As accurately reported in Issue 55 of CRASH, the PC Show was the first public unveiling of the new Sinclair machine, or series it now seems. More like an Amstrad than a Sinclair? SIMON N GOODWIN gives his own views on this new ‘Sinclair’ machine...
Amstrad heaped more indignity on the Sinclair name at the PC Show, with the launch of the PC 200. The vanguard of the ‘Sinclair Professional series’ this is an IBM-clone with the Sinclair name glued on. The machine seems designed as a cheapish, home version of the IBM PC which Amstrad hope won’t divert attention from its new, equally boring range of up-market super PCs.
In fact the PC 200 is nothing like a Sinclair, except that it’s black and has rattly grey keys. It won’t run Spectrum software or hardware.
This ‘new’ machine poses little threat to Spectrum however, since it uses IBM’s ancient CGA graphics standard, which dates back to the days of the ZX81. Amstrad describe this lowest-common-denominator display as ‘the most popular’ PC configuration. As a result the only games mode gives 200 lines of 320 dots, in four colours from a very limited range. For non-games players there’s a 16-colour text-only mode, and a monochrome 640 x 200 mode which needs a monitor display. Of course the PC is a 16-bit machine, but it wastes this theoretical advantage by using almost two and a half times as much video memory as a Spectrum.
‘It won’t run Spectrum software or hardware’
At the back of the PC 200 a hatch reveals two sockets for IBM PC cards — but if you plug a card in, the hatch won’t close! You end up with circuitry poking out of the top of the machine, exposing the inner workings to fizzy drinks, paper clips, fly’s wings and anything else the non-discerning punter might drop inside (accidently).
While this design is unfortunately British, the machine will actually be manufactured in Korea. It comes equipped with one 3.5" 720k disk drive, and a socket for an external 3.5" or 5.25" drive. Most PC games still use the 5.25" format, although Mastertronic and US Gold have promised to support the machine so 3.5" games should become easier to find with time.
A joystick socket is provided, under the keyboard, but unlike most games computers expects an analogue stick. Sound to accompany any gameplay comes from a built-in beeper, reminiscent of the old Spectrum but with the addition of a volume control, useful for turning it off. There are also serial and parallel ports for printers, modems etc.
‘The new machine poses little threat to the Spectrum’
The processor at the heart of this new Sinclair is the same 8MHz 8086 used in earlier Amstrad PC clones like the 1512 and PPC laptop. It comes with MSDOS Ver3.3 and a mouse to control GEM, the PC version of the ‘graphics environment manager’ built into the ST. GEM comes with utilities like a clock, a calculator and a ‘paint’ package. The bundle also includes four games.
It was soon evident that the machines on display at Earls Court were pre-production prototypes. Some of them had screening panels inside, others had gaffer tape or naked circuit boards. The video electronics were lashed up on a small vertical board, with extra wires running over the back of the circuit and across to the TV modulator.
‘The only games mode gives four colours’Prices for finished machines are surprisingly high — £299 (+VAT, making it just under £350) for the basic model that plugs into your telly, rising to £460 (inc VAT) with a monochrome monitor or £575 (inc VAT) with colour. Despite the ‘Sinclair’ tag, it seems unlikely that the machine is, or will ever be, the natural upgrade for a Spectrum user. PCs, as is, are NOT games computers, and were never designed to be. The question therefore remains open; what, if anything, does Amstrad plan to offer for Spectrum owners looking to upgrade?
Amstrad demonstrated further contempt for the market by bringing their 1984-vintage CPC range back from the dead, bundled up with 17 games. Prices start at £200 for the cassette 464 model, and £300 for the 6128 with one three inch disk drive. An extra £100 buys a colour screen. Still not worth it, though!
No, the Spectrum +3 is not going to be bundled with the new Sinclair PC 200 (although I suspect Amstrad would love to do this), the +3 is to be slightly re-packaged, with six games and the horrid SJS-1 joystick, at last year’s price of £200.
Expect prices to fall, and extra bundles to be announced by major retailers, between now and Christmas.