Remembering – Amstrad CPC 464

When Alan Sugar’s Amstrad bought out the Sinclair brand, the 8-bit world gave forth a bit of a shudder; after all, our precious Spectrum was now part of the company that made those strange, really long computers with the funny green screen.

Amstrad, it can be said, had its fair share of animosity from the user base, however, looking back now, in the cold hard light of maturity, the CPC range was a really good home computer.

I admittedly never owned one; my friend did though, and where I had my Spectrum, he would be found playing on his Amstrad. Looking back there was a certain level of envy associated with the CPC 464 crowd. The playground was cut down the middle with a silicon curtain: Spectrum on one side, and the Commodore on the other. When asked which computer was king, the reply could have started off a playground war. The Amstrad users though, simply shrugged their collective shoulders and stated their preference; as such, they were left alone.

Looking at the CPC 464 it was an intelligent design. With just two components: keyboard and a monitor, the user had a simplistic, self-contained unit – no ugly power packs, and just a single plug from the monitor. It was fairly reasonably priced too, with the green screen model coming in at around £199 and the colour option at £299. There’s little wonder it was popular to begin with; the Evening Standard, announcing the launch of the Amstrad CPC 464 even labelled it as ‘the People’s Computer’ likening it to the VW Beetle.

Its history

The Amstrad CPC 464 was launched on 12th April 1984. This was Amstrad’s first foray into the fledgling home computer world, and a long way from its humble beginnings in 1968 and Alan Sugar selling car aerials from a van in the East End.

Amstrad already had a good reputation with its consumer Hi-Fi’s, a self-contained unit that was dirt cheap, but surprisingly well constructed. The idea behind the CPC 464 too was well-conceived, in Sugar’s autobiography he mentions “My concept was simple: Mum and Dad don’t want little Johnny taking over the TV set, so our computer should come with its own monitor, have a full-sized keyboard and a built-in cassette mechanism for loading software and hit a target price of £199.”

The initial project had its fair share of setbacks. Paul Kelly, one of the lead engineers for the project had collapsed from exhaustion and left, and after five years of developmental hell there still wasn’t a recognisable computer. After that, Amstrad brought in replacement engineers Roland Perry and William Poel. The duo were hired as consultants from their founded company, Ambit, and set to work creating the motherboard for the CPC 464 skeleton that was already developed.

After the CPC 464 was launched, its popularity helped fund a further five machines: 664, 6128, 464Plus, 6128Plus and a console, the GX4000. The company then moved into the PC market, with the Mega PC and followed with a number of technical flops. By 2007 the company was a shadow of its former self, and was sold to BSkyB.

However, the CPC 464 is still a dominant machine in the retro scene, and one of the best British home computers of all time.

The good

Lots of memory, a decent colour screen, easy to setup and use.

The bad

The built-in tape deck was a bit dodgy at times. Some lazy game ports from the Spectrum.

Did you know..?

  • Its development name was Arnold, an anagram of Roland Perry’s first name.
  • Production ceased in 1990.
  • It had 27 colours across three modes: 160 x 200 16 colours mode0, 320 x 200 4 colours mode1, 640 x 200 2 colours mode2.
  • It had a Zilog Z80 processor, hence the lazy Spectrum game ports.

David Hayward

David has spent most of his life tinkering with technology, from the ZX Spectrum, getting his hands on a Fujitsu VPP5000/100 supercomputer, and coding on an overheating Raspberry Pi. He's written for the likes of Micro Mart, Den of Geek, and countless retro sites and publications, covering reviews, creating code and bench testing the latest tech. He also has a huge collection of cables.

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