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Amstrad CPC
Amstrad CPC 464, with CTM644 colour monitor
An Amstrad CPC
TypePersonal computer
Release date1984; 35 years ago (1984)
Units sold3 million
MediaCassette tape, 3 inch floppy disks
Operating systemAMSDOS with Locomotive BASIC 1.0 or 1.1; CP/M 2.2 or 3.0
CPUZilog Z80A @ 4 MHz
Memory64 or 128 KB,[1] expandable to 576 KB

The Amstrad CPC (short for Colour Personal Computer) is a series of 8-bit home computers produced by Amstrad between 1984 and 1990. It was designed to compete in the mid-1980s home computer market dominated by the Commodore 64 and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, where it successfully established itself primarily in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and the German-speaking parts of Europe.

The series spawned a total of six distinct models: The CPC464, CPC664, and CPC6128 were highly successful competitors in the European home computer market. The later plus models, 464plus and 6128plus, efforts to prolong the system's lifecycle with hardware updates, were considerably less successful, as was the attempt to repackage the plus hardware into a game console as the GX4000.

The CPC models' hardware is based on the Zilog Z80A CPU, complemented with either 64 or 128 KB of RAM. Their computer-in-a-keyboard design prominently features an integrated storage device, either a compact cassette deck or 3 inch floppy disk drive. The main units were only sold bundled with either a colour, green-screen or monochrome monitor that doubles as the main unit's power supply.[2] Additionally, a wide range of first and third party hardware extensions such as external disk drives, printers, and memory extensions, was available.

The CPC series was pitched against other home computers primarily used to play video games and enjoyed a strong supply of game software. The comparatively low price for a complete computer system with dedicated monitor, its high resolution monochrome text and graphic capabilities and the possibility to run CP/M software also rendered the system attractive for business users, which was reflected by a wide selection of application software.

During its lifetime, the CPC series sold approximately three million units.[3]

The Schneider CPC6128 was a Schneider-branded version of the Amstrad CPC6128, and very similar in appearance.
The Schneider CPC6128 was a Schneider-branded version of the Amstrad CPC6128, and very similar in appearance.

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  • ✪ Amstrad CPC Story | Nostalgia Nerd
  • ✪ Amstrad CPC 464 Repair & Restore - Junk to Jewel
  • ✪ Amstrad CPC Story (Part 2) | Nostalgia Nerd


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.



The original range

The philosophy behind the CPC series was twofold, firstly the concept was of an “all-in-one”, where the computer, keyboard and its data storage device were combined in a single unit, and sold with its own dedicated display monitor. Most home computers at that time such as Sinclair’s ZX series, the Commodore 64 and the BBC Micro relied on the use of the domestic television set and a separately connected tape recorder or disk drive. In itself, the all-in-one concept was not new, having been seen before on business-oriented machines and the Commodore PET, but in the home computer space, it predated the Apple Macintosh by almost a year.

Secondly, Amstrad founder Alan Sugar wanted the machine to resemble a “real computer, similar to what someone would see being used to check them in at the airport for their holidays”,[4] and for the machine to not look like “a pregnant calculator”[5] – in reference presumably to the Sinclair ZX81 and ZX Spectrum with their low cost, membrane-type keyboards.

Children playing Paperboy on the CPC 464 in 1988
Children playing Paperboy on the CPC 464 in 1988

CPC 464

The CPC 464 was one of the most successful computers in Europe and sold more than two million units.[6]

The CPC 464 featured 64 KB RAM and an internal cassette tape deck. It was introduced in June 1984 in the UK. Initial suggested retail prices for the CPC464 were GBP£249.00/DM899.00 with a green screen and GBP£359.00/DM1398.00 with a colour monitor. Following the introduction of the CPC6128 in late 1985, suggested retail prices for the CPC464 were cut by GBP£50.00/DM100.00.

In 1990, the 464plus replaced the CPC 464 in the model line-up, and production of the CPC 464 was discontinued.


A CPC664 main unit (German Schneider-brand variant)
A CPC664 main unit (German Schneider-brand variant)

The CPC664 features 64 KB RAM and an internal 3-inch floppy disk drive. It was introduced in May 1985 in the UK. Initial suggested retail prices for the CPC664 were GBP£339.00/DM1198.00 with a green screen and GBP£449.00/DM1998.00 with a colour monitor.

After the successful release of the CPC464, consumers were constantly asking for two improvements: more memory and an internal disk drive. For Amstrad, the latter was easier to realize. At the deliberately low-key introduction of the CPC664 in May 1985, the machine was positioned not only as the lowest-cost disk system but even the lowest-cost CP/M 2.2 machine. In the Amstrad CPC product range the CPC664 complemented the CPC464 which was neither discontinued nor reduced in price.[7]

Compared to the CPC464, the CPC664's main unit has been significantly redesigned, not only to accommodate the floppy disk drive but also with a redesigned keyboard area. Touted as "ergonomic" by Amstrad's promotional material, the keyboard is noticeably tilted to the front with MSX-style cursor keys above the numeric keypad. Compared to the CPC464's multicoloured keyboard, the CPC664's keys are kept in a much quieter grey and pale blue colour scheme.

The back of the CPC664 main unit features the same connectors as the CPC464, with the exception of an additional 12V power lead. Unlike the CPC464's cassette tape drive that could be powered off the main unit's 5V voltage, the CPC664's floppy disk drive requires an additional 12V voltage. This voltage had to be separately supplied by an updated version of the bundled green screen/colour monitor (GT-65 and CTM-644 respectively).

The CPC664 was only produced for approximately six months. In late 1985, when the CPC6128 was introduced in Europe, Amstrad decided not to keep three models in the line-up, and production of the CPC664 was discontinued.[8]


CPC6128 motherboard.
CPC6128 motherboard.

The CPC6128 features 128 KB RAM and an internal 3-inch floppy disk drive. Aside from various hardware and firmware improvements, one of the CPC6128's most prominent features is the compatibility with the CP/M+ operating system that rendered it attractive for business uses.

The CPC6128 was released in August 1985 and initially only sold in the US. Imported and distributed by Indescomp, Inc. of Chicago, it was the first Amstrad product to be sold in the United States, a market that at the time was traditionally hostile towards European computer manufacturers.[9] By the end of 1985, it arrived in Europe and replaced the CPC664 in the CPC model line-up. Initial suggested retail prices for the CPC6128 were US$699.00/£299.00/DM1598.00 with a green screen and US$799.00/£399.00/DM2098.00 with a colour monitor.

In 1990, the 6128plus replaced the CPC6128 in the model line-up, and production of the CPC6128 was discontinued.

The plus range

In 1990, confronted with a changing home computer market, Amstrad decided to refresh the CPC model range by introducing a new range variantly labeled plus or PLUS, 1990, or CPC+ range. The main goals were numerous enhancements to the existing CPC hardware platform, to restyle the casework to provide a contemporary appearance, and to add native support of cartridge media. The new model palette includes three variants, the 464plus and 6128plus computers and the GX4000 video game console. The "CPC" abbreviation was dropped from the model names.

The redesign significantly enhanced the CPC hardware, mainly to rectify its previous shortcomings as a gaming platform. The redesigned video hardware allows for hardware sprites and soft scrolling, with a colour palette extended from a maximum of 16 colours (plus separately definable border) at one time from a choice of 27, increased to a maximum of 32 out of 4096. The enhanced sound hardware offers automatic DMA transfer, allowing more complex sound effects with a significantly reduced processor overhead. Other hardware enhancements include the support of analogue joysticks, 8-bit printers, and ROM cartridges up to 4 Mbits.

The new range of models was intended to be completely backward compatible with the original CPC models. Its enhanced features are only available after a deliberately obscure unlocking mechanism has been triggered, thus preventing existing CPC software from accidentally invoking them.[10]

Despite the significant hardware enhancements, many viewed it as outdated, being based on an 8-bit CPU and it failed to attract both customers and software producers who were moving towards 16-bit systems such as the Commodore Amiga and Sega Megadrive which was launched a few short months after the plus range. The plus range was a commercial failure,[11] and production was discontinued shortly after its introduction in 1990.

464plus, 6128plus

A 6128plus main unit (with Spanish keyboard layout)
A 6128plus main unit (with Spanish keyboard layout)

The 464plus and 6128plus models were intended as "more sophisticated and stylish" replacements of the CPC464 and CPC6128. Based on the redesigned plus hardware platform, they share the same base characteristics as their predecessors: The 464plus is equipped with 64 KB RAM and a cassette tape drive, the 6128plus features 128 KB RAM and a 3" floppy disk drive. Both models share a common case layout with a keyboard taken over from the CPC6128 model, and the respective mass storage drive inserted in a case breakout.

In order to simplify the EMC screening process, the edge connectors of the previous models have been replaced with micro-ribbon connectors as previously used on the German Schneider CPC6128. As a result, a wide range of extensions for the original CPC range are connector-incompatible with the 464plus and 6128plus. In addition, the 6128plus does not have a tape socket for an external tape drive.

The plus range is not equipped with an on-board ROM, and thus the 464plus and the 6128plus do not contain a firmware. Instead, Amstrad provided the firmware for both models via the ROM extension facility, contained on the included Burnin' Rubber and Locomotive BASIC cartridge. This resulted in reduced hardware localization cost (only some select key caps and case labels had to be localized) with the added benefit of a rudimentary copy protection mechanism (without a firmware present, the machine itself could not copy a game cartridge's content).[10] As the enhanced V4 firmware's structural differences causes problems with some CPC software directly calling firmware functions by their memory addresses, Amstrad separately sold a cartridge containing the original CPC6128's V3 firmware.[12]

Both the 464plus and the 6128plus were introduced to the public in September 1990. Initial suggested retail prices were FRF1990 with a green screen and FRF2990 with a colour monitor for the 464plus, and FRF2990 with a green screen and FRF3990 with a colour monitor for the 6128plus.


The Amstrad GX4000
The Amstrad GX4000

Developed as part of the plus range, the GX4000 was Amstrad's short-lived attempt to enter the video game consoles market. Sharing the plus range's enhanced hardware characteristics, it represents the bare minimum variant of the range without a keyboard or support for mass storage devices.[10] It came bundled with 2 paddle controllers and the racing game Burning Rubber.

Special models and clones



In 1985, Spain briefly introduced an import tax on computers without ñ letter key and containing 64KB or less of RAM. To circumvent this, Amstrad's Spanish distributor Indescomp (later to become Amstrad Spain) created and distributed the CPC472, a modified version of the CPC464. Its main difference is a small additional daughter board containing a CPC664 ROM chip, and an 8 KB memory chip which is not electrically connected to the machine, and consequently rendered unusable. Its sole purpose was supposedly to increase the machine's total memory specs to 72 KB in order to circumvent the import tax. Only a month after the CPC472 had been released, Amstrad added the ñ key for the 464 so this tariff was not applied to 64k computers anymore and production of the CPC472 was discontinued.[13]

KC compact

The Kleincomputer KC compact
The Kleincomputer KC compact

The KC compact [de] ("Kleincomputer" - which means "small computer" - being a rather literal German translation of the English "microcomputer") is a clone of the Amstrad CPC built by East Germany's VEB Mikroelektronik Mühlhausen in October 1989. Although the machine included various substitutes and emulations of an Amstrad CPC's hardware, the machine is largely compatible with Amstrad CPC software. It is equipped with 64 KB memory and a CPC6128's firmware customized to the modified hardware, including an unmodified copy of Locomotive BASIC 1.1. The KC compact is the last 8-bit computer produced in East Germany.[14]

Aleste 520EX

In 1993, Omsk, Russia based company Patisonic released the Aleste 520EX, a computer highly compatible with the Amstrad CPC6128.[15][16][17][18] It could also be switched into an MSX mode. An expansion board named Magic Sound allowed to play Scream Tracker files.


A BYTE columnist in January 1985 called the CPC 464 "the closest yet to filling" his criteria for a useful home computer, including good keyboard, 80-column text, inexpensive disk drive, and support for a mainstream operating system like CP/M.[19]



The entire CPC series is based on the Zilog Z80A processor, clocked at 4 MHz.[20]

In order to avoid conflicts resulting from the CPU and the video circuits both accessing the shared main memory ("snowing"), CPU memory access is constrained to occur on microsecond boundaries, effectively padding every CPU instruction to a multiple of four CPU cycles. As typical Z80 instructions require three or four CPU cycles, the resulting loss of processing power is minor, reducing the effective clock rate to approximately 3.3 MHz.[21]


Amstrad CPCs are equipped with either 64 (CPC464, CPC664, 464plus, GX4000) or 128 (CPC6128, 6128plus) KB of RAM.[20][22] This base memory can be extended by up to 512 KB using memory expansions sold by third-party manufacturers, and by up to 4096 KB using experimental methods developed by hardware enthusiasts. Because the Z80 processor is only able to directly address 64 KB of memory, additional memory from the 128 KB models and memory expansions is made available using bank switching.


Mode 1 image on a GT65 green monitor
Mode 1 image on a GT65 green monitor

Underlying a CPC's video output is the unusual pairing of a CRTC (Motorola 6845 or compatible) with a custom-designed gate array to generate a pixel display output. CPC6128s later in production as well as the models from the plus range integrate both the CRTC and the gate array's functions with the system's ASIC.

Three built-in display resolutions are available: 160×200 pixels with 16 colours ("Mode 0", 20 text columns), 320×200 pixels with 4 colours ("Mode 1", 40 text columns), and 640×200 pixels with 2 colours ("Mode 2", 80 text columns).[20] Increased screen size can be achieved by reprogramming the CRTC.

The original CPC video hardware supports a colour palette of 27 colours,[20] generated from RGB colour space with each colour component assigned as either off, half on, or on. The plus range extended the palette to 4096 colours, also generated from RGB with 4 bits each for red, green and blue.[10]

Amstrad MP1 external television adapter
Amstrad MP1 external television adapter

With the exception of the GX4000, all CPC models lack an RF television or composite video output and instead shipped with a 6-pin RGB DIN connector, also used by Acorn computers, to connect the supplied Amstrad monitor.[20] This connector delivers a 1v p-p analogue RGB with a 50 Hz composite sync signal that, if wired correctly, can drive a 50 Hz SCART television. External adapters for RF television were available as a first-party hardware accessory.


The CPC uses the General Instrument AY-3-8912 sound chip,[20] providing three channels, each configurable to generate square waves, white noise or both. A small array of hardware volume envelopes are available.

Output is provided in mono by a small (4 cm) built-in loudspeaker with volume control, driven by an internal amplifier. Stereo output is provided through a 3.5 mm headphones jack.

It is possible to play back digital sound samples at a resolution of approximately 5-bit by sending a stream of values to the sound chip. This technique is very processor-intensive and hard to combine with any other processing. Examples are the title screens or other non-playable scenes of games like Chase H.Q., Meltdown, and RoboCop. The later Plus models incorporated a DMA engine in order to offload this processing.

Floppy disk drive

Built-in disk drive of the CPC6128
Built-in disk drive of the CPC6128
3 inch floppy discs used on CPC machines
3 inch floppy discs used on CPC machines

Amstrad used Hitachi's 3" floppy disk drive.[19] The chosen drive (built-in for later models) is a single-sided 40-track unit that requires the user to physically remove and flip the disc to access the other side.[22] Each side has its own independent write-protect switch.[22] The sides are termed "A" and "B", with each one commonly formatted to 180 KB (in AMSDOS format, comprising 2 KB directory and 178 KB storage) for a total of 360 KB per disk.

The interface with the drives is a NEC 765 FDC, used for the same purpose in the IBM PC/XT, PC/AT and PS/2 machines. Its features are not fully used in order to cut costs, namely DMA transfers and support for single density disks; they were formatted as double density using modified frequency modulation.

Discs were shipped in a paper sleeve or a hard plastic case resembling a compact disc "jewel" case. The casing is thicker and more rigid than that of 3.5 inch diskettes, and designed to be mailed without any additional packaging[citation needed]. A sliding metal cover to protect the media surface is internal to the casing and latched, unlike the simple external sliding cover of Sony's version. They were significantly more expensive than both 5.25 inch and 3.5 inch alternatives. This, combined with their low nominal capacities and their essentially proprietary nature, led to the format being discontinued shortly after the CPC itself was discontinued.

Apart from Amstrad's other 3 inch machines (the PCW and the ZX Spectrum +3), the few other computer systems to use them included the Sega SF-7000 and CP/M systems such as the Tatung Einstein and Osborne machines. They also found use on embedded systems.

The Shugart-standard interface means that Amstrad CPC machines are able to use standard 3", 3½" or 5¼" drives as their second drive. Programs such as ROMDOS and ParaDOS extend the standard AMSDOS system to provide support for double-sided, 80-track formats, enabling up to 800 KB to be stored on a single disk.

The 3 inch disks themselves are usually known as "discs" on the CPC, following the spelling on the machine's plastic casing and conventional British English spelling.


Back of the case of a CPC 464, with the mini-jack, joystick and printer ports.
Back of the case of a CPC 464, with the mini-jack, joystick and printer ports.

The hardware and firmware was designed to be able to access software provided on external ROMs. Each ROM has to be a 16 kB block and is switched in and out of the memory space shared with the video RAM. The Amstrad firmware is deliberately designed so that new software could be easily accessed from these ROMs with a minimum of fuss. Popular applications were marketed on ROM, particularly word processing and programming utility software (examples are Protext and Brunword of the former, and the MAXAM assembler of the latter type).

Such extra ROM chips do not plug directly into the CPC itself, but into extra plug-in "rom boxes" which contain sockets for the ROM chips and a minimal amount of decoding circuitry for the main machine to be able to switch between them. These boxes were either marketed commercially or could be built by competent hobbyists and they attached to the main expansion port at the back of the machine. Software on ROM loads much faster than from disc or tape and the machine's boot-up sequence was designed to evaluate ROMs it found and optionally hand over control of the machine to them. This allows significant customization of the functionality of the machine, something that enthusiasts exploited for various purposes.[23] However, the typical users would probably not be aware of this added ROM functionality unless they read the CPC press, as it is not described in the user manual and was hardly ever mentioned in marketing literature. It is, however, documented in the official Amstrad firmware manual.

The machines also feature a 9-pin Atari joystick port that will either directly take one joystick, or two joysticks by use of a splitter cable.[20]


RS232 serial adapters

Amstrad issued two RS-232-C D25 serial interfaces, attached to the expansion connector on the rear of the machine, with a through-connector for the CPC464 disk drive or other peripherals.

The original interface came with a Book of Spells for facilitating data transfer between other systems using a proprietary protocol in the device's own ROM, as well as terminal software to connect to British Telecom's Prestel service. A separate version of the ROM was created for the U.S. market due to the use of the commands "|SUCK" and "|BLOW", which were considered unacceptable there.

Software and hardware limitations in this interface led to its replacement with an Amstrad-branded version of a compatible alternative by Pace. Serial interfaces were also available from third-party vendors such as KDS Electronics and Cirkit.


BASIC and operating system

Locomotive BASIC on the Amstrad CPC 464
Locomotive BASIC on the Amstrad CPC 464

Like most home computers at the time, the CPC has its OS and a BASIC interpreter built in as ROM. It uses Locomotive BASIC - an improved version of Locomotive Software's Z80 BASIC for the BBC Microcomputer co-processor board. It is particularly notable for providing easy access to the machine's video and audio resources in contrast to the POKE commands required on generic Microsoft implementations. Other unusual features include timed event handling with the AFTER and EVERY commands, and text-based windowing.


Digital Research's CP/M operating system was supplied with the 664 and 6128 disk-based systems, and the DDI-1 disk expansion unit for the 464. 64k machines shipped with CP/M 2.2 alone, while the 128k machines also include CP/M 3.1. The compact CP/M 2.2 implementation is largely stored on the boot sectors of a 3" disk in what was called "System format"; typing |CPM from Locomotive BASIC would load code from these sectors, making it a popular choice for custom game loading routines. The CP/M 3.1 implementation is largely in a separate file which is in turn loaded from the boot sector. Much public domain CP/M software was made available for the CPC, from word-processors such as VDE to complete bulletin board systems such as ROS.

Other languages

Although it was possible to obtain compilers for Locomotive BASIC, C and Pascal, the majority of the CPC's software was written in native Z80 assembly language. Popular assemblers were Hisoft's Devpac, Arnor's Maxam, and (in France) DAMS. Disk-based CPC (not Plus) systems shipped with an interpreter for the educational language LOGO, booted from CP/M 2.2 but largely CPC-specific with much code resident in the AMSDOS ROM; 6128 machines also include a CP/M 3.1, non-ROM version. A C compiler was also written and made available for the European market through Tandy Europe, by Micro Business products.


In an attempt to give the CPC a recognisable mascot, a number of games by Amstrad's in-house software publisher Amsoft have been tagged with the Roland name. However, as the games had not been designed around the Roland character and only had the branding added later, the character design varies immensely, from a spiky-haired blonde teenager (Roland Goes Digging) to a white cube with legs (Roland Goes Square Bashing) or a mutant flea (Roland in the Caves). The only two games with similar gameplay and main character design are Roland in Time and its sequel Roland in Space. The Roland character was named after Roland Perry, one of the lead designers of the original CPC range.

Schneider Computer Division

Schneider Computer Division logo
Schneider Computer Division logo
Schneider CPC6128 with visible micro ribbon connectors at the top (back) side
Schneider CPC6128 with visible micro ribbon connectors at the top (back) side
Schneider CPC Demo Tape Presentation Compact Cassette came with the CPC464
Schneider CPC Demo Tape Presentation Compact Cassette came with the CPC464

In order to market its computers in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland where Amstrad did not have any distribution structures, Amstrad entered a partnership with Schneider Rundfunkwerke AG, a German company that - very much like Amstrad itself - was previously only known for value-priced audio products. In 1984, Schneider's Schneider Computer Division daughter company was created specifically for the task, and the complete Amstrad CPC line-up was branded and sold as Schneider CPC.

Although they are based on the same hardware, the Schneider CPC models differ from the Amstrad CPC models in several details. Most prominently, the Schneider CPC464 and CPC664 keyboards featured grey instead of coloured keys, but still in the original British keyboard layout. To achieve a German "QWERTZ" keyboard layout, Schneider marketed a small software program to reassign the keys as well as sticker labels for the keys.[24] In order to conform with stricter German EMC regulations, the complete Schneider CPC line-up is equipped with an internal metal shielding. For the same reason, the Schneider CPC6128 features micro ribbon type connectors instead of edge connectors. Both the greyscale keyboard and the micro ribbon connectors found their way up into the design of later Amstrad CPC models.

In 1988, after Schneider refused to market Amstrad's AT-compatible computer line, the cooperation ended. Schneider went on to sell the remaining stock of Schneider CPC models and used their now well-established market position to introduce its own PC designs. With the formation of its German daughter company Amstrad GmbH to distribute its product lines including the CPC464 and CPC6128, Amstrad attempted but ultimately failed to establish their own brand in the German-speaking parts of Europe.[25][26]


The Amstrad CPC enjoyed a strong and long lifetime, mainly due to the machines use for businesses as well as gaming. Dedicated programmers continued working on the CPC range, even producing graphical user interface (GUI) operating systems such as SymbOS. Internet sites devoted to the CPC have appeared from around the world featuring forums, news, hardware, software, programming and games. CPC Magazines appeared during the 1980s including publications in countries such as Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Australia, and Greece. Titles included the official Amstrad Computer User publication,[27] as well as independent titles like Amstrad Action,[27] Amtix!,[27] Computing with the Amstrad CPC,[27] CPC Attack,[27] Australia's The Amstrad User, France's Amstrad Cent Pour Cent and Amstar. Following the CPC's end of production, Amstrad gave permission for the CPC ROMs to be distributed freely as long as the copyright message is not changed and that it is acknowledged that Amstrad still holds copyright, giving emulator authors the possibility to ship the CPC firmware with their programs.[28]

Influence on other Amstrad machines

Amstrad followed their success with the CPC 464 by launching the Amstrad PCW word-processor range, another Z80-based machine with a 3" disk drive and software by Locomotive Software. The PCW was originally developed to be partly compatible with an improved version of the CPC (ANT, or Arnold Number Two - the CPC's development codename was Arnold).[29][30] However, Amstrad decided to focus on the PCW, and the ANT project never came to market.

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."[31] 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" discs that Amstrad CPC machines used.

Production Timeline

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Transistorized memory, such as RAM, ROM, flash and cache sizes as well as file sizes are specified using binary meanings for K (10241), M (10242), G (10243), ...
  2. ^ CPC464 User Manual, p. 11, Amstrad Consumer Electronics Plc.
  3. ^ "Amstrad Product Archive". Retrieved 25 September 2009.
  4. ^ Chas Newkey-Burden (2 October 2010). Sir Alan Sugar: The Biography. John Blake. ISBN 978-1-84454-891-0. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  5. ^ Alan Sugar (8 October 2010). What You See Is What You Get: My Autobiography. Pan Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-74933-7. Retrieved 7 January 2011.
  6. ^ "OLD-COMPUTERS.COM : The Museum". Retrieved 27 June 2016.
  7. ^ The CPC664, Amstrad Computer User May 1985, P. 42-46.
  8. ^ "Interview with Roland Perry (in French language)". Amstrad Forever. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 2 April 2010.
  9. ^ Amstrad Computer User, "User News...", August 1985, p. 7.
  10. ^ a b c d Lawson, Cliff. "Arnold "V" Specification 1.4". Amstrad. Archived from the original on 18 November 2000.
  11. ^ Retro Gamer issue 83, From the Archives: Radical Software
  12. ^ "Amstrad System Cartridges". Archived from the original on 1 February 2010. Retrieved 22 March 2010.
  13. ^ "CPC472". CPCWiki. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
  14. ^ "KC Compact Documentation". Retrieved 22 March 2010.
  15. ^ Russian Wikipedia article[better source needed]
  16. ^ Article at
  17. ^ Russian English-language page
  18. ^ Spanish page
  19. ^ a b Pountain, Dick (January 1985). "The Amstrad CPC 464". BYTE. p. 401. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g Technical Specification, CPC464 Service Manual, p. 2., Amstrad Consumer Electronics Plc.
  21. ^ CPC464/664/6128 Firmware ROM routines and explanations (Soft 968)
  22. ^ a b c Technical Specification, CPC6128 Service Manual, p. 31., Amstrad Consumer Electronics Plc.
  23. ^ "Amstrad CPC ROM expansion".
  24. ^ CPC Schneider International 6/85, P. 7
  25. ^ CeBIT '88, Schneider Magazin 5/88, P. 6-8
  26. ^ "Defunct Audio Manufacturers". Retrieved 20 September 2009.
  27. ^ a b c d e "CPC UK Magazines". Nicholas Campbell. Archived from the original on 31 October 2001. Retrieved 6 May 2008.
  28. ^ Lawson, Cliff. "Lawson emulation". Cliff Lawson. Archived from the original on 10 May 2008. Retrieved 6 May 2008.
  29. ^ Smith, Tony (12 February 2014). "You're NOT fired: The story of Amstrad's amazing CPC 464". Retrieved 20 December 2018.
  30. ^ "The CPC that never was". Retro Gamer. 28 December 2017.
  31. ^ CRASH 28 - News

External links

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