8-bit Software Disc Magazine (c) Duncan Webster DEC 1991
Issue 17 December 1991
To Upgrade or not to Upgrade?
I have always made a point of trying to aviod too much Archimedes talk
when writing the magazine for 8BS as I set the organisation up to be
of value to 8-bit BBC users and not the Archimedes World. However,
many members have asked me so many questions from "it is worth
upgrading to the 32 bit computer?" to "can you still use my old beeb
software?". No matter how much I try to avoid the subject I feel I
would be doing a service to members to present my views on the A3000
and how I have got to grips with it now I have owned one for about a
I shall be spreading this article over a few months as I would like to
present the profile of the Archimedes from various different
viewpoints which will be built around the following themes ...
2. Initial Problems
3. The Novice Enthusiast
4. The Avid Games Player
5. The General Enthusiast
6. Word Processing
7. The hardend programmer
In every one of the above articles I shall assume that you already own
a BBC Model B or Master computer. No doubt it has crossed your mind
on at least one occassion whether you should upgrade to an Arc, and if
it wasn't for the Bank Balance, a lot of you would have done by now.
Are we sitting comfortably? ....
I will be basing my opinions and comments largely around the A3000
computer as this is the cheapest and most "model B" like of all
archimedes computers. So what do you get for #599 plus VAT? Well,
not a lot really - you get the computer (of course) with a built in
3.5" floppy disc drive and that is about it. There is no reason why
you shouldn't be able to use much of your existing equipment on an
A3000, but it is always best advice to check with your dealer first.
I purchased an A3000 last December, and my total outlay went something
A3000 Computer inc. VAT (15% in those days) ..... # 688.85
5.25 disc interface (to enable me to use my
model B external drives) ....................... # 40.00
Monitor Plinth (essential unless space is
one of your little luxeries) ................... # 35.00
Mouse (would you beleive - not included) ........ # 35.00
Mouse Mat (ditto above) ......................... # 10.00
2mb RAM upgrade (essential - see later) ......... # 79.00
Acorn RGB Colour Monitor (not multisync) ........ # 199.00
TOTAL ........................................... #1086.85
With the possible exception of the monitor (as you may already own
one) the above items I found quite essential to the setting up of my
basic A3000 kit. Of course the software (games, WP's etc.) were all
extra. Upon reflection I realise now that Acorn's Learning Curve is
certainly good value for money and you would be well advised to part
with the extra 100 quid for this package as indeed I wish I had.
INITIAL PROBLEMS & SOLTIONS
When you have owned and used a BBC Model B for the last 10 years, you
try to anticipate the changes you will have to make when purchasing an
A3000. Peripherals that were luxeries when attached to a model B
become essential godsends when connected to an A3000. To take an
example here, lets look at storage mediums ...
Storage is not a problem on the model B, as it's relatively small 32k
memory is only about an eighth of what could be stored on a single 80T
floppy disc. You can store a good many programs on the one disc and
they all load within about 5 seconds tops.
With an A3000 the roles are reversed. The in-built 800k ADFS disc
drive only represents just over a third of what can be held in a 2mb
A3000 and one is soon pining for a hard disc drive. As a lot of
professional programs and games require 2 discs worth of program to be
loaded in the machine, the time taken for the filing system to read
these discs makes you start likening the disc drive to a cassette
recorder on a beeb. The obvious solution to all of this is a hard
disc drive which, when added to the list above (for a 40mb IDE drive)
brings the grand total to #1486.85. I managed to purchase a hard disc
at the Acorn User Show last month and I have to admit now that I am
wondering how I ever did without it.
A powerful feature of an A3000 is the ability to configure the machine
to taylor suit your software needs. This is a marvellous feature
which puts the archimedes in a class of it's own, but it bites if you
get it wrong .....
Unlike the trusty Model B, which you can just hard reset to restore
normality, the archimedes appears to be infinately configurable, and
can remember a heck of a lot when the power is off. Pressing
CTRL-BREAK will merely restore the machine to the configuration YOU
have set when you last messed around with the configuration commands.
The A3000 has no less than 41 different configuration commands which
can be "permanently" altered to suit your individual needs. Master
owners will understand what I mean as the BBC Master machines have a
limited set of their own configuration commands.
The volatility of an A3000's configuration can cause a lot of problems
for the beginner - especially if you like messing around. There has
been many a person returning his A3000 back to the dealer in the
belief that it is faulty, only to find that he has the configuration
wrapped around his neck. Fortunately there is a way to "factory
reset" the machine which will restore configuration to default
The most noticable change though must be the introduction of the
Desktop WIMP environment on all archimedes machines. Through the
desktop all things seem to happen. All file handling is performed
though the desktop with the aid of a mouse together with the vast
majority of "Risc OS compliant" programs (ie. programs that follow the
desktop's environment programming rules). Using the mouse you can
click, move, drag, open and close your disc files. Most programs also
run from within the desktop environment thus enabling you to have more
than one program running at the same time - called Multi-tasking. To
take an example here, you can have a word processor running in one
"window" and a spreadsheet in another! The whole "desktop" concept is
a very different approach for those used to the 8-bit acorn machines
and can take some getting used to if you have not used a similar
To sum up, I have so far highlighted the initial thoughts and problems
I was immeadiatley faced with when I first unboxed my A3000. It takes
a bit of getting used to and, apart from the red function keys along
the top, it is not at all like any Model B or Master I know and still
love. The manual supplied with the machine is about as reliable as
British Rail and has rarely seen the light if day since the A3000 was
unboxed. Instead I purchased Dabhand's ARCHIMEDES FIRST STEPS which
scores very highly in my personal opinion and is an essential
companion for the novice.
THE NOVICE ENTHUSIAST
This part of my article is concentrated on the 8BS member who can
competently use various software titles on a Model B or Master (having
the necessary knowledge of common BASIC and filing system commands)
but does not possess much technical or programming skills if any. The
following section will concentrate on the A3000 from a computer USER's
point of view ... No programming knowledge necessary.
Setting up the A3000 hardware is essentially straightforward with the
installation guide explaining things in all the necessary detail.
When I purchased my A3000 I did not purchase any software with the
machine so all I had were the two software discs supplied. Once used
the the desktop, the A3000 is suprisingly easy to use - easier in fact
that the Model B and Master Machine.
The whole of the A3000 has a much more professional feel software wise
and you soon find yourself likening the machine to the professional
mini-computers you may use at work. However the construction of the
A3000 leaves a lot to be desired. Although reliability is stressed,
the whole machine has a very cheap construction (especially the
keyboard) and it is plain obvious that Acorn have sacrificed a bit of
the old Model B quality in order to keep the costs down.
File handling, as already mentioned, is usually performed 100% from
the desktop and you soon get the hang of it. There is an "ICON BAR"
along the bottom of the desktop screen onto which programs will
"install themselves" onto and then await call up which is performed by
"clicking" on it's icon with the mouse. You can have several programs
installing themselves on the Icon bar this way and call up each one as
you need it. Many so called "Risc OS Compliant" programs will run
themselves within a "window" from the desktop and Multi-task with
other programs ("Modules") in memory.
However, some programs will take over the machine completely (rather
like running a program on a Model B) and will destroy any installed
programs on the desktop, whereas others will take over the machine,
but will return it to it's "pre-loading" state after completion. It
is a good habit to get into saving any altered work before switching
programs. Beleive it or not, a few games will also multi-task with
the desktop - even the Archimedes Elite to a certain extent.
The software available for the A3000 range is now vast and is growing
all the time. However the prices of this software can and does
regulary exceed #50.00 for a good database/wordprocessing package. A
lot of software will exceed #100.00. Most games retail around the
#20.00 - #30.00 with Elite costing #39.99 approx. Needless to say,
you can be put into a situation whereas you have spent your last penny
on an A3000 only to find you cannot afford the very expensive software
available - which makes the learning curve a definate must when
purchasing an A3000.
Series will continue next month ....