PCW-series Technical Details and Trivia
- (different for each model)
- Although the Z80 could only access a maximum of 64K of memory, a total of 256K, or even 512K could be installed on a PCW, and using bank switching the PCW could access all the extended physical memory.
- The PCW8512's second floppy drive which had two read/write heads and double the capacity (now 360 KB). Whilst this was nothing new by PC standards, the way the operating system wrote to the disk was rather efficient. Of its 160 tracks (numbered 0 - 159), odd-numbered tracks were arranged on one side of the disk and even-numbered tracks on the other in order to minimise disk drive head movement!
- The first PCWs circuit boards came with just 11 devices plus 8 memory chips. This was because the disk controllers, video logic, and everything else needed were integrated into a single gate array chip.
- The Amstrad printers for the PCW range were odd in that they drew their power from the monitor and didn't have any buttons on them. All printer control was handled via the PCW's keyboard when in 'Printer Control' state courtesy of the PTR key.
- Both the 8256 and 8512 were initially supplied with 'A' series printers - these had an "A" on a sticker on the underside and blue paper-thickness lever inside. Subsequent models got 'C' series printers which had a "C" on the sticker and a red lever). The C-series featured an arguably better print head but decidedly inferior bail arm springs, which is why one sees so many C's ingeniously equipped with rubber bands to keep the bail arm against the paper!*
- External printers were not directly supported by the PCW8256 or PCW8512, but by fitting a CPS8256 unit to the rear expansion port, both a serial and a parallel port could be added. As the supplied Locoscript 1 word processor didn't support external printers, this was only relevant for those who upgraded to Locoscript 2 or purchased other software which did, e.g. Desktop Publishers.*
- Another printer-related problem was the inability of the 9512's power supply unit to handle the power surge caused by connecting or disconnecting the printer whilst the PCW was switched on. This almost invariably killed the PCW's main processor chip. A warning label was affixed to the printer but this was all too easily removed or ignored so many a 9512 suffered a swiftly truncated life from this cause.*
- The 9512+'s daisy wheel printer was identical to the 9512's but a sheet feeder attachment option was made available to make it more suitable for office use and Loco 2 was upgraded accordingly to support this feature.*
- The original Canon BubbleJet BJ10e, optionally purchased alongside a PCW9512+, only supported the Canon/IBM printer emulation so italic was still unavailable and the difference between normal type and bold was not great but at least it offered faster, quieter and better quality print than the daisy wheel from a much smaller unit, albeit at a considerably increased price. The BJ10e was soon superceded by the BJ10ex then BJ10sx, both of which also supported the Epson printer emulation courtesy of a DIP switch setting. At last, italic type was possible on a 9512 plus a wider range of symbols and accents.*
- The codename of "Joyce" for the PCW series was named after Alan Sugar's secretary at the time.
- The choice of using the then outdated Zilog Z80 chip was simple economics. The cost per unit had dropped to around $1 for the Z80, whereas the more popular 16-bit Intel 8086 CPU still cost $10 per unit. The other side-effect against using the 8086 was that the entire circuitry needed to support 16-bit architecture. Since there was little need for the extra processing power in the design of the PCW, the decision to go with the Z80 was obvious.
- Locomotive Software, commissioned to write the word processing software for the PCW, requested royalties in the form of a one-off payment of £75,000 for writing LocoScript. This was their second mistake - when writing the BASIC interpreter for the CPC machines, they did not realise the potential of their work, and had opted for a one-off payment for that also!
- Alan Sugar planned for a first-month production run of 40,000 units of the PCW8256. It met with hot demand!
- The PCW's success was not confined to the UK - they were sold abroad in considerable numbers, some even being manufactured in Spain and Germany as well as the Far East. The German models were assembled by Schneider in particular, differing in the way the printer was connected to the monitor.*
- Largely thanks to the bundled LocoScript word processor and the Mallard basic programming language, both of which were developed by Locomotive Systems of Dorking, the PCW 8256 was way ahead of its time in so many respects. It took Bill Gates a further ten years to borrow the Limbo principle and re-christen it 'the Recycle Bin' and over 20 years to come up with anything in Word which approached the flexibility of LocoScript's multiple Copy and Paste facilities.*
- The 8000-series 9-pin dot-matrix printers supported both bold and italic in a variety of typesizes as well as supporting Greek and Cyrillic. Whilst these features were good, the print quality was not of a professional standard at all, and since Amstrad wanted to break into the small office market - this paved the way to launch the 9000-series.*
- From the early-90s, computer pundits had been forecasting the imminent demise of the PCW from almost as soon as they came out in the mid 80's but, from this time onwards, Amstrad now seemed hell bent on proving them right. Given that the 9512+, particularly with BJ10e option, was far too expensive for many home users, the 9256 was seen as fitting the bill. It didn't. Why? Despite it's re-styled looks, it was really only an 8256 in disguise with a white on black screen and 3.5" disc drive. Despite the printer's sexy curved case, it was equally an old C-series printer in disguise. Worse, the 9256 was bundled with LocoScript 1 rather than 2 so no external printer support and its 256 KB of RAM made it too restrictive for those who wanted to upgrade to Loco 2 or later. Not surprisingly, most of the production went to the remaindered merchants and were sold at knock-down prices just as had the 8256's after the 8512 and 9512 came along.*