8-Bit Home Computers in Daily Use?

abrich

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Hi All,

As a child of the 1980s, I had an early fascination with 8-bit home micros. I didn't have one at home growing up, but the BBC Micro we had at school left a lasting impression.

I've got a responsible collection of computers from the 90s and 2000s, but I'm keen to get an 8-bit set-up too.

I'm just wondering if anybody here is using an 8-bit home micro for any of their day-to-day activities? I have visions of using one as minimalist writing environment (not that I've got much to write about…), but I'm not sure how practical that would actually be.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has found a using for these wonderful vintage computers.
 
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We had a BBC Micro when I was a kid. My parents might still have it somewhere.

While you could write on one still in the 2020s, it seems impractical because you'd find it very difficult to transfer files on or off the machine, and you'd find it difficult to back up your files. Ours had a 5 1/4-inch floppy drive. Most machines these days don't have floppy drives at all, much less 5 1/4-inch ones.
 
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Hammerite said:
We had a BBC Micro when I was a kid. My parents might still have it somewhere.

While you could write on one still in the 2020s, it seems impractical because you'd find it very difficult to transfer files on or off the machine, and you'd find it difficult to back up your files. Ours had a 5 1/4-inch floppy drive. Most machines these days don't have floppy drives at all, much less 5 1/4-inch ones.
Hi @Hammerite! Thanks for taking the time to reply. :)

Yes, I don't think it's a particularly practical or sensible thing to do, but there's something so wonderful nostalgic about the machines, especially the BBCs for me, and perhaps I'm just looking for an excuse to buy one!

I think there are some SD card storage add-ons for the Beeb now, but I'd be surprised if anything could open the files from the BBC, even if you could access them on a modern computer. Still, it might be something to play around, and the games would be fun to play. :)

Thanks again!
 
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I had no idea anyone had made accessories like an SD card reader for the BBC micro. That's surprising. Actually though, I just looked up when SD cards were introduced, and they're older than I realised.

I don't know what kind of file system that would use. If it uses a file system that's intelligible by more recent computers, then maybe you could make it work? This is assuming you are writing only in ASCII text and that the BBC micro uses an ASCII-compatible text encoding... no idea about that but I'm confident you'd have a tough time using characters not in Latin-1. Pretty sure you could type £ on the keyboard.
 
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I was also an 80s kid, but I never really had a "proper" 8-bit computer. Our first family computer was a Mac SE, although my dad had a Tandy 102 that he used for work. I taught myself BASIC on that Tandy. I also took a BASIC programming class in middle school, and that was on Apple II and Franklin ACE 1000 (Apple II clone) machines. In hindsight I'm sure I'd have loved to have a Commodore 64.

I never got to play with a BBC Micro, but that's not surprising as they never gained much ground in the US.

I design embedded computer systems as part of my job these days, and up until about ten years ago it was common to use 8-bit chips for that. Those chips are still made, but even when their performance is sufficient it's hard to justify using them anymore. A much more capable 32-bit ARM chip is almost always cheaper. I definitely miss the simplicity of the 8-bit stuff though.

I've been following David Murray's Commander X16 project for a few years now. We'll see what my hobby budget looks like when the thing finally ships! :)
 
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Hammerite said:
I had no idea anyone had made accessories like an SD card reader for the BBC micro. That's surprising. Actually though, I just looked up when SD cards were introduced, and they're older than I realised.

I don't know what kind of file system that would use. If it uses a file system that's intelligible by more recent computers, then maybe you could make it work? This is assuming you are writing only in ASCII text and that the BBC micro uses an ASCII-compatible text encoding... no idea about that but I'm confident you'd have a tough time using characters not in Latin-1. Pretty sure you could type £ on the keyboard.
It's amazing how much equipment is available for old computers! It's all very small-scale of course, but it's amazing to see the things that people come up with keep things going! I think there's even a way of using a Raspberry Pi as a co-processor on the BBC, which looks like a lot of fun!

Yes, it would be strictly ASCII only, but I think having the space to store all this old computer stuff is increasingly a problem… :)
 
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Cottontail said:
I was also an 80s kid, but I never really had a "proper" 8-bit computer. Our first family computer was a Mac SE, although my dad had a Tandy 102 that he used for work. I taught myself BASIC on that Tandy. I also took a BASIC programming class in middle school, and that was on Apple II and Franklin ACE 1000 (Apple II clone) machines. In hindsight I'm sure I'd have loved to have a Commodore 64.

I never got to play with a BBC Micro, but that's not surprising as they never gained much ground in the US.

I design embedded computer systems as part of my job these days, and up until about ten years ago it was common to use 8-bit chips for that. Those chips are still made, but even when their performance is sufficient it's hard to justify using them anymore. A much more capable 32-bit ARM chip is almost always cheaper. I definitely miss the simplicity of the 8-bit stuff though.

I've been following David Murray's Commander X16 project for a few years now. We'll see what my hobby budget looks like when the thing finally ships! :)
A Mac SE is an impressive first family computer! I do have a real soft-spot for that generation of Macs.

The BBC Micros were very popular in schools here in the UK. My secondary school was a bit unusual in that it had a few BBCs and a few RM machines, so I guess they couldn't quite make up their minds!

When I was about 14, many of the BBCs were replaced with later Acorn computers running Risc OS on an early version of the ARM processor. I really liked the user interface on Risc OS, and I'm really pleased to see that it's still being maintained and can be run on the Raspberry Pi.

I've been following the Commander X16 project too. It looks like it should be great! It's amazing to think how much can still be done with those 8-bit chips. :)
 
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I adoer my commodore 64 mostily ues it gaming
 
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littleK1626 said:
I adoer my commodore 64 mostily ues it gaming
Growing up, a friend had a C64 and we spent many hours playing some of the games. It's a great system! :cool:
 
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abrich said:
The BBC Micros were very popular in schools here in the UK. My secondary school was a bit unusual in that it had a few BBCs and a few RM machines, so I guess they couldn't quite make up their minds!
I had to look up RM just now. That's not one I was familiar with. Pretty interesting!

It was probably 1983 when the elementary school I was attending got its first computers, and they were all Franklin ACE 1000s. We seldom used them because they were placed in the library and were looked after by the elderly librarian who was clearly terrified of them. I remember her literally telling us that we weren't to touch the power switches because that would "break" the computers! :rolleyes: After that "lesson," few of us wanted anything to do with them.

A few years later the schools were buying Macs, although I saw some Apple II and IIgs machines. My high school had some PCs in a dedicated "business lab," but everything else was Macs.

abrich said:
I've been following the Commander X16 project too. It looks like it should be great! It's amazing to think how much can still be done with those 8-bit chips. :)
Get rid of the heavy, modern OS and it's amazing what a little hardware can do. As the X16 project began to slip, I bought and built a Colour Maximite II kit. It's not 8-bit, but it has that feel, and it's a great platform for playing with BASIC on, if that's something that appeals to you. My son and I have had fun making little games for it.
 
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Cottontail said:
I had to look up RM just now. That's not one I was familiar with. Pretty interesting!

It was probably 1983 when the elementary school I was attending got its first computers, and they were all Franklin ACE 1000s. We seldom used them because they were placed in the library and were looked after by the elderly librarian who was clearly terrified of them. I remember her literally telling us that we weren't to touch the power switches because that would "break" the computers! :rolleyes: After that "lesson," few of us wanted anything to do with them.

A few years later the schools were buying Macs, although I saw some Apple II and IIgs machines. My high school had some PCs in a dedicated "business lab," but everything else was Macs.


Get rid of the heavy, modern OS and it's amazing what a little hardware can do. As the X16 project began to slip, I bought and built a Colour Maximite II kit. It's not 8-bit, but it has that feel, and it's a great platform for playing with BASIC on, if that's something that appeals to you. My son and I have had fun making little games for it.
The RM Nimbus was a really odd machine. It ran a version of MS-DOS, but because it used the 186 processor, not all software for IBM compatibles would actually run, so we ended up just sticking to the fairly limited range of software designed specifically for the machines. One classroom had a more advanced Nimbus, complete with a hard drive, and that had a version of Windows on it, although I can't remember which one… I want to say Windows 2, but my memory isn't clear.

I think most of our teachers were terrified of the computers, especially in primary school (our elementary schools). We only had the one machine, and I think most of the children knew more about it than any of the teachers! It too sat in the library, but we were allowed to use it, especially once we were in the final year at primary school. I don't remember it ever been used as part of anything we were doing in the classroom though, and we certainly didn't have any structured sessions around programming or even using application software.

The Apple II was fairly rare here in the UK. I think it was quite expensive compared to the alternatives. I have an Apple IIe in my collection, complete with two disc drives, but I need to check the power supply before doing anything with it. I'd love to get a IIgs – I've never even seen one in person!

I haven't come across the Colour Maximite II, but I'l check that out! I do enjoy a bit of BASIC! :)
 
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the BBC micro is pretty much the predecessor to all modern mobile CPUs Acorn developed the arm architecture( acorn risk machine )
 
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My Commodore Vic-20 with a tape drive taught me a lot about how computers used to work, but I had an Atari 2600 for gaming.
 
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Our first family computer was an Apple IIe. I used to get Incider magazine and I taught myself some basic programming as well. It was a lot of fun. From the Incider magazine, I would type in some game programs (in basic) and it was fun playing a game you sort of made.
 
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abrich said:
The Apple II was fairly rare here in the UK. I think it was quite expensive compared to the alternatives. I have an Apple IIe in my collection, complete with two disc drives, but I need to check the power supply before doing anything with it. I'd love to get a IIgs – I've never even seen one in person!
Very wise to be skeptical of the power supply. I'd be inclined to re-cap or replace it proactively. The computer lab at our middle school had a few IIgs machines in it, but we almost never used them. I remember writing some BASIC on one of the ACE 1000's and then running it on a IIgs. I was amazed by how much faster it ran. I think that's part of why the teacher steered us away from them. They were really cool, but they were too different from the majority of the computers in the room. Anybody who sat at one during a lesson would've needed special instructions.

I hope you get your IIe up and running!

abrich said:
we certainly didn't have any structured sessions around programming or even using application software.
The "Computers" (BASIC programming) class at our middle school was something of an anomaly. In high school, the only class that dealt with computers was Typing. My kids are both in high school now and have all sorts of STEM and Computer Science options. I'm jealous!

abrich said:
The RM Nimbus was a really odd machine. It ran a version of MS-DOS, but because it used the 186 processor, not all software for IBM compatibles would actually run, so we ended up just sticking to the fairly limited range of software designed specifically for the machines. One classroom had a more advanced Nimbus, complete with a hard drive, and that had a version of Windows on it, although I can't remember which one… I want to say Windows 2, but my memory isn't clear.
This is a big part of what I miss about the 80s, and to a lesser extent the 90s: There were so many weird and interesting platforms. I don't think I ever used any 186 hardware, or any Windows version before 3.x.

abrich said:
I haven't come across the Colour Maximite II, but I'l check that out! I do enjoy a bit of BASIC! :)
It's a fun little system with a decent community around it. There are some pretty impressive games, both originals and ports from other systems. I built the Generation 1 kit version, but now there's a Gen 2 with some nice extra features.
 
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littleK1626 said:
the BBC micro is pretty much the predecessor to all modern mobile CPUs Acorn developed the arm architecture( acorn risk machine )
I wonder if the team at Acorn ever thought that their CPU architecture would go on to be used so widely? They did an incredible job, and Archimedes, A-Series and Risc PC had a real charm to them. Risc OS does somethings in quite a different way to what we've become used to, but I guess the conventions hadn't been set when it was developed.
 
pacifierPaige said:
My Commodore Vic-20 with a tape drive taught me a lot about how computers used to work, but I had an Atari 2600 for gaming.
I've no personal experience with the Vic-20, but I've always loved the look of it and it would be an interesting machine to play around with. I did get to play on an Atari 2600 a few times, and I always enjoyed that. :)
 
dogboy said:
Our first family computer was an Apple IIe. I used to get Incider magazine and I taught myself some basic programming as well. It was a lot of fun. From the Incider magazine, I would type in some game programs (in basic) and it was fun playing a game you sort of made.
It's amazing to think that you used to be able to buy books with nothing by program listings in! It was a different world. Once of the magazines I read as a child had a series featuring program listings, and I would try those out on the BBC at school. There was a real satisfaction in getting the program working! :)
 
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Cottontail said:
Very wise to be skeptical of the power supply. I'd be inclined to re-cap or replace it proactively.
Hi @Cottontail! Yes, I think I'll do a full re-cap before switching anything on. I don't want to risk destroying the mainboard! I hope to get it working when I get the chance, and I'm going to keep looking out for a IIgs too. :)

Cottontail said:
The "Computers" (BASIC programming) class at our middle school was something of an anomaly. In high school, the only class that dealt with computers was Typing. My kids are both in high school now and have all sorts of STEM and Computer Science options. I'm jealous!
Me too! Even in secondary school, all we had were lessons in how to use a word processor, spreadsheet and database, but we didn't get into the nuts and bolts of how a computer works, and I don't think we had any idea of what 'Computer Science' really was… We messed around in BASIC, but that was it. I'm pleased to hear that things have improved for young people today though.

Cottontail said:
This is a big part of what I miss about the 80s, and to a lesser extent the 90s: There were so many weird and interesting platforms
I really miss the variety and the different approaches different machines took. I suppose it was inevitable that everything would coalesce, but I'm glad I got to see something of the time when things were more diverse.

Cottontail said:
It's a fun little system with a decent community around it. There are some pretty impressive games, both originals and ports from other systems. I built the Generation 1 kit version, but now there's a Gen 2 with some nice extra features.
I'll check that out; it sounds amazing! :)
 
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The Vic-20 had a 6502 microprocessor (same as the Apple II) and a BASIC Interpreter written by two dudes named Gates & Allen that was almost identical to GW-Basic. Commodore made a business machine called the PET before the Vic-20, and its peripherals (like my tape drive) were compatible with the Vic-20. I had a memory expansion cartridge called a "SuperExpander" I got at Toys-R-Us and a copy of the programmer's guide. I gave all away ages ago.

If you're happy and you know it, it's your meds. :)
 
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