Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

30 Years of the BBC Micro

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the still-living-in-the-basement-probably dept.

Education 208

Alioth writes "The BBC has an article on the BBC Microcomputer, designed and manufactured by Acorn Computers for the BBC's Computer Literacy project. It is now 30 years since the first BBC Micro came out — a machine with a 2 MHz 6502 — remarkably fast for its day; the Commodore machines at the time only ran at 1MHz. While most U.S. readers will never have heard of the BBC Micro, the BBC's Computer Literacy project has had a huge impact worldwide since the ARM (originally meaning 'Acorn Risc Machine') was designed for the follow-on version of the BBC Micro, the Archimedes, also sold under the BBC Microcomputer label by Acorn. The original ARM CPU was specified in just over 800 lines of BBC BASIC. The ARM CPU now outsells all other CPU architectures put together. The BBC Micro has arguably been the most influential 8 bit computer the world had thanks to its success creating the seed for the ARM, even if the 'Beeb' was not well known outside of the UK."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

jaded (4, Insightful)

masternerdguy (2468142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225350)

People used to get excited when a CPU clock was measured in MEGAHERTZ! Now we're jaded...

Re:jaded (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225400)

Ha, people used to get excited when the total memory of a home computer was measured in kilobytes. ^_^
Commodore Vic 20 : 3583 Bytes free for programming.
Definitely another era.

Re:jaded (3, Informative)

broomer (209132) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225560)

I can do better...

Sinclair ZX 81 with 1KB total memory.
I do not recall how many bytes were free for programming, but 30 lines of BASIC was about the biggest before going out of memory.

Re:jaded (3, Funny)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225688)

Ha! Loserboy nerd, try to program on the MITS Altair 8800! No fancy keyboard or VDUs, real jocks enter their programs by throwing switches and read the output on blinking lights!

Re:jaded (4, Informative)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225754)

I do not recall how many bytes were free for programming

It varied...

The screen display came out of the 1K of RAM but it only used as much RAM as was needed. There was a special 'end of line' character to mark the end of each screen line. A blank line only needed one byte (the end of line char). A line with 'Hello, world!' on it would need 14 bytes. A screenfull of text needed 768 bytes.

Many programs went to extremes to save RAM. There was a 1K chess program which displayed the moves as five chars at top of the screen, eg. 'E2E4+'. You had to use a real chess board to follow the game.

Re:jaded (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225410)

But there were far more megahertz than we'll get in gigahertz! You'll never get a 150GHz machine...

Re:jaded (3, Funny)

joshuac (53492) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225516)

But there were far more megahertz than we'll get in gigahertz! You'll never get a 150GHz machine...

I'm with you totally...that's like well more than an order of magnitude faster than what we commonly have now, it would take huge advancements in technology to get there...heck, that would make the totally advanced and awesomely powerful computers we have these days feel like pocket calculators. Never'll happen ;)

Re:jaded (3, Insightful)

Miamicanes (730264) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226340)

Which means we go back to the same strategies we did in the 80s and early 90s -- coprocessors. Or, put another way, multiple cores, stacked GPUs, DMA, hardware DSPs. And (gasp), the Second Coming of CISC.

At the end of the day, RISC was a way to get cheaper megahertz (and later, gigahertz). Now that we've largely maxed out clock speed to the point where it's almost counterproductive, CISC is just about the only place we have left to go. Instead of wasting 50 cycles loading values into registers. operating on those registers, evaluating the outcome, and branching based upon it, you can have complex variable-length opcodes that use billions of transistors and have sinful amounts of silicon dedicated to niche operations that would have been absurd to even contemplate 25 years ago with far fewer clock cycles.

There's a reason why a 16MHz 68000 can still run circles around a 100MHz ARM, and why a 1GHz Pentium-M beats a 1GHz Atom or Arm to a bloody pulp -- the CISC chips get more done behind the scenes with every public clock cycle. The fact that behind the curtain, they're secretly executing chains of RISC instructions with private, semi-asynchronous clocks as fast as they can & just presenting the public facade of a CISC architecture responding to a system-wide clock is a quibble. The point is that every time the public system clock ticks, they're getting WAY more done than a conventional RISC architecture could ever fantasize about. In effect, a modern AMD64 (or Core2) CPU is like a container full of virtual, disposable/pooled RISC processors that get instantiated to execute a single public opcode while privately dancing to the beat of their own drummer.

Re:jaded (4, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225448)

People used to get excited when a CPU clock was measured in MEGAHERTZ! Now we're jaded...

The fucking things did not run a GUI that emulated transparent glass. They could process video or images that we use today etc. People use to get excited about ASCII art and how clever that was. Today you can see pictures Hubble has taken in intricate detail, and instead of playing ASCII strip poker people are viewing HD porn instantly.

When home computers were new anything they could do was a marvel. Now we've seen what more processing power can do. We have a lot of bloat. We also have a lot of functionality that is taken for granted. You have to remember that international direct dialing was considered a wonder when the BBC microcomputer was introduced. ("What, you mean no operator connects you!?")

Speaking of apple (1, Insightful)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225990)

In the late 1980s Apple Computer and VLSI Technology started working with Acorn on the second generation of the ARM core. So once again Apple is there. It's getting like the black obelisk on 2001. Pick anything and apple may not have invented it but they did shape what it became.

Re:Speaking of apple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38226344)

Yeah, it all sounds so cool if you just forget to mention that DEC and [b]Intel[/b] etc. did also their thing...

Apple, DEC, Intel, Marvell: ARM6, StrongARM, XScale []

Re:jaded (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226264)

I really think that's the issue when people talk about computers of yore, its not that we now have 3.8Gh quad-core chips with megabytes of RAM as cache that appear to perform the tasks we set them with less user responsiveness than the old computers, I think its because in the old days, you got the chance to be clever to make it work. Today's computers are built up with layer after layer of bloat that is designed to make it easier to code, but really makes the overall experience for the end user less than optimal. (and many would say, not as easy to code as you'd expect anyway, just reducing the need to actually sit down and learn how the things work).

Though maybe we just want more responsive computers and don't care too much about the glass effect titlebar that I don't even notice anymore.

Nobody wants a GUI that emulates glass (2)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226458)

Ones the eye candy novelty factor has worn off which takes, ooh , 3 minutes , no one cares one way or the other. All it does is waste energy by forcing the GPU to do pointless calculations. You couldn't have picked a worse example to explain why computers are better today.

Re:jaded (5, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225476)

Not to worry! Thanks to the power of javascript and web2.0, you can again await the day when we'll be able to push a 6502 into the realm of the megahertz! []

(Please note, above linked project is actually pretty fucking cool: "In the summer of 2009, working from a single 6502, we exposed the silicon die, photographed its surface at high resolution and also photographed its substrate. Using these two highly detailed aligned photographs, we created vector polygon models of each of the chip's physical components - about 20,000 of them in total for the 6502. These components form circuits in a few simple ways according to how they contact each other, so by intersecting our polygons, we were able to create a complete digital model and transistor-level simulation of the chip.

This model is very accurate and can run classic 6502 programs, including Atari games. By rendering our polygons with colors corresponding to their 'high' or 'low' logic state, we can show, visually, exactly how the chip operates: how it reads data and instructions from memory, how its registers and internal busses operate, and how toggling a single input pin (the 'clock') on and off drives the entire chip to step through a program and get things done."

It is, however, the case that this might not be the fastest way to execute 6502 instructions...)

Re:jaded (2)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225576)

Shut. Your. Ass. I'd read about proper, component-level emulation, but I had no idea people had actually done it on anything more sophisticated then a calculator. Incredible.

Re:jaded (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225974)

Wow. Maybe someday we'll be able to completely simulate an Apple III, including dropping it on the desktop to reseat the chips when they overheat.

Re:jaded (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226020)

With the availability of GPS and/or accelerometers, and their exposure to the browser, on a number of contemporary platforms, I don't see why not...

Re:jaded (1)

pz (113803) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226146)

Thanks to the power of javascript and web2.0, you can again await the day when we'll be able to push a 6502 into the realm of the megahertz! []

That is one of the coolest projects I have ever seen! I wish we had had something like that when I was taking intro to digital design.

Even nicer 6502 simulation: (1)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226244)

By rendering our polygons with colors corresponding to their 'high' or 'low' logic state, we can show, visually, exactly how the chip operates: how it reads data and instructions from memory, how its registers and internal busses operate, and how toggling a single input pin (the 'clock') on and off drives the entire chip to step through a program and get things done.

Wonderful and amazing stuff... but what would be even more wonderful & amazing: visually show how the effect of signal changes propagates through the chips' logic, as a function of time.

That is: not do 1 step, see colors update to reflect new state, repeat quickly to simulate running cpu. But rather: flip input signals, watch how some transistors respond first, then some internal bus(ses?) follow, then how registers are updated, and some outputs change as result of changed internal state. I'd expect that would create organic-like patterns flashing across the chip's surface, showing where 'early responders' are located, etc.

Re:jaded (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225798)

For the biggest geekfest ever, get the BBC series which accompanied the launch of the BBC micro. Truly brilliant! []

Re:jaded (2)

91degrees (207121) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225898)

The BBC also did a nice dramatisation of the early days os home computers called Micro Men [] (apologies - no torrent link but I'm sure someone else will find one).

People used to get excited when they'd HAVE a cpu (1)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225946)

Fact is the man in the street didn't have a computer in his home (not a single one, regardless what type), perhaps not even heard about it or understanding what it is.

And suddenly there were these affordable machines that you could buy, discover how they work, program, play games on, plan your finances with, etc, etc. That novelty aspect was way bigger attraction than just MHz's or graphical / sound capabilities (if any!).

Remember this was a time the first single-chip microprocessor (Intel 4004) was hardly a decade old, and the internet was just a military/academic network that no-one in the street had ever heard of.

Of course once the homecomputer market was created, it became a matter of "mine is bigger than yours" & picking one system over the other because it had nicer/more games.

Re:People used to get excited when they'd HAVE a c (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226064)

The BBC was expensive. It cost £400, back in the early '80s. It was an amazingly powerful machine in comparison to most home computers, but also much more expensive, so even the man on the street who did have a computer didn't usually have a BBC. The government gave schools extra funding to buy machines that had a certain feature list, and the BBC was about the only machine that qualified when this was launched, which accounted for a lot of the sales.

The BBC came with (for the time) high resolution vector graphics, a teletext display mode, easy to use analogue input and digital I/O, a BASIC dialect with full support for structured programming, a built-in assembler, and even things like a coprocessor port. In comparison with other 8-bit systems, it really was impressive.

6502 assembly (4, Informative)

leastsquares (39359) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225374)

Programming with 6502 assembly... all of us cool kids were doing that back in those days.

Re:6502 assembly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225528)

Yup. Well actually I had an Acorn Electron, which was the slower and less capable version. But I started 6502 with an Acorn Atom. This was the first home PC Acorn produced (a relative worked for them). 6K of RAM!

A9 load immediate (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225572)

Er no, we use to hand write machine code. A9 loaded the accumulate immediately with the value... which is 169 in decimal, since some of us had to enter the machine code in decimal.

Funny isn't it?

I'm using a phone where I'm rendering a 3d world just to set the time zones, yet it was in my lifetime that these computers began.

Re:A9 load immediate (2)

maroberts (15852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225642)

I wrote a 6502 disassembler/monitor thus removing the need for such shenanigans.

Re:A9 load immediate (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225838)

That's because processing information takes very little energy. 747s also began in your lifetime, but they still fly at the same speed, the same altitude, using the same engines made of the same materials burning the same fuels. That won't change, and that's why I mock Space Nutters who think planets are just a hop and a skip away and hospitable. No, and no. Forever. Period.

Re:A9 load immediate (1)

KenSeymour (81018) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225970)

I used hand assembled machine code on my Apple ][ Plus until a magazine published an in place assembler in Basic for the Commodore.
I typed it in, modified the addresses, and stored it to cassette tape. I then implemented "life" cellular automata and went door to door until someone hired me.
At that job, I met Lance Leventhal, author of my 6502 Assembly Language Programming. I still have the book.

If I wanted to go back, I would burn a soft-core 6502 into an FPGA and run code on it. I had more time to do those things
when I was 17.

Re:A9 load immediate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225972)

One of my first useful programs was written in 6502ML on an Apple IIe - an image processing thing with about 8 functions. I used it it my independent study in Computer Art - ca. 1982.

Wasn't the Amiga loosely based on the Archimedes?

Re:A9 load immediate (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226012)

Didn't the BBC BASIC include an assembler? I'm sure I could just type assembler without loading any additional software apart from a small BASIC wrapper.

Re:A9 load immediate (1)

ais523 (1172701) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226174)

Indeed, you just had to write your ASM inside square brackets as if it were a BASIC program, and it was assembled into memory. (But the [ and ] rendered as arrows in the default text-only graphics mode.)

And still going strong (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225404)

The most remarkable thing about the BBC is that they're still going running production code.

I had the good fortune of working with (or rather, near) one of these systems a few years ago. When I asked why they hadn't upgraded the machine in nearly 3 decades the head of the system simply responded; "It still works."

Re:And still going strong (4, Interesting)

ledow (319597) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225682)

Ah, someone with brains. If it still works, why would you change it (concerns about suitable replacement being timely aside as that's a separate issue).

BBC's were great for all sorts of things. Working in school IT departments I often find them, and sometimes I find "old" staff there who tell me how they used them for EEPROM reading/programming, and other interfacing that today's school machines hardly do any more with specialist adaptors.

They even ran the Teletext service in the UK (they actually have a "Teletext" video mode on them) and all sorts. It was a programmable, extendable computer that did what was necessary and no more.

Oh for those days again. Here's hoping that Raspberry Pi thing takes off.

Re:And still going strong (1)

DaveGod (703167) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225932)

Probably still 20 sitting in my old highschool with pupils having to code in COMAL.

My first computer experience (4, Interesting)

aclarke (307017) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225416)

The first computer I ever used was a BBC Micro. It was around 1986 in a small private boarding school in the middle of the bush in Zambia. We were over an hour's drive from the nearest telephone. The school got one or two of these computers just before I left, and somehow they got me hooked on computers.

The only command I still remember was that you had to type "CHAIN" to run something. I've been curiours about that command ever since, but a quick Google search leads me to believe that it "chained" the LOAD and RUN commands together.

Re:My first computer experience (1)

prettything (965473) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225464)

the micro was my introduction to basic: my first "hello world" soon followed by my first hack [on a zx spectrum]: manic miner: unlimited lives :) yay!

Re:My first computer experience (1)

BeardedChimp (1416531) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225478)

It was also the first computer I ever used. It was 1991, I was 5 years old and was absolutely amazed by Podd [] . Podd can pop was my favourite.

Re:My first computer experience (2)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225518)

There was a shortcut (control shift escape? Something like that - a few keys all on the left side of the keyboard) that would launch the first program on the disk or tape (depending on which was connected). You only needed to use chain for disks containing multiple programs.

Re:My first computer experience (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225588)



Re:My first computer experience (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225984)

Ah, thank you. I realised after I'd posted that the user manual was about 1.5m away from me, but I was too lazy to look it up.

Re:My first computer experience (2)

adri (173121) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225788)

"CHAIN" in BASIC dialects tended to be a "merge in the code into the running state." Ie, it wouldn't delete the current variable set.

It's how you got around RAM limitations - you broke your code up into separate source files, and just "swapped" in bits of BASIC code as you needed them.

Then there's "CHAIN MERGE" (at least on the Amstrad CPC), which merges in code into running state -and- code. So you could say reserve lines 10000-65500 for "chained" code, and just do this:

100 CHAIN MERGE "sub.bas", 10000, DELETE 10000-65000 .. which IIRC would do this.

Re:My first computer experience (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225940)

The BBC Micro let you put the BASIC code anywhere in RAM to execute it.

Hell yeah BBC Micro (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225434)

I remember using that in a physics class to watch a satellite in geosync orbit! It had edges and everything!

To a bigger, better and even brighter future for ARM.

Re:Hell yeah BBC Micro (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225618)

My chemistry teacher had a BBC Micro sitting in the corner of the lab. I never saw it used, until near the end of the final term when I was 18 (2004). He ran a simulation of the electron cloud round a hydrogen atom, and admitted that he only used the machine once per year for this purpose.

My dad was a school IT teacher in the 1990s and early 2000s, so there were always lots of Acorn machines for me to play on. BBC Micros were old by then, but I remember an Archimedes A310 (A320?) which was borrowed from school -- it was too expensive to buy. Later, my parents bought an A3000, then an A4000. Unusually, my dad came to IT from the design/art side, rather than business/science. That meant the stuff he borrowed from school over the holidays (to learn) was much more interesting. We digitised some home videos using an A5000, must have been about 1992-3.

I tried to learn as much as I could, but there really wasn't anyone who could teach me, and not even anyone who knew where to start. It's a shame we didn't get Internet access until about 1996 (by then on a PC).

my first programming cpu! (2)

babai101 (1964448) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225446)

Back in 1998 when I was in the 5th standard my school provided us some very old bbc micros to learn basic. It was small (no separate cpu cabinet ) and was efficient for all that it could do.

How times have changed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225452)

You could just do all that in the cloud now.

Oh the fun we had... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225468)

Still remember the day we 'replaced' (in software) the BBC BASIC with a Welsh language version on all the machines in the school lab... And the things we could do with Econet, which really wasn't the most secure networking scheme in the world.

Memories (1)

Spad (470073) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225474)

I still have fond memories of spending my school days playing Granny's Garden on the BBC Micro; that game was bloody hard when you were 8.

Re:Memories (1)

pbhj (607776) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225686)

Did you have "An L Adventure" too?

Do you remember using Yeknod to knock a wall down ...

Re:Memories (1)

jregel (39009) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226236)

"L" was the game that first got me hooked with computers. I played that game through to completion on one of our school's BBC micros, even though it involved doing so during break times, lunch and after school. I was very fortunate to have a maths teacher that was really into the BBC and knew what could be done with computers. We had an Econet network, fileserver and a computer room that we could spend our breaks in.

The OS and built in BASIC in the BBC are extremely elegant: functions, procedures, a VDU driver that treated the screen as 1280x1024 logical units, so graphics plotting worked, regardless of the physical screen resolution, multiple filesystems, support for additional languages, the ability to peek and poke from with BASIC as well as the amazing built-in assembler. The hardware could be upgraded beyond anything the other 8bit micros of the day could due to a huge number of I/O ports. I remember being very confused when I got my first PC and QBASIC was the only bundled language. It all felt so primitive compared with the elegance of Acorn's 8bit range.

I've still got a mint condition BBC Master with an internal second processor (offload the program to the co-pro and use the base machine for I/O duties only). Very tempted to add a Retroclinic Datacentre so I can plug in USB sticks and run software from there.

The BBC micro, in the hands of a good teacher, was a machine that shaped lives. I'm in IT because my maths teacher "got it" and passed on his enthusiasm.

Re:Memories (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225962)

The BBC easily had the best versions of early 80's arcade games - Defender, Asteroids, Scramble, Pacman. Nothing on any other machine could touch them.

Remarkably fast my ass (1)

johnmat (650076) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225494)

2 MHz was not all that remarkably fast for its today - the competing ZX Spectrum ran at 3.5 MHz. Although to be fair the 6502 does more per cycle than the Z80.

Re:Remarkably fast my ass (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225538)

Yes, but the Z80 could use 16-bit data words. 16-bit multiply to give a 32-bit product was a hell of a faffy job on the 6502.

Re:Remarkably fast my ass (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225708)

Multiplication is done largely the same on Z80 and 6502. You need additions and perhaps table lookups. The length of the product can be abstracted out in a loop if you want a generic multiprecision multiplication. If your multiplication is long enough, you will save cycles by using FFT that uses many shorter multiplies that take less time than a naive long one. The only major difference is that Z80 has 16 bit add/subtract. That's what you nebulously refer to by saying "Z80 could use 16 bit data words". Well, on a 6502, 16 bit addition is a whooping two instructions instead of one, so I don't see the problem, really.

Zilog's newer offerings are better here: eZ8 (an upgrade to Z8) offers 8x8->16 unsigned multiply, and ZNEO offers 32x32->64 multiply.

Re:Remarkably fast my ass (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225796)

Well, on a 6502, 16 bit addition is a whooping two instructions instead of one, so I don't see the problem, really.

Ah, but it's not as simple as that. You've got to fetch four bytes separately from memory, which takes longer than two word fetches.

The clock speed doesn't tell the whole story, though, because the 6502 used a split-phase clock. So, a single machine cycle takes two clock states - the fetch occurs on the leading phase and the execute on the lagging phase. Theoretically a 2MHz 6502 is rattling through instructions at roughly the same rate as a 4MHz Z80.

Re:Remarkably fast my ass (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38226104)

6502 zero page accesses were fast - done in 2 cycles.

Also here I believe is how to do a 16-bit add, adding a 16-bit value in memory location V1 to a 16-bit value in memory location V2, and storing the result in memory location V3. Seven instructions, including the required "CLC".
CLC ;clear carry
LDA V2 ;same thing with high bytes

The BASIC interpreter was well written (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225606)

So even though the CPU was underpowered by the mid 80s the programs written in Basic could still blitz a lot of other faster machines Basic programs. Also it had procedures which most (all?) other home computer basics lacked. Mind you, Amstrad Basic had high level interrupts which allowed a sort of early threading along the lines of


or something like that.

That was seriously cool.

Re:Remarkably fast my ass (5, Informative)

Alioth (221270) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225748)

The BBC Micro at 2MHz was considerably faster than the Spectrum at 3.5MHz. The Z80 is a CPU that I like (I still write Z80 assembler, indeed I'm much more proficient at Z80 than 6502 and I've designed and made an ethernet card for the ZX Spectrum fairly recently as a fun retro project). However, we have to consider this. The fastest 6502 instruction executes in 2 T-states, most execute in 3 T-states, and the slowest take 7 T-states. The fastest Z80 instruction takes 4 T-states and the slowest over 20 T-states. The 6502 therefore has better interrupt latency (that monster 23 T-state index register instruction on the Z80 can't be interrupted).

The other thing the 6502 has going for it is the very fast zero page instructions, which are tantamount to giving you 256 extra registers.

The competing ZX Spectrum also had contended memory. Thanks to the 6502's predictable memory cycle when compared to the Z80, the BBC Micro designers could interleave screen memory access with CPU access, so no memory is contended. The Spectrum has to pause the processor while the ULA accesses the screen memory, meaning anything in the lower 16K of RAM takes a noticable performance penalty (and you can't use the lowest 16K for anything timing critical that must run while the ULA is reading the frame buffer).

Don't get me wrong, I love the Speccy, it's probably my favorite 8 bit (and I own several!) - it did an awful lot for very little money, it was immense value for money - but the BBC Micro was at the time had excellent performance.

Re:Remarkably fast my ass (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226028)

The BBC Micro at 2MHz was considerably faster than the Spectrum at 3.5MHz.

True, but it had far more screen RAM to update so it mostly evened out for games. The Beeb had slightly fancier graphics hardware though (eg. hardware screen scroll) and if you could leverage that you could do things that the Spectrum had no hope of doing.

30 years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225514)

30 years ago, I had an Apple ][ + _ That was my 3rd computer
The first was a TRS80 in 79

Boring... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225534)

Hey guys let's have a nerdy wankfest or some shitty old computer! FUCK YEAH!!!!! *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank*

Re:Boring... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225544)

OMG! I can't stop stroking my dick over the fact that I used to program in BASIC and 6502 assembly!!! *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank*

Re:Boring... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225552)

Hey guys did you also know that I used to do nerdy shit on the BBC micro and that it was my first computer? *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank* *wank*

I learned on one (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225546)

Aged 7, my school had three BBC Model Bs and one BBC Master. The head teacher gave us one half-hour lesson each week on whatever he felt like teaching at the time. Sometimes it was classics, for a few weeks it was programming. He taught us BASIC and Logo on a BBC B connected to a big TV. In break times and after school, we could reserve one of the machines to use, if we were the first to request it. I spent a lot of time ages 7 to 11 writing little programs on them. At home I got an 8086 PC and learned PL/M86 and C.

Elite! Ahh happy days (5, Interesting)

Ivecowarrior (1082429) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225548)

Changing the screen mode 3/4 of the way down each screen refresh. Programming while counting every clock cycle - fantastic. I still wonder where all the resources are wasted in current software. I still say FRAK! when the need arises. Nobody knows what I'm talking about :(

Re:Elite! Ahh happy days (1)

alanw (1822) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226306)

I still say FRAK! when the need arises. Nobody knows what I'm talking about :(

I know. I can even hum the tune. No yo-yo, though.

First computer I ever trashed. (4, Funny)

Gumbercules!! (1158841) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225550)

We used to have a room full of them at school and we soon discovered if you rubbed your feet on the carpet and then pushed your locker key in between the keys to the exposed circuit board... they stopped working.

The irony is I later in life wound up maintaining student labs for a university and had to put up with "dickheads" like I forgot I used to be...

Re:First computer I ever trashed. (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225658)

Hey , don't feel bad , we all did something similar :)

I remember in electronics classes being told the TTL chips could only handle 5 volts. And they gave us power supplies which went up to 25V. I mean seriously, what did they EXPECT a bunch of teenagers would do?? "Hey, nice bang, cool smoke effects! Lets try a some capacitors now!"

Re:First computer I ever trashed. (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225738)

Karma is a bitch ;) Alas, I think many of us can relate :)

Acorn Atom (1)

trevc (1471197) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225566)

My first computer was an Acorn Atom - the forerunner to the BBC Micro. I still have some books I purchased then on 6502 Assembly language. Reminds me how old I am.....

Re:Acorn Atom (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226078)

my first computer was an Acorn Atom.. in fact I still have it in a box on my wardrobe.. I might just see if it works.

Crazy thing about it was that my dad built it for me, not like todayÃs computers where 'building a rig' means slotting cards into slots on a PCB. Dad soldered the chips and other electronics into place directly on the PCB.

It had a whole 1 Mb of RAM. Happy days!

oh yes, get off my lawn.

A lot of us Americans did play Elite, though (5, Informative)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225580)

Elite [] , developed for the BBC Micro and published by the same company that made the Micro, did get a lot of attention here in the U.S. (it was ported to all the major platforms). It was one of the first big universe sandbox games, and modern games like EvE Online are still influenced by it.

Re:A lot of us Americans did play Elite, though (3, Interesting)

tudsworth (1919278) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225726)

And there's now an Open Source remake/re-imagining, OOlite. I'd post a link, but I'm at work and I'm sure you can all use your search engine or package manager of choice to obtain it.

Re:A lot of us Americans did play Elite, though (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225982)

Your package manager of choice will probably install OOlite version 1.65 (which is several years old). You'll want version 1.75 [] - even if 1.75 is in "beta", but the beta is more stable than the "stable" release. Also check out the OOlite expansion packs [] .

Comparison to Apple][, Atari 800, C64? (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225584)

Can anyone familiar with the BBC Micro give a comparison to the contemporary 6502 computers from the States?

Was the Beeb available before the Apple ][ ? Was it more or less expensive in the UK?

I get the feeling that the BBC Micro enjoyed a kind of tax protected status, the way American made pickup trucks do in the US.

Re:Comparison to Apple][, Atari 800, C64? (2)

robthebloke (1308483) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225652)

A slightly more informative article [] .

Re:Comparison to Apple][, Atari 800, C64? (2)

benbean (8595) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226184)

It was roughly contemporary to the Commodore 64 and Atari 800/800XL micros. More expensive than both of those, but cheaper than an Apple II, which were very expensive in the UK. The Apple II predated it by about 4 years if I recall. My impression at the time was that the Sinclair ZX Spectrum (Timex Sinclair in the US) was far more popular in the UK, along with the C64. The BBC was common in schools, but less common at home, mostly due to a dearth of games and pricing. A cheaper version, Electron, was released later to combat this, but too late.

Britain rocks (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225590)

Just that. Britain rocks! Full stop.
Britain as in GREAT Britain.

Re:Britain rocks (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225674)

And yet you lost your empire by losing to curry niggers, sand niggers, and just plain old niggers.

Re:Britain rocks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38226498)

Yeah, let's just overlook the American CPU powering the thing...

Archimedes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225608)

I bought an Archimedes 305 of the first batch in 1987. It came with an ARM2 which ran 4MHz when reading ROM and 8MHz when reading/writing RAM. It had 512Kb of RAM memory, which seemed like a lot to me (my previous computer had 48Kb), but after 2 weeks I already upgraded to 1Mb because the 512Kb was unworkable. I later upgraded to 4 megs, which involved desoldering the original RAM chips. I also bought the PC/8086 emulator (PDF [] ), which could run MS/DOS software at PC/XT speed (in the PC/AT era). I used the emulator to compile Modula2 programs and when I had to open a WordPerfect 5.1 file. In those days, ARM was running circles around Intel.

Re:Archimedes (1)

drunkahol (143049) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225766)

My mate had one of those Archimedes - red function keys if I remember?

I still had an Acorn Electron - but I had the Plus-3 disk drive and Plus-1 cartridge interface. Rendering the initial Mandelbrot set took me 8.5 hours. His machine then managed it in 15 seconds. Man was I gutted.

BBC (-1)

harris s newman (714436) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225624)

I believe that is a clone of the Ohio Scientific C1P...

Re:BBC (2)

Alioth (221270) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225834)

No, it's not at all related to the Ohio Scientific. The only thing they have in common is they are both 6502-based.

Re:BBC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38226210)

What? On the basis that it's old and built round the 6502?

I remember these from my primary school (2)

iB1 (837987) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225672)

I remember we had three of these on trollies in my primary school - two had colour monitors, and one had a black and white monitor. Somehow I managed to network/schmooze/brown nose my way into becoming a "computer mover" when I was in the 5th year with two of my friends. We were tasked with moving the computers first thing on a Monday morning into a new classroom, who would then have it for a week. We'd plug it in, turn it on and load up the correct disk that the teacher wanted to use. I think that's where my love of computers came from right there. They were really good computers for their time. I gather that they were expensive, which is why they didn't find their way into many homes. However, a generation of British children did indeed grow up using them.

Elite on the BBC Micro (4, Interesting)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225808)

What Braben and Bell did to get this running on the BBC makes for pretty interesting reading. []

Re:Elite on the BBC Micro (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38226126)

Meh.. I don't know that I'd call it a technical innovation per se; Carol Shaw did something similar on River Raid [] for the Atari 2600.

Re:Elite on the BBC Micro (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38226294)

No. The only similarity between River Raid and Elite is that the world was generated procedurally from a seed.

But Elite had other innovations: it was 3D wire-frame (River Raid was 2D sprites) and it used 2 different screen modes (monochrome hi-res for the spaceships on top and color low-res for the radar at the bottom) at the same time.

A BBC Micro Emulator for Android... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38225876)

... in case anyone's interested in such a thing.

It's called Beebdroid, and you can get it at

Citadel (3, Interesting)

Tapewolf (1639955) | more than 2 years ago | (#38225988)

Aside from Elite, one of the classic games for the BBC was Citadel. I'm still amazed how it managed to fit about 100 screens worth of platform adventure game into 12k of memory without touching the disk after it had loaded. IIRC it ran in mode 2 - which took 20k out of the available 32k memory. I think they only used part of the screen and used the rest for storage with some weird trick to make it invisible. The Electron version (see link) couldn't do the hiding trick somehow.

The BBC version also spoke to you when the menu program loaded up, and to this day I think of it as "Seeta-toddle", which gives you some idea of the audio quality.

For those who are curious, there is a wikipedia entry here: Citadel (video game) [] .

Re:Citadel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38226372)

The Electron saved £200 on the retail price of the BBC-B by having a single large (for the 80s) gate array chip handling the screen etc. The BBC-B had a dedicated 6845 CRTC (cathode ray tube controller) chip which meant it could do hardware accelerated sideways scrolling etc. The palette-blanking trick would have worked on the Electron, but the timings were hard to deal with as the "high resolution" modes the gate array would stall the processor for up to 40us out of every 64us to read the video memory...

Citadel also had speech synthesis on the BBC.

Sigh. The Electron WAS £200 cheaper though. Fond memories...

Early lessons in how not to hack.. (1)

dotbot (2030980) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226144)

In about 92, a couple of friends at school wrote a BASIC program to fake the login screens on the BBCs to grab the login details. I had a copy because I was curious how it all worked. Still got busted. A year later everything went Mac.

Commodore -- no, not even quite. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38226156)

The Vic-20 ran at 1 MHz, but the C=64 actually ran at 800 KHz; I no longer remember why (one of the on-board chips, maybe?), but it had to be stepped down. So, yes, the chip was 1 MHz, but the reality was 20% less.

I've still got mine ... (1)

Grindalf (1089511) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226304)

This was the third computer that I learned to program (others were the 380z and ZX Spectrum), both the 6502 assembler and included B.A.S.I.C. went like a rocket on this “Micro.”

Owner of three ARM computers here! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38226362)

When I was young, my Mum used get these at home as she was a primary school teacher. We first had a BBC micro, which I used to play a game where I was the town mayor and had to make various budget decisions. We also had logo, and a turtle, and I used to have great fun programming it to draw patterns on the carpet. Then we upgraded to an Acorn 3000 running RISC OS, and pretty soon afterwards I remember getting an A7000, which was the daddy, and I used to play Zarch and steal software off my school using a floppy disk.

Difference Engine (2)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#38226432)

I grew up programming advanced Java routines on a difference engine. Your BBC Micro and your ZX81 have nout on me.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?