Vintage Computer Friday: Acorn Atom

One of the most common microprocessor architectures today is the ARM RISC architecture from ARM Holdings. ARM Holdings grew from Acorn Computers, and Acorn Computers has its roots within the famous Sinclair empire.

Sinclair Radionics, run by the inimitable Sir Clive Sinclair, designed and sold electronics devices such as radios, pocket calculators, digital watches and the world’s first pocket television. After striking financial difficulty in the mid 1970s Sinclair sold a 43% shareholding in Sinclair Radionics to the UK government run National Enterprise Board.

Facing a loss of control in his own company, Sinclair encouraged one of his most trusted employees, Chris Curry, to leave Sinclair Radionics and set up a new company, Science of Cambridge, intended to eventually become a wholly Sinclair owned company. At Science of Cambridge, Curry was approached by National Semiconductor with a design for a kitset computer to showcase National Semiconductor technology. This computer was sold as the MK14 and sold well.

Curry saw huge potential in the home computing market and tried to convince Sinclair to let him develop another computer product. Sinclair did not see a future in home computers and was not interested, so Curry left Science of Cambridge to pursue his vision elsewhere.
Cambridge Processor Units Ltd. was founded in Cambridge in 1978 by Chris Curry and Hermann Hauser, a friend of Curry’s who shared the same vision. They did some design consultancy work and in 1979 the renamed the company Acorn Computer, and released a 6502 based single board computer, the Acorn System 1. The System 1 was aimed at laboratory use and over the next several years multiple revisions incorporated much additional functionality.

In 1980 Acorn Computers released the Atom – a small home computer packaged in a solid plastic case and incorporating a full size keyboard. It was very functional and attractively priced. An updated version of the Atom was successfully pitched to the BBC as a computer for a BBC lead education programme, becoming the BBC Model A/B computer for which Acorn is probably most famous.

CPU: 6502 @ 1Mhz
RAM: 2KB expandable to 12KB
Video: Motorola 6847 Video Display Generator, 16x12 or 32x24 text, 256x192 up to 4 colours
Sound: 1 channel beeper

Interview with Chris Curry from October 1982 Practical Computing.
Your Computer also interviewed Chris Curry.
Micro Men is a BBC dramatisation of the relationship between Sir Clive and Chris Curry, and the impact they had on computing in Great Britain.


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