Our regular look at computer evelopments with Electronics & Computing Editor Gary Evans
The first months of 1984 have seen a fair degree of activity from computer manufacturers with the launch of the long awaited Sinclair ZX83, or QL as it shall from now on be known. In typical Sinclair fashion, the QL is described as a '32 bit machine' and this fact is in part used as justification for the claim that the QL represents 'a quantum leap' in the power of home micros. The fact that the computer is based on a Motorla 68000 MRU, which until Sinclair started to make 32 bit noises had been known to one and all as a 16-bit micro, and that the version of the 68000 used in the QL has only an 8-bit data transfer capability, makes the quantum leap story look a bit thin.
Brushing aside Sinclairs' superlative laden PR, the QL is still a machine which will give the likes of Acorn and Commodore a run for their money. The price of £399 puts it right up against the BBC micro in terms of price, while the many built-in facilities give the QL a distinct edge in performance.
The machine has 128K of internal RAM, ROM cartridge, joystick and RGB connectors, an RS232 communications interface (strangely there is no Centronics port but one is promised "in the near future") plus a networking facility. Add to this the fact that the QL features two Spectrum style micro drives each capable of storing 100K of data, and you can see why the opposition may be a little worried.
The QL comes complete with four software packages including a word processor and spread sheet program. The version of BASIC is a development of the Sinclair Spectrum language and is known as "SuperBasic". The QL also supports its own operating system named QDOS.
The only cloud hanging over the QL at present is the ability of Sinclair to deliver the machines. Already more than one report suggests that the company are having problems producing the ROM holding the operating system in any quantity — the machine demonstrated at the press launch had this software in RAM. The adverts for the computer make a 28-day delivery claim but few in the industry expect Sinclair to be able to live up to this.
Time will tell however, and the QL should be worth the wait. The waiting game, though, will probably lead to a depression in other parts of the market, something that is good for no-one — except possibly Sinclair.
Just before the start of this year Dragon announced their '64 machine. This was little more than a '32 with an extra 32K of RAM, the company making no radical changes to the computer's design, and not taking the opportunity to tighten up on some of the weaknesses in the 32's circuitry. Oric have recently gone through a similar exercise, although in this case the changes are more than cosmetic.
The most notable change is that the quirky keyboard design of the Oric 1 has been replaced by a vastly superior one that approaches the feel of a typewriter keyboard. The numerous faults of the Oric's ROM have also been corrected, as has the slightly erratic cassette loading and saving system.
Another major improvement is that the new Atmos's manual is a comprehensive 270 page affair rather than the flimsy thing that accompanied its predecessor.
The Atmos will retail at £170, and the good news for anyone who bought an Oric in the winter sales and is now regretting the fact is that you will be able to upgrade to an Atmos for about £50.
Just a few, and possibly obvious, ideas as to the likely trends in the market as this year unfolds.
There is likely to be a lot more of the same — that is, machines offering a bit more in the way of RAM, a bit more in the facilities offered by their graphics and sound controllers and more versatile and numerous interfaces. The Elan is a good example of this sort of machine, but does feature one other item that points the way for other machines during the year. This is the inclusion of some resident Firmware, in the case of the Elan a word processing package. The new Commodore, due for launch in the summer, will follow this theme as will the computer hi-fi experts Amstrad are due to bring out in the near future. The QL also provides some firmware as well as its 16-bit MPU. This year is not likely to see many other 16-bit machines but is will be the flavour of 1985.
Other trends are likely to be the spread of portable machines with price tags less than the £500 of the Tandy T100, as CMOS memory and LCD display prices begin to show a fall.
News by Gary Evans
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