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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Amstrad Limited
Subsidiary[1]
IndustryElectronics
Founded1968 (1968)
HeadquartersBrentwood, Essex, United Kingdom
Area served
UK and Ireland
Key people
  • Lord Sugar, Founder
  • Alun Webber, Managing Director
  • Simon Ball, CEO
RevenueIncrease £91.65 million (2006)
Increase £26.94 million GBP (2006)
Increase £15.08 million GBP (2006)
OwnerComcast
Number of employees
85 (2005)
ParentSky
Websiteamstrad.com

Amstrad is a British electronics company. As of 2006, Amstrad's main business is manufacturing Sky UK interactive boxes.

Amstrad was founded in 1968 by Alan Sugar at the age of 21. The name is a contraction of Alan Michael Sugar Trading. It was first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1980. During the late 1980s, Amstrad had a substantial share of the PC market in the UK. Amstrad was once a FTSE 100 Index constituent but since 2007 is wholly owned by Sky UK.

The company had offices in Kings Road, Brentwood, Essex.

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  • ✪ Amstrad CPC Story | Nostalgia Nerd
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  • ✪ Amstrad CPC Story (Part 2) | Nostalgia Nerd

Transcription

The name Amstrad means different things to different people. For some it means this. Others this, but for most of us, it invariably means THIS. The Amstrad CPC is an iconic computer from the mid 80s. Released in 1984, it was somewhat of a late-comer to the flooded British 8 bit micro scene, but despite the odds managed to become the third biggest selling 8 bit home computer in the UK and dominated in other parts of Europe. It's often seen as an also-ran to the Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum, but once you delve into the story you begin to see that actually, it was anything but. Alan Michael Sugar was born in 1947 and spent his early years in a Northwold estate, cramped into a room with his siblings and bearing witness to a rather modest upbringing in East London. Although his mother recounted times when Alan's future bashful character came through, he was reportedly a reserved child, but clearly took a lot on board. In his teenage years it didn't take long for him to seek a more prosperous life for himself. Working at the electrical wholesaler R. Henson Ltd in Finchely, his job was to take electrical samples to retailers and strike a deal. This quickly enabled Sugar to develop a large knowledge of retail outlets and products in the capital, but the Hensons management left a sour taste in his mouth. Despite instigating some lucrative ideas for the business, Hensons never seemed particularly grateful for Sugar's work. One of the rounds involved collecting goods from Binatone's owner, Gulu Lalvani, and it didn't take long for him to realise he could go solo and make more money for himself than working for Hensons. Thanks to the friendship he'd established with Lalvani, he slyly struck up a deal in 1966 with Binatone and handed over a 7 day postdated cheque for a van of goods. He then promptly sold these goods the same day and returned with to pay off Lalvani with cash the very same night, tearing up the cheque. At the age of 19 and armed with an unreliable mini-van costing just £80, this was the beginnings of Amstrad. Sugar initially kept his stock in a shed in the back yard of the Redbridge based house he had bought with his recent wife, Ann Simons. However after £1,500 of merchandise was stolen he began to rent a premises in St. John Street, a base for many a small business and workshop and in November 1968 registered as a limited business under the name of A.M.S. Trading (General Importers), the A.M.S. representing Alan Michael Sugar. At this stage the business was very much a buying and selling operation, however it didn't take Sugar long to realise that putting his name on these wholesale products would not only gain credibility, but also create an image among his buyers. This brand name, more out of luck from the original company name than anything else, would be Amstrad - an amalgamation of A.M.S. and Trading, creating an immediately flowing and memorable name. The first products to possess this brand were imported cigarette lighters and room to room intercoms, and the branding involved a simple stick on badge. 1968 would also be the year which another entrepreneur, Clive Sinclair, was causing a stir in the audio hobbyist community by placing four page colour adverts for small audio amplifiers and it didn't take Sugar long to cotton on to this new and exciting electronic market. Over the next few years Sugar built up an astute knowledge of the cheapest suppliers, and the best places to sell them, whilst also himself delving into electrical repair on shipments of faulty goods, gaining extra income and boosting his own knowledge of the trade, and it wasn't long that he would open his own retail business on the side. Along with friend Ashley Morris, the pair opened Global Audio, a shop that would sell audio equipment, much like the ones Sugar was already selling to. But Sugar was a man with fingers in many pies, and although this side operation was successful, he sold his share to Morris so he could concentrate on launching the first in house developed Amstrad product. In a strategy that would become his main playing card, Sugar had noticed that people were spending a lot of money on dust covers for turntables and identified a way to reduce costs. This was by moving to injection moulding, rather than vaccum forming, which was the norm, and soon shifted the cheaper alternatives using the contacts he'd established from the beginning. Like Sinclair this move into audio would follow with a range of amplifiers and other components for hi-fi, although with a more value orientated approach than the technical innovations Sinclair was offering. Sugar wasn't one to sit in one place for long, and armed with his brash, cockney attitude, which usually went completely at odds with other people in the industry, Amstrad soon launched their first consumer electrical product in the form of the Amstrad 8000 Stereo Amplifier, pushing sales to over £200,000 and allowing the business to move into a small set of warehouses on Fleet Street. This was in 1970 and Sugar would later go on to term the 8000 as the "biggest load of rubbish I've ever seen in my life" and a number of improved versions evolved, but each bearing the same advantage of completely undercutting the cost of the competition. Sugar was making products for what he would term, "The truck driver and his wife". By 1972 Amstrad's sales had almost doubled allowing another move to yet bigger premises on Ridley Road, operating as a large scale British manufacture. But Sugar realised that he could make further savings by sourcing components directly from manufacturers in Japan, rather than using an electronics importer as they had been. Several Eastern bound trips allowed Sugar to grasp the potential of OEM (original equipment manufacturing), where products are fully assembled abroad to requirements and simply badged with the Amstrad name. This led to several new Amstrad products, which involved Amstrad doing very little other than paying for the equipment and shipping them to the retailers, much like the early days. This new sub-contract operation, later formed an alliance with a British sub-contractor L&N, allowing Sugar more control over the presentation of his products. Something he was quite concerned with, much more so than the actual technical manufacture, which was often echoed in magazine reviews. By 1980, the company had bought premises in Tottenham for £300,000. Sales were up to £8.76 million Sugar had got himself a Rolls, aquired a pilot's licence, snapped up some 30% of the car radio market through imports and established a solid reputation. Companies found him easy to deal with, being straightforward and essentially acting as the chairman, sales director, financial chief, technical guru and everything else, all rolled into one representative, although expansion had enabled him to take on a larger management team to cope with increased pressure. Amdstrad's technology also looked good and had become reliable. The only two things which Sugar essentially cared about in a product. The company had also gone public, providing some £2 million investment and widening the opportunities available. It was his next card trick which really solidified things further. Over in Japan audio companies had begun to group separate hi-fi elements into one package. However Sugar would take this idea, improve it, simplify it and lower the cost. All of these things would emerge by combining all the separate elements into one signal unit, made to look like separate pieces; something that we've taken for granted ever since really. Sugar's attention to aesthetics ensured the units looked expensive, with an array of flashing lights, fake switches and anything else that would match it to more expensive separate units, an image that Sugar would term "a mug's eyeful". The towers were beautifully simple compared to existing hi-fis. Simply plug it in and you were away, instead of the usual collection of wires spooling out the back. Woolworths snapped up the TS-40 Tower Hi-Fi, along with Rumbelows, Curry's and Amstrad's existing stockist, Comet. It would be the first product to sell in the hundreds of thousands. Priced at £199, this left some £130 for Amstrad, a hefty margin and a great source of revenue. The hi-fi buffs weren't enamored by the kit, but like all Amstrad's products, this wasn't made for them. Legalisation of CB radios in the UK allowed Amstrad further success, poised and ready to pounce as they were, along with lines of other electronics including televisions, both imported and manufactured in house as well as video recorders and various other electronics. But Amstrad wasn't a company to sit in a marketplace for long, with Sugar only interested in profit margins. If he felt that a line was in danger from competition or natural market decline, it would be cut without hesitation. With Japanese competition mounting, Amstrad quickly exited both the VCR and TV markets in 1984. But, after all, a new line of electronics had caught their eye. The Personal Computer. To be fair, Amstrad were already making waves in this arena. They had just released several high speed tape to tape recording machines with the advertising "You can make a copy of your favourite cassette". Something which would stir the music industry into a frenzy, resulting in various court cases against Amstrad, with Amstrad finally prevailing, but also allowed users of the emerging tape based home computers to quietly copy their tapes and perhaps pass them onto friends, instigating the dark, dark world of PIRATE games. By now, Amstrad's turnover was some £85 million with profits of almost £10 million, resulting in Alan Sugar receiving Guardian young businessman of the year. At the end of 1983 he announced that "new products to be unveiled in the coming year would be in true Amstrad fashion, one step ahead of the market and most definitely the competition". ============ Time to build a Computer ============ By now the UK home micro scene was in full swing, starting with the Sinclair ZX80 at the turn of the decade, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum had now been selling in steady numbers for just over a year, the BBC Micro for two years and 1983 had seen the emergence of the American Commmodore 64 strolling onto our shores. But the arrival of the home micro hadn't gone amiss from Amstrad, it's just that Sugar had to wait until the market was just about right for Amstrad to do their usual tricks. Back in 1982, Sugar had realised that the home micro market was big. Far bigger than what they were making in hi-fi, and at the time big enough to hold companies like Sinclair, Acorn, Commodore, Oric, Dragon and a slew of others businesses all competing for business. Sugar and Bob Watkins, Amstrad's technical director had initially asked a couple of engineers, who had previously worked with Amstrad to take on the task, however by mid 1983, underestimating the work needed to produce a computer, they had concluded that this duo were struggling somewhat. This was compounded when the software designer disappeared and the hardware designs were demonstrated as seriously behind schedule. In this time, the outer casing for the machine had already been completed. Sugar's headstrong image for the machine had taken president, meaning that the final motherboard and technical components would have to be designed to accommodate the space allocated. So armed with this case, Bob Watkins had taken a stroll down to see Roland Perry at Ambit International. Another company who had worked for Amstrad in the past, whose main business was running an electrical component mail order catalogue, which allowed funding for side products such as calculators and other electronic kits. His question to Roland was whether they could finish what had already been started. A tall order, but after speaking to his MD, William Poel, the pair decided it was an opportunity they could not turn down. Amstrad wanted the system completed fast. Within 5 months fast. So Poel and Perry's task was to oversee the project and recruit the staff they needed to get the job done. Their first meeting, with the original designers apparently yielded that most of the work had so far been completed by the hardware designers 14 year old son, and could only currently display a few characters on screen. Impressive for a 14 year old. Less impressive in the eyes of Amstrad. Perry quickly sought a new team of engineers from the technology centre of what seemed the world then, Cambridge and set about finishing the hardware whilst acquiring a suitable operating system and BASIC interpreter. Microsoft BASIC, the most common go-to was expensive to licence, so Sugar decided that it would be more cost effective to write their own interpreter. Richard Clayton was apparently the man to turn to for this, operating Locomotive Software from his back room, and although highly impressed by the already completed outer casing was a little miffed by the state of the hardware. The current system was using a 6502 processor at it's core, and given Locomotive's lack of familiarity with this chip, Clayton estimated it would take some 8 months to get an OS and interpreter up and running. He suggested calling up his friend Mark-Eric Jones operating under the name of MEJ Electronics. Their suggestion was to scrap the current design and build something around the Z80 processor. Clayton's exposure to this chip meant he could adapt some work he'd recently completed for Acorn in a much shorter time frame and MEJ knew the electronics inside out. It was also around this time, under a shroud of secrecy that the Amstrad prototype gained the nickname Arnold. Perry had given the system a temporary badge to hide the backer behind this project, with most people assuming that it was General Electric Company, run by Lord Arnold Weinstock. It wasn't until later that Roland Perry realised that Arnold was in fact an anagram of his own name. The secrecy didn't last long however as MEJ and Locomotive were called to a meeting with Alan Sugar to finalise terms and plan out a timescale. Chris Hall was the only member of Locomotive to own a suit, and so attended, along with MEJ, William Poel and Bob Watkins. The engineers had assumed that Bob Watkins was in charge. That is, until Sugar arrived late, and everyone fell silent. Sugar then laid out his vision. Whilst other manufacturers were fiddling about with what Sugar described as pregnant calculators, the new Amstrad machine would have "perceived value for money". Just like the hifis, having a "mug's eyeful" was central to the mix. The pre-designed CPC case with it's wide footprint, bold coloured keys, grilled edges and high tech finish were designed to do just that. A machine that looked like a real computer you see in airports or offices was his core vision. Something that the lorry driver and his wife would look at and think, now that looks the deal. Incorporating a tape deck (straight from their hi-fis) into the machine and bundling a monitor was also core to this premise. Not only did this make the machine look the part, but it turned the whole package into something incredibly simple to plug in and use. Just like the all in one hi-fi, there would be only two wires connecting the keyboard to the monitor, and a single plug, with the PSU for both units built into the monitor itself. Sugar had dabbled with the existing micros and found them utterly aggregating and unhelpful to setup. His ability to see things as the average working joe allowed foresight that just wouldn't register with the likes of Sinclair or Acorn Computers. The bundled monitor would also eliminate the problem of the family TV set being unusable during the computer's operation, meaning it was likely to be used more and for longer periods of time. All the engineers needed to do was make it work. The specifications Amstrad provided were pretty basic, with the only insistence's really being to have colour, sound and 64k of memory to match it to the highest capacity found among competition and to do it "as cheaply as is humanly possible". Here was a team, given a few months to design the basis for a complete computer system. Something that would usually take 5 times the personnel, and 5 times the time. But the engineers were actually pretty excited about the challenge and set to work immediately. One of their early strokes of genius was to use a ULA chip to combine multiple functions and reduce cost, much like the Sinclair machines. In fact, the final CPC technical specs, were not too dissimilar from that of Clive's little machine, and although price was key, it even had a number of improvements. As well as being able to display up to 16 colours from a palette of 27, there were two other resolution modes allowing a CGA style 4 colours at 320x200 and 2 colours at 640x200. All without the colour clash attribute found in Clive's machine. The system also sported basic 4 pixel hardware scrolling, which was really a credit to the team's design and pride in their work. The Z80 CPU ran at roughly 3.3MHz to to prevent interference with the shared video circuit memory, whilst the memory could effectively be upgraded to 512kb through bank switching. Sound emits from an on board speaker and is driven by a General Instruments AY-3-8912 sound chip, providing three channels and 7 octaves. A vast improvement over the Speccy's on board beeper and much more similar to what the Spectrum 128k+ would accrue some 2 years later. Given the bundled 14" monitor, there was no need for an RF output, with the display driven from an RGB connector resulting in what would appear a much clearer display than most systems of the time. But there was a DB9 port for a joystick - allowing two through a splitter cable, an expansion bus, printer bus, power switch, internal speaker volume dial and a stereo output jack. Sugar wanted what was at it's heart, a games machine. He understood this is where the money lay. But the machine needed business appeal, and the team had certainly delivered the goods here, on both fronts. With Bob Watkins happy with the design, Locomotive got the OS and BASIC interpreter up and running in an incredibly narrow space of time, taking on more staff as they went. The initial prototypes were ready by November 1983 and presented to Alan Sugar. The first thing Sugar requested was that the cursor be movable at all times using the directional arrows. Most interpreters at the time didn't allow this, but in typical Sugar style, he wanted the machine to respond immediately to the average chap in the shops jabbing the arrow keys, providing a reassuring response, regardless of its advantages. The hastily built prototypes were then shipped immediately to software developers around the country, along with some Amstrad televisions to serve as monitors. An operation was then put into motion to convince these software houses to write some programs for the system in time for it's launch. If a deal couldn't be struck with a particular house, then someone would pick up the machine and take it to another software house, until there were 50 machines in the hands of 50 developers, ready to create launch titles for the CPC. Amstrad knew that the software line up was key for any machine's success. They had witnessed Sinclair's market success, and the demise of other machines which just lacked a suitable array of games. It's for this reason that several Ambit employees, including Perry and Poel were brought on board under the name of Amsoft and put to task creating their own line of software for the machine, along with setting up a user's club to duplicate the same kind of support the Spectrum and Commodore 64 had naturally evolved. The current CPC prototypes didn't yet have the ULA chips on board, instead they were simulated using an array of separate chips and discreet components, which was handy because the ULA was initially riddled with problems. Ferranti, the company tasked with creating these chips just couldn't create something that worked, so Sugar decided to get another company, SGS, based in Italy, to have a go as well, keen to ensure that the machines were launched as soon as humanly possible. Both companies soon enough created working chips and the components were quickly shipped out to Orion for manufacture, in Japan. It was Orion themselves, who had vast experience in display manufacturing, who then suggested using the high contrast yellow on blue colour scheme to ensure maximum clarity. With the changes made, the OS was completed in its final and shipped to Orion in the third week of January 1984 to be laid into silicon for the final design. It was only when the firmware was mid-flight that Richard Clayton discovered a minor bug in one of the BASIC operations. The DEC$ function required two opening brackets rather than one. But given that its only use was to return a decimal string representation of a supplied variable, it was a non essential operation, and Sugar keen to be as professional with the Japanese as they were with Amstrad decided to just remove it from the manual rather than request Orion to change it. This was more of an egotistical point with Sugar who was always keen to Out-Japanese the Japanese. Apart from this tiny hiccup, Roland Perry and Amstrad hit a winner with MEJ & Locomotive software. Not only was a decent machine, operating system and interpreter delivered within time, it also didn't cause Sugar much concern in the financials department. Like a lot of people neither MEJ or Locomotive weren't convinced Amstrad could succeed in a saturated market, and so during negotiations, rather than opting for royalty payments on machines sold, both companies opted for a fixed lump sum. As Locomotive wanted to retain the intellectual property rights, this was £45,000 for the first two years, and £15,000 per year afterwards. Amstrad had no problems agreeing to these terms, and the machine was poised and ready to go. ======== A Baby Amstrad Arrives ========= The Amstrad CPC464 was unveiled in April 1984, just 8 months since Bob Watkins had walked into Ambit's offices. The opening ceremony was orchestrated by Michael Joyce Consultants to various members of the press, hiring the hall at Westminster School and managing to track down people with the names of Archimedes, Einstein, Monet and Shakespeare to demonstrate respective aspects of the machine. The press were impressed and it was quickly dubbed "The People's Computer", exactly as Alan Sugar has intended. At £229 with a green monochrome monitor, £329 for colour it was incredibly well priced, equaling, if not exceeding Commodore 64 specifications and including a monitor, for roughly the same price a standalone C64 system was currently retailing at. Users who purchased the green monitor version were able to upgrade to colour through the purchase of a MP-1 or MP-2 devices incorporating the modulator and power pack needed to hook machines up to a standard television. Whilst over in Japan Amstrad had also located a stock pile of 3" disk drive components going cheap. The 3.5" format was beginning to take over, so rather than going to waste, just before launch Sugar asked his engineers to create an external disk drive for the CPC, to help push the business aspect of the technology. This was quickly done, conforming to the Hitachi & Panasonic standard, and a swift deal was tied up with Digital Research to port the CP/M operating environment to the CPC - like the 3" disks, an OS that was losing it's battle to MS-DOS. Amstrad agreed to pay for a large number of licences up front, demonstrating how firm Sugar was in his belief that the CPC would make in-roads. To this end there was also a package including the disk drive for £429, meaning the system could fall straight onto the desks of business, as well as the kitchen table. Given the sturdiness of the 3" discs, they would likely survive just fine in the kitchen as well. Guy Kewney of Personal Computer World wrote "The Amstrad is a powerful, fast machine, with plenty of memory, easy to program, and packaged in a way that means it will comfortably outsell the Acorn Electron, and give the Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum a hard run for their money. I expect some 200,000 systems to be sold by the end of the year". It's not hard to see why. From the moment you setup the CPC, it's blissfully straightforward. You can plonk the monitor town using the built in handle, connect the 2 cables into the CPC itself which extrude from the front, so you don't have to scrabble around at the back, and you're good to go. Even after turning the machine on, everything feels right. The image is crystal clear, thanks to the RGB connection. The keyboard feels responsive, including the arrow keys allowing you to chuck the cursor where ever you feel, and also, handy touches like the "copy" key leap out. There's no need to mess around with a cassette deck, along with all the wires and making sure the volume level is correct. Everything just feels like it's going to work and keep working. Whereas, using a Spectrum can feel like an experimental laboratory test at times. There's always a slight fear that something will suddenly stop working. This fear itself is something Amsoft played up to when Acorn attacked Sinclair's machine failure rate by announcing a game called "This Business is War", featuring characters that looked incredibly similar to Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry of Acorn, but apparently the source code was lost and the game never surfaced. The modest hour queue which formed when the CPC first went on sale may seem insignificant by today's standards, but back then, it was anything but. 60 people waited an hour for the Rumbelows store in London's Edgware Sqare to open on the Thursday 21st June 1984. Wake me up before you go go by Wham was riding the UK charts, and the Amstrad CPCs were certainly go-going. Within an hour 100 CPCs had been sold. Soon machines were available in many high street stores thanks to Amstrad's existing connections. To further lure the crowds, Amsoft and other willing developers had created enough titles for the initial bundle to ship with a whopping 12 titles, claimed by Amstrad to be worth over £100. This included Roland in the Caves and Roland on the Ropes, named after Roland Perry himself. Other games included Oh Mummy, Harrier attack and Sultan's maze, along with productivity applications like Easi-Amsword. This really was the complete package, and thanks in part to it's industrial look, it radiated a feel of quality and professionalism, which was somewhat lacking in the market. The all in one solution also lowered returns. Many of Sinclair's products were returned because people just couldn't work out how to tune them in or work them. Whereas the CPC was as simple as moving the fruit bowl aside, parking on the table and flicking a switch. However, only caring about numbers, the city wasn't privvy to all this reasoning, and was still skeptical of another new machine entering the already flooded market. Sinclair had by now sold well over 1 million ZX Spectrums and excess Acorn Electron stock was waiting in warehouses, having missed the 1983 Christmas rush due to production problems. Something you'll note almost every other micro manufacturer endured in the early 80s, apart from Amstrad that is, Bill Poel was even quoted as saying "I will be prepared to eat one in Trafalgar Square if its late". Amstrad's shares endured a rocky patch in the year following the CPC's unveiling, with some starting to realise that Christmas 1983 had been the peak for micro computer sales. Now, it was reckoned, "everyone who wanted one, has one". But this was Sugar's strength. Identifying an unfulfilled area of the market whilst creating something simpler, better, whilst using economies of scale and outsourced manufacturing, to make it cheaper. Ultimately his strength was having conviction in common sense.

Contents

History

Amstrad 7070 tape deck
Amstrad 7070 tape deck

1960s and 1970s

Amstrad (also known as AMSTrad, for AMS, Alan Michael Sugar, and Trad for Trading) was founded in 1966 by Alan Sugar at the age of 19, the name of the original company being AMS Trading (Amstrad) Limited, derived from its founder's initials (Alan Michael Sugar). Amstrad entered the market in the field of consumer electronics. During the 1970s they were at the forefront of low-priced hi-fi, TV and car stereo cassette technologies. Lower prices were achieved by injection moulding plastic hi-fi turntable covers, undercutting competitors who used the vacuum forming process.

Amstrad expanded to the marketing of low cost, low quality amplifiers and tuners, imported from the Far East and badged with the Amstrad name for the UK market. Their first electrical product was the Amstrad 8000 amplifier, which Sugar would describe later as "the biggest load of rubbish I've ever seen in my life."[2]

1980s

The Amstrad CPC 464 personal microcomputer
The Amstrad CPC 464 personal microcomputer

In 1980, Amstrad went public trading on the London Stock Exchange, and doubled in size each year during the early '80s. Amstrad began marketing its own home computers in an attempt to capture the market from Commodore and Sinclair, with the Amstrad CPC range in 1984. The CPC 464 was launched in the UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Spain and Italy. It was followed by the CPC 664 and CPC 6128 models. Later "Plus" variants of the 464 and 6128, launched in 1990, increased their functionality slightly.

Amstrad PCW8512 word processor
Amstrad PCW8512 word processor

In 1985, the popular Amstrad PCW range was introduced, which were principally word processors, complete with printer, running the LocoScript word processing program. They were also capable of running the CP/M operating system. The Amsoft division of Amstrad was set up to provide in-house software and consumables.

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."[3] which included the ZX Spectrum, for £5 million. This included Sinclair's unsold stock of Sinclair QLs and Spectrums. Amstrad made more than £5 million on selling these surplus machines alone. Amstrad launched two new variants of the Spectrum: the ZX Spectrum +2, based on the ZX Spectrum 128, with a built-in tape drive (like the CPC 464) and, the following year, the ZX Spectrum +3, with a built-in floppy disk drive (similar to the CPC 664 and 6128), taking the 3" disks that many Amstrad machines used.

The ZX Spectrum +2. This was the first new Spectrum model released by Amstrad after their purchase of the range.
The ZX Spectrum +2. This was the first new Spectrum model released by Amstrad after their purchase of the range.

In 1986 Amstrad entered the IBM PC-compatible arena with the PC1512 system. In standard Amstrad livery and priced at £399 it was a success, capturing more than 25% of the European computer market.[citation needed] It was MS-DOS-based, but with the GEM graphics interface, and later Windows. In 1988 Amstrad attempted to make the first affordable portable personal computer with the PPC512 and 640 models, introduced a year before the Macintosh Portable. They ran MS-DOS on an 8 MHz processor, and the built-in screen could emulate the Monochrome Display Adapter or Color Graphics Adapter. Amstrad's final (and ill-fated) attempts to exploit the Sinclair brand were based on the company's own PCs; a compact desktop PC derived from the PPC 512, branded as the Sinclair PC200, and the PC1512 rebadged as the Sinclair PC500.

Amstrad PPC 512 portable PC
Amstrad PPC 512 portable PC

Amstrad's second generation of PCs, the PC2000 series, were launched in 1989. However, due to a problem with the Seagate ST277R hard disk shipped with the PC2386 model, these had to be recalled and fitted with Western Digital controllers. Amstrad later successfully sued Seagate, but following bad press over the hard disk problems, Amstrad lost its lead in the European PC market.[4]

1990s

In the early 1990s, Amstrad began to focus on portable computers rather than desktop computers. In 1990, Amstrad tried to enter the video game console market with the Amstrad GX4000, similar to what Commodore did at the same time with the C64 GS. The console, based on the Amstrad 464 Plus hardware, was a complete commercial failure, because it used outdated technology, and most games available for it were straight ports of CPC games that could be purchased for much less in their original format.

In 1993, Amstrad was licensed by Sega to produce a system which was similar to the Sega TeraDrive, going by the name of the Amstrad Mega PC, to try to regain their image in the gaming market. The system didn't succeed as well as expected, mostly due to its high initial retail price of £599. In that same year, 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 the company was responsible for finding methods to produce the requisite equipment at an attractive price for the consumer - Alan Sugar famously approached "someone who bashes out dustbin lids", to manufacture satellite dishes cheaply. Ultimately, 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+ digital video recorder.

In 1997, Amstrad PLC was wound up, its shares being split into Viglen and Betacom instead. Betacom PLC was then renamed Amstrad PLC.

The same year, Amstrad supplied set top boxes to Australian broadcaster Foxtel, and in 2004 to Italian broadcaster Sky Italia.

After 2000

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@iler Plus in 2002, and the E3 Videophone in 2004. Amstrad's UK E-m@iler business is operated through a separate company, Amserve Ltd which is 89.8% owned by Amstrad and 10.2% owned by DSG International plc (formerly Dixons plc).

Amstrad has also produced a variety of home entertainment products over their history, including hi-fi, televisions, VCRs, and DVD players.

BSkyB takeover

In July 2007, BSkyB announced a takeover of Amstrad for £125m,[5] a 23.7% premium on its market capitalisation. BSkyB had been a major client of Amstrad, accounting for 75% of sales for its 'set top box' business. Having supplied BSkyB with hardware since its inception in 1988, market analysts had noted the two companies becoming increasingly close.

Sugar commented that he wished to play a part in the business, saying: "I turn 60 this year and I have had 40 years of hustling in the business, but now I have to start thinking about my team of loyal staff, many of whom have been with me for many years."

2008

It was announced on 2 July 2008 that Sugar had stepped down as Chairman of Amstrad, which had been planned since BSkyB took over in 2007. Amstrad was taken off the Stock Exchange on the 9th October 2008.[6] [7][8]

Recently, Amstrad has ceased operations as a trading company, and exist in name only.[9] Under Sky, Amstrad currently only produce satellite receivers for Sky, as doing so allows them to reduce costs by cutting out the middleman.[10] Amstrad's former offices are now a Premier Inn Hotel.[11]

Computer product lines

Home computers

  • CPC464 (64 KB RAM, cassette drive)
  • CPC472 (same as CPC464 but with 72 KB instead of 64 KB)
  • CPC664 (3 inch internal disk variant of CPC464)
  • CPC6128 (128 KB version of the CPC664 with 3 inch disk)
  • 464 Plus (CPC464 with enhanced graphics and sound)
  • 6128 Plus (CPC6128 with enhanced graphics and sound)
  • GX4000 (games console based on 464 Plus)
  • Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2 (Re-engineered ZX Spectrum 128 with tape drive)
  • Sinclair ZX Spectrum +3 (as ZX Spectrum +2 but with 3 inch disk drive instead of tape drive)

Word processors

  • PCW8256 (Z80, 3.5 MHz, 256 KB RAM, single 180 KB 3" floppy drive, dot-matrix printer, green screen)
  • PCW8512 (same as PCW8256 but with 512 KB RAM, 180 KB 3" A: drive, 720 KB 3" B: drive)
  • PCW9512 (Z80, 3.5 MHz, 512 KB RAM, single or dual 720 KB 3" floppy drives, daisywheel printer, "paper white" screen)
  • PcW9256 (Z80, 3.5 MHz, 256 KB RAM, single 720 KB 3.5" floppy drive, dot-matrix printer, "paper white" screen)
  • PcW9512+ (same as PCW9512 but with single 3.5" 720 KB floppy drive)
  • PcW10 (same as PcW9256 but with 512 KB RAM and a built-in parallel port)
  • PcW16 (Z80, 16 MHz, single 1.44 MB 3.5" floppy drive, new machine not directly compatible with old PCWs)

Notepad computers

  • NC100 (Z80, 64 KB RAM, 80×8 character LCD)
  • NC150 (NC100 with 128 KB RAM, floppy disk interface and NC200 firmware — sold in France and Italy)
  • NC200 (Z80, 128 KB RAM, adjustable 80×16 character LCD, 3.5 in floppy disk drive)

PC compatibles

  • PC1512 (Intel 8086, 8 MHz, 512 KB RAM, CGA graphics) - Marketed in the United States as the PC5120
  • PC1640 (Intel 8086, 8 MHz, 640 KB RAM, MDA/Hercules/CGA/EGA colour graphics) - Marketed in the United States as the PC6400
  • PPC512 (Portable using NEC V30 processor, 512 KB RAM, non-backlit supertwist CGA, one or two 720 KB 3.5" floppy drives) - released around the same time as the PC1512.
  • PPC640 (Portable using NEC V30 processor, 640 KB RAM, non-backlit supertwist CGA, one or two 720 KB 3.5" floppy drives, internal modem) - released around the same time as the PC1640.
  • Sinclair PC200 (integral desktop PC for home computer market based on PPC512)
  • PC-20 the Australian version of the Sinclair PC200
  • Sinclair PC500 (rebadged PC1512)
  • PC1286
  • PC1386 (Intel 80386SX CPU, 20 MHz, 1 MB RAM)
  • PC2086 (Intel 8086 CPU, 8 MHz, 640 KB RAM, VGA graphics) launched 1989
  • PC2286 (Intel 80286 CPU, 12.5 MHz, 1 MB RAM, VGA graphics) launched 1989
  • PC2386 (Intel 80386DX CPU, 20 MHz, 4 MB RAM, VGA graphics) launched 1989.
  • PC3086 ( 8 MHz 8086 CPU, 640 KB RAM)
  • PC3286 (16 MHz 80286 CPU, 1 MB RAM)
  • PC3386SX (20 MHz 80286SX CPU, 1 MB RAM)
  • PC4386SX (20 MHz 80386SX CPU, 4 MB RAM)
  • PC5086 (8 MHz 8086 CPU, 640 KB RAM)
  • PC5286 (16 MHz 80286 CPU, 1 MB RAM)
  • PC5386SX (20 MHz 80386SX CPU, 2 MB RAM, VGA graphics) launched 1991
  • PC6486SX
  • PC7000 series: PC7286, PC7386SX, PC7486SLC
  • PC8486
  • PC9486 (25 or 33 MHz 80486SX, or 50 MHz 80486DX2)
  • PC9486i (66 MHz 80486DX2 CPU, 4 MB RAM)
  • PC9555i (120 MHz Pentium)
  • Amstrad Mega PC (Intel 80386SX CPU, 25 MHz, Integrated Mega Drive)
  • ALT286 (laptop; 16 MHz 80286 CPU, 1 MB RAM)
  • ALT386SX (laptop; 16 MHz 80386SX CPU, 1 MB RAM)
  • ACL386SX (laptop; 20 MHz 80386SX CPU, 1 MB RAM, colour TFT LCD)
  • ANB386SX (notebook; 80386SX CPU, 1 MB RAM)

PC accessories

  • Amstrad DMP1000 9-pin dot matrix printer
  • Amstrad DMP3000, DMP3160, DMP3250di 9-pin dot matrix printer (different printing speed), the special model 3250di (dual interface) having both serial and parallel ports
  • Amstrad SM2400 2400 baud internal modem (came with Mirror software)

PDA

Set-top box

  • Amstrad/Fidelity Satellite Systems SRX100 (1989), SRX200 (1989), SRD400 (1990)
  • Amstrad Sky box DRX100 (2001), DRX200 (2001), DRX300 (2003), DRX400 (2004), DRX500 (2004), DRX550, (2006)
  • Amstrad Sky+ box DRX280 (2003)
  • Amstrad Sky+HD box DRX780 (2007), DRX895 (2009)
  • Amstrad Sky HD Multiroom Receiver DRX595 (2011)

See also

References

  1. ^ "Amstrad Company Profile". Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  2. ^ "A history of Amstrad". The Independent. London. 30 Mar 2000. p. 7.
  3. ^ "CRASH 28 - News". Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  4. ^ Computer Contracts - Merchantable Quality in Hardware Contracts - Amstrad plc v. Seagate Technology Archived 5 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "BSkyB agrees £125m Amstrad deal". BBC News. 2007-07-31. Archived from the original on 6 August 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-31.
  6. ^ PDF from Company House
  7. ^ Sugar steps down as Amstrad Chairman[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Sir Alan steps down from Amstrad". BBC News. 2 July 2008. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
  9. ^ Accounts for a dormant company
  10. ^ End of an era as Sky buys Amstrad
  11. ^ Amstrad Head Office now Brentwood Hotel

Further reading

External links

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