough, England)
PCW 8256 / 8512
BUILT IN LANGUAGE
Mechanical keyboard with numeric keypad end special edit keys (COPY,CUT,PASTE,PRINT,etc.). 8 function keys.
Zilog Z80 A
The CPU is running at 4 MHz, but is slowed down by the internal clock to 3,4 Mhz
Video : Amstrad ASIC custom chip DD controler : NEC 765