What's it like today?
The Amstrad PCW-series of computers were introduced as easy to use dedicated word processor machines, bundled with a printer and word processing software (Locoscript). In 1985 the PCW8256 and PCW8512 were launched - the PCW8256 having 256K of RAM and a 12" green-on-black screen, the PCW8512 having 512K of RAM and a 12" black & white screen. They were unique in the market with their integrated design - the main computer board, drives, and screen were all a single unit.
They were sold with a 9-pin dot matrix printer that provided both sheed feed for single sheets and tractor feed for continuous sheets. It could print at 90 cps (characters per second) in draft quality, or 20 cps in near-letter quality, although all 9-pin printers of the era produced nothing like to quality of 24-pin dot matrix printers). Owners could purchase a daisy-wheel printer or a graph plotter from Amstrad if they required better and faster printing.
Both machines used a version of CP/M called CP/M Plus as the base disk operating system, and bundled software written by Locomotive software. This included Mallard BASIC, Locoscript word processor, LocoMail, LocoFile, LocoSpell and Digital Research's LOGO programming language. Also bundled was a graphics program that could produce pie charts and bar graphs.
As with Amstrad's CPC-range of home computers, both PCW units came with built-in 3" disk drives that used CF2 single-sided disks (180K on each side, able to store ~70 pages of text on each side). The PCW8512 got two drives as standard, with the lower one being double-sided and double-density (360K on each side), thus allowing both sides of a disk to be readable without removing and turning it over.
Due to runaway sales success, various expansion options and peripherals became available. A PCW8256 owner could upgrade the RAM to 512K for £50, or add a second internal floppy drive for £100. Available accessories included external 3.5" floppy drives, light pens, mice, graphics tablets, and a serial interface (£50) for connecting a modem or non-Amstrad printer. These accessories typically plugged into the expansion slot at the back of the monitor.
In 1987, the PCW9512 (see top) was introduced for £499+VAT and came bundled with the better quality and faster daisywheel printer, a single 3" 720K floppy disk drive, and a black on white display. The PCW9512 also came with a standard Centronics parallel printer port and shipped with Locoscript v2 which added a spell checker and mail merge capabilities. Aside from these updates, the 9512 was the same as the PCW8512.
These machines were succeeded in 1991 by the PCW9256 and the PCW9512+. The PCW9512+ was a rework of the PCW9512 but got the more standard 3.5" disk drive to replace the 3" Hitachi drives used by all other models, and a choice of either the Amstrad daisywheel printer or a new Canon Bubblejet printer (BJ10e initially, then later the BJ10ex and finally the BJ10sx).
The PCW9256 was similar but with half the RAM, no Centronics parallel port and only one printer choice - the 9-pin dot-matrix printer that shipped with the earlier PCW8256 and PCW8512. It also came with the older Locoscript v1.
In August 1993, all these models were replaced by the PcW-10, which looked like the PCW9256 but with 512K of RAM, came with a Centronics parallel port, and ran its Z80 at a faster 8 MHz. It came with the same keyboard and 9-pin dot matrix printer as the 9256, along with the platform for it that sat on top of the monitor. Software-wise, it still ran CP/M as the core operating system and Locoscript v1.5 as the word processor, but the boot disks of previous systems were no longer compatible. The PcW's now used EMT files rather than EMS (early morning start) files. Expansion possibilities were the same as for all prior PCWs - the expansion port on the PcW-10 is the same as the original PCW8256.
Unfortunately, the PcW-10 did not sell well in the market. This was primarily blamed on its poor print quality, lack of compatibility with MS-DOS systems, and slow CPU. As a result, production ceased early and few of these were produced.
The PcW-16, introduced in 1995 for £299+VAT, was the last "Personal Computer Word Processor" to roll out of Amstrad. Just as with the former PCWs, it was marketed at individuals who would otherwise buy a typewriter. It was a major redesign sharing no hardware with previous PCW machines apart from still using a Zilog Z80 CPU at its heart. However, instead of having an internal hard disk drive, the Operating System and user files were stored on a 1 Mb flash memory chip, avoiding the need for boot disks. It ran a Zilog Z80A at 16 MHz, and came with a 1.44 Mb 3.5" floppy disk drive, 1 Mb of RAM, a monochrome 640 x 480 display, and a Mouse Systems-compatible mouse. The PCW-16 also had some software improvements, in the form of a brand new operating system, "Rosanne", which was written by Creative Technology (the same company that produced the PCW's "MicroDesign" desktop publishing package), and looked similar to Apple's Mac OS. The PCW-16 did not sell well, and suffered from complete incompatibility with previous PCW machines (although it did support the importing of older PCW documents). Neither Locoscript nor CP/M would run on it. Strangely, the PcW-16 did not come bundled with a printer.
The PCW machines were not designed for playing games, although some authors did manage to port several games to work on them. Of note, popular home computer titles including Batman, Head over Heels, and Bounder were able to run, albeit slowly.
A freeware multitasking operating system was available (and still is!) for the PCW range, called SymbOS. SymbOS runs on all Amstrad CPC and PCW machines as well as MSX2 computers, and comes bundled with a 'Windows'-like graphical user interface. It supports hard disks up to 128 GB, supporting CP/M, AMSDOS, FAT12, FAT16 and FAT32 file systems. Go across to the SymbOS home page for more information!