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Acorn Archimedes A3010

Acorn Archimedes A3010 32 bit ARM RISC OS vintage computer

System Review

Here's a video I recorded about various Acorn computers and ARM chips.


CPU: ARM250 @ 12 MHz
Graphics, Sound & I/O: Built into the CPU.
The ARM250 is basically an ARM3, minus caches, with dedicated gfx, sound, memory and I/O hardware built onboard. Earlier models of A3010 featured an ARM2 with MEMC (memory), VIDC (Video and Sound), IOC (I/O) on a daughter board, as a stopgap until the ARM250 was ready.
Memory: RAM: 1 Meg, upgradeable to 4 Meg. ROM: 1 Meg.
Display: VGA 640x256, SVGA 800x600, up to 1152 x 896. 256 colours from a palette of 4096 in VGA. 16 colours in SVGA
Sound: 8 voice synthesizer.
Software/Storage Media: One 3.5'' 1.6 MB floppy disk-drive.
OS: RISC OS 3.11

Value: £30 - £80.

Archimedes Game Videos



Red Squirrel

Acorn Archimedes Links

Chris's Acorns


Details & History

The Archimedes line of computers, based around the ARM (Acorn RISC Machines) CPU, were the replacement for the popular Acorn BBC Micro series of computers.
First released in 1987 as the A300 and A400 series, and featuring the Arthur operating system (a stopgap OS based on that of the BBC Micro and replaced in later models with various versions of RISC OS), these early models featured a separate body and keyboard design, similar to what became standard in the PC design world.

To maintain support for existing Acorn users who upgraded from BBC Micros, Acorn included a version of the BBC BASIC programming language in the new operating system. This can be accessed by pressing F12, and in the resulting command prompt, typing "basic", (without the ""s) and pressing return.
Furthermore, an official Acorn BBC Micro emulator called !65Host is included on System Utilities Disk 2 of RISC OS 2, (all on just one HD disk for RISC OS 3, as far as I can tell.)

The A3000, built in 1989, was the last Acorn machine to carry the BBC branding (and the first not to carry the Archimedes name), and along with the familiar red function keys so familiar to owners of the BBC Micro, also used the single case design, much like it's 8 bit BBC predecessor.
This single case design was carried over to the smaller and faster A3010 and the very similarly spec'd A3020.

In 1990 Acorn released the A540, which was to be the last machine in the line to officially carry the name Archimedes. Despite this, most users and the media still referred to Acorn machines as Archimedes, as they were of the same line, and largely compatible.

The A3010 & A3020

The A3010 and A3020 are largely similar machines, the minor differences being down to their different target markets.
The A3020 was aimed at the classroom, contained a 2.5" hard drive of up to 80 Megs, 2 Megs of RAM and had a monitor only video output. These originally sold for 799 on release in 1992.

The A3010 on the other hand was aimed at the home. It lacked the hard drive and had only 1 Meg of RAM, but included 2 joystick ports and a built in TV modulator, making it much more suitable for playing games. These originally sold for 499 in 1992.

Like all Archimedes models, the operating system is stored in ROM, so the lack of a hard drive in the A3010 is not as big a disadvantage as on other computers.

The most obvious visual difference between the two systems is that the A3020 has the familiar red function keys, while the A3010's function keys are green.

Both machines are based on the ARM250 CPU, which is basically an ARM3, minus caches, with graphics, sound, memory management and I/O hardware all built onto the same chip.
While this resulted in a chip with less overall CPU processing power than the ARM3, it resulted in a very versatile and cost effective chip.

Running at 12MHz, the ARM250 achieved about 7MIPs, which was a very impressive performance compared to the 2.5 MIPs of the 14MHz 68EC020 in the Amiga 1200.

Some early models of A3010 however, do not contain the ARM250, as it was not yet ready, so as a stopgap they were fitted with a daughter board housing an ARM2 and separate graphics, sound, memory management and I/O chips.

The Competition

The A3010 was released to market at around the same time as the Amiga 1200, the Atari Falcon and the 486 PC, with it's main competitor probably being the Amiga.

While the Amiga had superior graphics hardware, being able to display more colours, and featuring both hardware sprite handling from the Blitter chip and beatifully graduated colour backgrounds from the Copper, the A3010's superior CPU power enabled it to compete on fairly equal terms, and when it came to 3D based games, gave the Amiga a pretty solid pasting.

Sadly this wasn't enough to keep the Archie competitive. It suffered from a lack of big name software support, though there were some very nice multi-platform releases available for it.
This coupled with a high price and it's prevalence in the education sector leading to an image that wasn't really "cool" enough for your typical gamer, the A3010 never achieved the sales its performance suggested it deserved.

Later Machines

The A4000 is the last Acorn machine that could be considered an Archimedes, and was followed by such machines as the A7000, which was the entry level model for the RISC PC line of computers. These were significantly more powerful, with faster CPUs and more advanced graphics hardware, but as they became more advanced, compatibility with older software suffered, and with the advent of StrongARM powered machines, compatibility was largely broken.

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