Readers of my Blog who’s been here before might remember that recently I managed to save a load of retro goodies from the great landfill in the sky, some of which were old Acorn computers.
Sitting idle one day waiting for a progress bar to progress I decided it was time to try booting some of these old units up…
I have had literally hundreds of TFT screens pass through my hands over the years but when attempting to connect one to any one of the Acorns I was met with resistance. Extreme resistance in the form of unfriendly on screen messages depicting cryptic errors which could not be cancelled out of. Most of the TFT’s would display “Out of range” and then count down to running in low power mode, others would display nothing at all. Maybe I was just doing it wrong but it was an impasse.
Disheartened and not knowing what to do about it I put the Acorns away again to await the procurement of a CRT monitor – which I thought would be easy until I actually tried.
Being unable to throw things away in general I was confused by not being able to find any CRT monitors in any of my various caches of old equipment, not a one to be had anywhere which is amazing really considering it seemed like only yesterday I was degaussing energy thirsty monsters on a daily basis. It took me several days and a trip out to some of the other sites I manage before I could procure a suitable screen to bring back to the workshop and re-attempt the Acorn booting party.
So having finally found all the bits and pieces I needed to attempt a boot of these various systems it was time to have a go. I seem to recall using one of the RiscPC’s back when I was in middle school but I couldn’t remember anything about how to start one up, let alone what to do if something went wrong. It seemed to be simply a matter of attaching all the peripherals and then hitting the big friendly ON button, doing so brought my newly acquired CRT monitor crackling to life! Success!
The first system(s) I tried were the A5000’s.
They’re beige and built like a tank but surprisingly didn’t smell like burning at all when powered on. I took this as a positive sign and mucked around trying to get them to output something. One of them would make a brief ‘click’ type of sound from the internal speaker and strobe primary colours on the CRT but wouldn’t do anything else, the other did exactly the same (damnit) but after a quick Google of the issue a post on a forum suggested pressing and holding the Delete key on start-up. This led to some progress!
Here we can see all I managed to get until (on the third picture) I pressed the magical Delete key*.
Now that I got some potential output it was just a matter of messing with the hardware controls on the CRT until the image was correctly aligned:
Having achieved the above I sat back to await whatever wonders would flower from the asterisk progress bar that was progressing on-screen… Sadly it was nothing. The unit that displays the above seems to be awaiting some kind of bootable media or perhaps some other key-press, I don’t know but nothing I tried would get me any further than what you can see above. It’s a shame I couldn’t seem to get any further but I wasn’t too upset as I had three more Acorns to go at yet.
Now that I had discovered the magical delete key fix I thought it wouldn’t be overly difficult to run the A3020:
This particular machine was a form factor that I was familiar with. It reminded me of my first computer (an Atari STe) so I had high hopes for it to work and work it did.
Look at that GUI, a thing of beauty!
Sadly it appears as though the A3020 has some kind of a keyboard malfunction as none of the LED indicators on the Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, Num Lock (etc) keys would illuminate and I discovered that when you opened a text editor to test the keyboard it would begin to spam the document with many |||||||||||||||||||||||’s. This particular A3020 was a bit mucky when I got it so maybe it just needs a clean on the inside, I’ll post about it if I manage to fix it.
Keyboards aside at least the mouse worked so I had a play around with some of the programs such as the Tasks (manager?) which indicated the vast amounts of memory available:
Also the floppy drive seemed to work without issue, I found a disk which had some sort of demo graphics on it:
(Sorry about the discoloured blobs on the screen images of the monitor the iPhone6 seems to have issues with refresh rates on CRT monitors, or maybe it was bent…)
Having successfully levelled up my Acorn know-how and bulled up by the output so far I set up (what I hoped) would be the best of the bunch, the truly amazing and ahead of their time RiscPC 600 and RiscPC 700.
Of all the systems I saved from the skip I had highest hopes for these two. I remember being amazed by their capabilities back when I last used one (in middle school) sat next to the suite of BBC Micros. Here they are stacked on top of each other, they’re known as dual ‘slice’ as there’s two tiers to the system – add more slices to expand and accommodate more devices. It was quite an innovative set up and it’s a shame nobody has bothered to revisit it over the years.
The bottom unit has what appears to be some kind of a SyQuest Magneto Optical type drive but I don’t have any discs for it to try out that I know about… Ill have a dig around and see if I can find one and verify whether it still works / what it is.
Here we can see the unit powering up and loading into Risc OS 3 I think the logo at the top is due to some kind of add-in board or device.
Here we can see RiscOS in action, performing as well as it did the last time this system was used (which is to say, superbly).
I found that the hard drives still hold a load of old data from the previous owner (who I know very well) so I am going to attempt to transfer the data onto modern media so it can be given back to him and archived for posterity – if anyone knows the best means to go about this please get in touch…
Overall I feel my journey into all things Acorn went well, the units (apart from the A5000’s of which I might just be ‘doing it wrong’ with) all powered up and seemed to mostly function correctly. Considering the place they might have ended up I’m glad I was able to save them. If there are any Acorn fanatics out there that could provide further information on anything above please let me know. I found this website (Chris’s Acorns) to be invaluable in identifying what I found and fleshing out my knowledge of these devices so please take some time to visit it.
Also I have several boxes of old disks and boxed programs that I am yet to sort through. I will post about that when I get around to it since there might be some rare software mixed in with it all.
*I have subsequently learned that Acorn computers store some kind of display output [monitor] configuration file that can be reset to default by holding Delete on start-up.