Submitted By 4WL
My three Amstrad NC100s
In case you haven't heard of these they're small notepad computers similar to
the Cambridge Z88 and Tandy WP-2.
The story starts with me wanting one. I'd read about them and heard good
reports from actual owners of their usefulness. So I thought I'd look out
for one for myself. There were a few key features that made it appealing to
me, more so than the Z88, Tandy and Psion models. For a start it has a
bearable keyboard which is one up on the Z88 and Psion although the Tandy
has a better one. It has a built in wordprocessor with spell check. Not only
that but the wordprocessor is based on Protext which is excellent. The Z88
has a wordprocessor based on View I believe and I'm not sure but I don't
think it has a built in spellcheck. The Tandy wordprocessor I've never used
but I don't think its as sophisticated as the Amstrads. Also the Amstrad has
built in parallel and serial ports whereas the Z88 only has serial, the
Tandy I believe has both. I'm not really mentioning the Psion because really
it's in a different price range altogether. What I needed was a small
portable computer that really could be carried anywhere and typed on and
then connected either directly to a printer or to another computer to store
files. The Amstrad was what I wanted although I admit I can see the point of
Z88 owners when they say they prefer theirs.
The NC100 I believe was originally sold at £199 plus VAT back in 1992/3 the
price today in the high street is £99 plus VAT or the same from Amstrad
Direct. Anyway before I spent that much I decided to place an advert both
locally and nationally (in Micromart) that I was after one. I offered £40
for a complete working model plus postage. This might seem low but I have
seen quite a few advertised at this price and so thought I would start at
this level and perhaps increase it later if no one bites at this price. It
was some weeks later that I received a call from someone in Bournemouth he
offered me three faulty NC100s. After a five minute conversation he
suggested £20 for the lot and I said that I was thinking of £15 and it ended
up as £20 including postage. I took the gamble that I could make one working
one out of three duff machines. It was only a few days after sending the
cheque that they arrived. Normally I find it can take a couple of weeks
buying secondhand goods thru the post so this was certainly impressive. I
might add I bought the Notepads without power supplies or manuals. There was
only one carry case as well between the three machines. An NC100 is made up
of three main sections; the display, the PCB and the keyboard plus of course
a case that holds it all. It's a very simple efficient design. They're made in
Japan and use the latest surface mount type integrated circuits. The sort
of circuits that are great for assembly, reliability and compactness but
difficult to replace or fault find. The NC100s arrived in the following
NC100 #1; Smashed display, dead PCB, working keyboard, good case.
NC100 #2; Excellent display, faulty PCB (giving out garbage to display), good
keyboard, good case.
NC100 #3; faulty display (about two pixel lines missing, which I later
totally ruined trying to fix it), good PCB, duff keyboard (keys seemed to
randomly autorepeat with or without keys being pressed), good case.
They all included lithium batteries which I believe are all ok as they
consistently give out 3v on a multimeter. One included a set of alkaline
batteries of which two were healthy and two were nearing the end of their
So I used the keyboard of #1, display of #2 and PCB of #3. I used the case
of either #2 or #3.
1. I thought all the lithium batteries were duff as the machine kept coming
up with replace lithium battery. However this was not the case it was merely
that the battery contacts needed to be bent forward slightly to increase
their grip on the battery.
2. After assembling my NC100 I later discovered the '5' key was sticking so
I replaced it with another keyboard and stupidly put in the faulty keyboard.
However I removed it and replaced it with the original keyboard with
the sticky '5' key but I loosened the screws of the keyboard slightly. I've
encountered in the past keyboard problems on different computers which was due
to overtightening at time of manufacture and Amstrad being Amstrad this was
3. Although I had batteries I really needed a Mains adaptor for the times I
used it in the home. By luck I had a spare Sanyo Personal Stereo mains
adaptor which I bought a while ago hoping it would be enough to power a
Brother HR5 printer. It was only 50p at a carboot and brand new. It is a
perfect match to the NC100, the right voltage, ampage and polarity.
4. I've got to make up a serial cable but that shouldn't be a problem as the
Amstrad uses a standard 9pin serial connection unlike the Z88.
5. The only thing I'm missing is a manual but I'm hoping to get a photocopy
One handy piece of information if you're going to look at an NC100 secondhand
is that it has built in selftest software. If you hold down the yellow key
and the symbol key as you turn it on it will go thru a series of checks
which will help make sure you get a good one. Plus you can buy it safely
from a Carboot because unlike desktops you can see it all powered up and
check it as long as its got batteries.
I read in Micromart sometime ago that the Lithium battery is quite expensive
to replace in the NC100, no doubt they've been to Tandy or Currys who have
extortionate markups on these types of items. Looking in the current Hills
catalogue they're priced at 80p each plus VAT but you have to buy a minimum of
five. I don't know but I'd imagine Tandy would sell them at between £3 and
For anyone interested in the NC100 here is the spec that I can remember; 80
columns by 8 row display with contrast adjustment, decent or at least usable
keyboard, lithium cell for clock and memory contents while switched off,
Protext wordprocessor with 48,000 spellcheck, diary, address book,
calculator, BBC Basic, selftest, simple comms software, built in serial and
parallel interfaces (PC standard), 64k RAM, speaker built in, Z80A
processor (it's enough for the job), support for all main printer standards;
(Epson 9 and 24pin, Canon, Hewlett Packard plus others), user friendly, pop
up feet at base, takes 4 AA cells for upto 60 hours with Energiser alkaline
batteries (that's sixty hours when you turn it on, the lithium holds memory
contents when you turn it off), takes battery backed PCMCIA memory cards
Why is it better than the Z88?
1. Better keyboard.
2. Twice the memory.
3. Better wordprocessor.
4. Easier to use.
5. Its had more thought put into the built in software.
6. Its got a printer port.
7. It was inspired by the Z88 and came after it so it must be some
improvement on it.
8. The battery life is far greater and the risk of losing information is
much reduced because of the lithium backup (lithium lasts 2-3 years)
9. You get a nice leather type case for it.
How is the Z88 better?
1. Better display.
2. You can't get hairs and stuff inbetween the keys because there are no
3. Cambridge computers is lovable boffin Clive Sinclair whereas Amstrad is
the aggressive cockney with a perm.
4. I bet they're easier to repair.
5. More upgradeable (it needs to be because it starts off with a worse spec)
6. More support (it's had an extra five years of existence).
7. Spreadsheet and Database built in as part of Pipedream.