Acorn Electron

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The Acorn Electron was designed to be a less expensive alternative to the BBC Micro, which due to its many expansion options and high build quality was a very expensive machine to buy for the home at £399.99.

This meant that the computer had little impact on the home market, and most people would only see one in computer classrooms, or would need a large income to have one at home. Other cheaper micros such as the Spectrum and C64 were selling into the home in far greater quantities.

As the machine chosen by the BBC and government for their computer literacy program, this was not an ideal situation, as the TV programmes produced were of little interest to someone who had an incompatible computer in their home.

So Acorn were keen to have a slice of the home computer market, not only to keep the BBC Programmes relevant, but also to get a share of the lucrative games market for their software division Acornsoft, and of course a decent share in the hardware market.

So they set about developing a small micro, that would retain the basic functions of the BBC, while being far cheaper to manufacture.

The Acorn Electron was the result. It was in a far smaller case, had 32 kilobytes of RAM, and its ROM memory included a new and improved BBC BASIC along with its operating system.

The hardware of the BBC Micro was emulated by a single customized ULA chip designed by Acorn. It had feature limitations such as being unable to output more than one channel of sound where the BBC was capable of three-way polyphony and the inability to provide teletext mode.

The machine architecture also imposed a substantial speed decrease on applications running from RAM, although ROM applications ran at the same speed, this meant BBC games ran 3 times slower, if they ran at all, however, the price reduction from the BBC however was enormous, retailing initially for £199.99.

The Electron is a very elegant design, and was designed round the basic size and shape of a tissue box. It was able to save and load programs onto audio cassette via a supplied converter cable that plugged into the microphone socket of any tape recorder. It was capable of basic graphics, and could display onto either a television set or a "green screen" monitor.

To match the capabilities of the BBC, expansion units were sold separately and designed to plug into the back of the machine, the Plus One added a joystick port and cartridge slots, as well as printer and disk drive support, and the Plus 3 added a 3.5 disk drive.

Although the machine was on paper compatible with the BBC, users soon found that a good deal of the BBC library would not work on the Electron, and it had to have it's own versions produced, so games such as Elite were written and released as separate copies. Going forward games were released as BBC/Electron, which were either written so they would run on both machines, or more commonly, they would contain the BBC version on one side of the cassette, and Electron on the other.

The launch of the computer did not go well, the ULA chip was difficult to manufacture, and when fitted, only one in ten worked. Demand for the machine was high leading up to Christmas 1983, with 300,000 units on order.

Unfortunately only 3,000 working units were delivered causing mayhem in the high street electrical stores. Many disappointed customers simply bought other machines such as the Spectrum and Commodore 64, the situation was also a bonus for the other micros who's machines were not selling well, such as ones by Sord, and Mattel.

After the Christmas period, Acorn were faced with a new problem, the 270.000 machines that should have been for the holiday sales arrived, and of course not many were sold as people had been unwilling to wait and had other micros in their homes now.

This was a major factor in Acorn having to be sold to Olivetti after this disastrous period in retail.

After being acquired by Olivetti, the price of the Electron was slashed to £129.99, and began selling well. At its peak, the Electron was the third best selling micro in the United Kingdom, and total lifetime game sales for the Electron exceeded those of the BBC Micro.

The Electron is popular among the retrogaming community, it is well built, with an excellent keyboard, and there are devices produced to load games instantly, and to expand the memory to 64K, so the newly written homebrew games that are still regularly produced can be played.

Complete in its retail packaging, which replaced the brown box the earlier machines were sold in.

Serial Number : 07-ALA01-0122708

Manufacturer: Acorn
Date: July 1983

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Acorn Electron Manuals:

Item Manufacturer Date
VIEW Guide Acornsoft 1984
Into VIEW An introduction to word processing on the BBC Micro Acornsoft 1984

Magazines RELATED to Acorn Electron in our Library

Item Manufacturer Date
BBC Micro User - March 1983 - FIRST EDITION Database Publications Ltd Mar 1983
BBC Micro User - May 1983 - Vol 1 No 3 Database Publications Ltd May 1983
The Micro User - June 1983 - Vol 1 No 4 Database Publications Ltd Jun 1983
The Micro User - July 1983 - Vol 1 No 5 Database Publications Ltd Jul 1983
The Micro User - September 1983 - Vol 1 No 7 Database Publications Ltd Sep 1983
Personal Computer World - October 1983 Oct 1983
Electron User - October 1983 - Vol 1 No 1 - First Edition Oct 1983
Practical Computing - October 1983 Oct 1983
The Micro User - October 1983 - Vol 1 No 8 Database Publications Ltd Oct 1983
Beebug Newsletter - Volume 2, Number 5 - October 1983 Beebug Oct 1983
Electron User - November 1983 - Vol 1 No 2 Nov 1983
Electron User - December 1983 - Vol 1 No 3 Dec 1983
The Micro User - January 1984 - Vol 1 No 11 Database Publications Ltd Jan 1984
Personal Computer World - September 1984 Sep 1984
The Micro User - March 1988 - Vol 6 No 1 Database Publications Ltd Mar 1988
Electron User - June 1990 Jun 1990
Electron User - July 1990 Jul 1990

Other Systems Related To Acorn Electron:

Item Manufacturer Date
Acorn NetStation Proton Xavier Acorn Computers Unknown
Acorn 6502 Microcomputer Board Acorn Computers Ltd 1979
Acorn System 1 Acorn Computers March 1979
Acorn System 1 Acorn Computers Ltd March 1979
Acorn System 1 (Chris Turner) Acorn Computers Ltd March 1979
Acorn System 3 Acorn 1980
Acorn Atom (Blue Box) Acorn 1980
Acorn Atom (White Box) Acorn 1980
Black Acorn Atom Acorn January 1980
Acorn BBC Micro Model A (Issue 2 Board) Acorn Computers Ltd 1981
Acorn BBC Micro Model A - Issue 1 Acorn 1981
Acorn BBC Micro Model B Hong Kong Acorn 1981
Acorn BBC Micro Model A Acorn 1981
Acorn BBC Micro Model B Acorn 1981
Busicomputers Prophet 3 Acorn Computers Ltd 1982
Acorn System 4 Acorn Computers Ltd 1982
German BBC Micro (GNB09) Acorn 1982
Busicomputers Prophet 2 Acorn 1983
Acorn Cambridge Workstation Acorn 1983
Acorn Business Computer (ABC) (Prototype) Acorn Computers 1983
Acorn System 5 Acorn Computers Ltd 1983
Acorn Business Computer (ABC 110) Acorn 1983
Acorn Electron (Trial ROM From Astec) Acorn Computers Ltd May 1983
Acorn Electron with Turbo Board Acorn July 1983
Acorn Electron (Box with Tile Design) Acorn July 1983
Acorn Electron (Production Mock Up) Acorn Computers Ltd July 1983
Acorn Electron (Trial ROM) Acorn Computers Ltd July 1983
Acorn Electron (German) Acorn July 1983
BBC Micro B+ 128K + 48K ROM Acorn 1984
Acorn BBC Micro Model B+ 64K (Acorn R&D) Acorn 1984
US BBC Micro (UNB09) Acorn October 1984
Acorn BBC Micro Model B+ (128K) Acorn July 1985
Acorn BBC Micro Model B+ (64K) Acorn July 1985
Acorn Econet Terminal Acorn Computers Ltd 1986
BBC Master Used on Microlive Acorn Computers 1986
Acorn BBC Master 512 Acorn 1986
Acorn A500 Acorn 1986
Acorn BBC Domesday System Acorn Computers Ltd 1986
Acorn BBC Master 128 Acorn February 1986
Acorn - BT Merlin M2105 Acorn Computers / British Telecom 13th May 1986
Acorn BBC Master Compact Acorn September 1986
Acorn BBC Master Compact Prototype Acorn Computers September 1986
Acorn Archimedes A410/1 Acorn 1987
Acorn AEH02 Archimedes NSM Acorn Computers Ltd 1987
Acorn Archimedes 310 Acorn 1987
Acorn Archimedes 305 Acorn 1987
Acorn Archimedes 310 (Arthur 1.2 Installed) Acorn 1987
Acorn Archimedes 440 Acorn Computers July 1987
Acorn A680 Acorn 1988
Acorn Archimedes A500 Acorn 1988
Acorn A3000 Acorn 1989
Acorn Archimedes A440/1 Serial No. 1000001 Acorn Computers May 1989
Acorn Archimedes A440/1 Acorn Computers May 1989
Acorn A3000 (Learning Curve Box) Acorn May 1989
Acorn A3000 (Original Spec) Acorn Computers 1st May 1989
Acorn A3000 Laservision System Acorn 1st May 1989
Acorn R140 Acorn June 1989
Acorn R260 Acorn Computers 1990
Acorn A5000 ALB55 Acorn 1991
Acorn A5000 ALB35 Acorn 1991
Acorn A4000 Acorn January 1991
Acorn A4 Laptop (Prototype 1 of 7) Acorn Computers 1992
Acorn A4 Laptop Acorn 1992
Acorn A3020 Acorn January 1992
Acorn A4000 Acorn September 1992
Acorn A3010 Acorn September 1992
Semerc Acorn A4000S Acorn September 1992
Acorn Risc PC 600 Prototype Motherboard Acorn Computers 1994
Acorn Risc PC 600 Acorn April 1994
Acorn Risc PC 600 ACB25 Acorn April 1994
Acorn Risc PC 600 ACB45 Acorn April 1994
Acorn RISC PC 600 (Proto 6) Acorn 1995
Acorn RISC PC 600 - Prototype Acorn Computers 1995
Acorn A7000+ Acorn 1995
Acorn A7000 Acorn 1995
Acorn SchoolServer Acorn Ltd 1995
Acorn RISC PC700 System Acorn July 1995
Acorn Risc PC 600 ACB60 Acorn July 1995
Acorn StrongARM RiscPC Acorn 1996
Acorn Stork Notebook Acorn Computers Ltd 1996
Acorn Xemplar Matrix NC Acorn 1996
Acorn Fast NC - Serial Number 1 Acorn Computers Ltd 1996
Acorn NetStation NC Acorn November 1996
Acorn Phoebe Acorn Computers 1998
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This exhibit has a reference ID of CH181. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.


Acorn Electron

  Book Archive   [36]
  Games Archive   [264]
  Software Archive   [89]
  Peripherals   [21]
  Promotional Items   [3]

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