Remembering – Amstrad Mega PC

Back when 16-bit consoles were still king of the hill in terms of gaming, and the PC was only just starting to emerge as a gaming force to be reckoned with, there came along a bizarre marriage of both forms of entertainment. A kind of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of systems, if you will.

The Amstrad Mega PC had all the look of a slim line PC. The familiar beige coloured exterior, full sized keyboard, mouse, and 14-inch monitor spoke of a smaller, new breed of personal computer. However, the Mega PC had a secret. The front of the Mega PC had a sliding door section. One half, the right-hand side, housed a floppy drive, HDD LEDs and so on. But when you slid the door to the right, revealing the left-hand side of the front of the machine a strange transformation took place.

The screen, which would normally display DOS or Windows 3.x, vanished and was replaced by that of a SEGA Mega Drive. Indeed, as the sliding door hid the floppy drive it unlocked a fully working SEGA Mega Drive slot.

The Amstrad Mega PC was the second PC I ever owned, and considering it was only an Intel SX 25MHz machine with 1MB of SIMM memory, it was a considerable upgrade from the measly 286 I had been using for the year prior to saving up my wages from the shipyard. To me, it was ace. A much more powerful PC with the added benefit of being able to play all those Mega Drive games I had collected without having to dig the old SEGA out and find the time to hook it up to the family TV. Plus the games were far better quality than on the TV, too.

Its history

The Amstrad Mega PC, as licenced by SEGA, was actually a European update to the SEGA TeraDrive, which was released in 1991 and unfortunately never sold in the UK.

The Mega PC was launched in 1993, and took up a good double page spread in many of the magazines of the time from. It wasn’t cheap though, and hit the shelves at an eye-watering £999.99.

To be fair, it was an absolutely ridiculous price to sell a 386 PC, especially since you get a 486 DX2-66 for half that price. Those who bought themselves one at near a thousand must have kicked themselves black and blue, because Amstrad eventually dropped the asking price to a more reasonable, although still pricey, £599.

The Mega PC came with a 40MB hard drive, DOS 5.0 and the Amstrad Desktop, which was a kind of strange Windows/GEM GUI launcher for a number of programs that a seller could bundle onto the drive to make it a little more appealing to buyers.

In essence it was a ‘real’ PC, but it did have some peculiar features. For one, the VGA port was a unique Amstrad design that combined video and audio which would only work on an Amstrad branded monitor – specifically the one sold with the Mega PC. While it worked well enough on a normal monitor, once you activated the Mega Drive side, the image and sound cut out.

There was a later model released, which sadly didn’t sell very well. The Amstrad Mega Plus PC offered a more powerful 486SL 33MHz CPU while still combining the Mega Drive portion of the previous build. With either 2MB or 4MB versions on offer, together with 40MB or 100MB hard drives, it was a better system all-round.

The good

A PC and a Mega Drive in a single unit. Sheer genius, that.

The Bad

Stupidly priced, limited power, not very upgradable.

Conclusion

The Amstrad Mega PC, despite its lack in performance, did give one user many happy an hour in front of the 14-inch monitor. I can fondly recall spending hours playing PGA Tour Golf with my Mega PC.

Did you know…?

  • The Mega Drive portion of the PC came in the form of a PCI card. I wonder if you can get hold of one now?
  • There was a white/beige Mega Drive controller that came as a part of the package.
  • The PC still booted when you powered up in Mega Drive mode, so after a minute or two you’d hear the familiar Windows chime mid-Sonic.
  • I didn’t pay £999 for mine.

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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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