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Thread: British computer use in the USA?

  1. #1
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    Default British computer use in the USA?

    I've seen the large amount of Europe-only computers and games, and I figure I should get around to adding one to my collection one of these days.

    I have a few questions, some vague and some specific, and others just opinions.

    1. Most British computers used the cassette tape as their standard method of recording data. If I were to download a game off of the Internet and onto a tape, would it work?

    2. About plugs and currents, is there a voltage range of these old computers? I.E, can it be plugged into an American outlet using only a plug converter without any sort of stepdown?

    3. NTSC-PAL differences, will there be a major problem or will the games just run really fast due to Hz differences?

    4. What should I expect to pay for a ZX Spectrum/Amstrad CPC 464/BBC Micro/Acorn Electron?

    5. Which of those are best for a person wanting to start a British gaming collection?

    Sorry about the questions, I just want to know what I'm going to get myself into.

  2. #2

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    1. Shouldn't be a problem. You might not even need to put them on tape. The software you find on the internet is often in a custom archive format designed for use with emulators, and there is often player software that will let you plug you PCs sound output straight into the old computer's tape input.

    2. Depends on the computer and power supply. Some may accept a wide voltage range such as 100-240V and 50-60hz, but most 80s stuff tends to have fairly basic power supplies that will most likely only work with 220-240V 50Hz, so you'd need a proper power converter for them.

    3. If your TV only supports 60Hz then you won't get a proper picture from a computer putting out 50Hz. Some computers can be modified to produce 60Hz instead, but this may lead to compatibility problems with software that uses the framerate for timing. Many modern TVs can accept both 50Hz and 60Hz anyway, although you might only get a b&w picture if the TV doesn't also support PAL colour encoding.

    4. Depends if you're buying locally or importing. In the UK Spectrums are dirt cheap. The iconic models such as the original rubber keyed 48K, the Spectrum+ and 128K are a little more expensive than latter models like the +2/+2A, but there are always tons on ebay. £10-30 unboxed at a guess. The CPC is roughly similar. The BBC tends to be a little more expensive, but not much. Boxed examples are a little more.

    5. My first computer was a Spectrum, so I'm probably a little biased, but that's a very good starting point IMO. There are probably more Spectrum games than the others put together.

  3. #3
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    Finally a topic that I know something about

    EDIT: FishFinger was quicker than me... But I see that we agree!

    Quote Originally Posted by Tupin View Post
    I've seen the large amount of Europe-only computers and games, and I figure I should get around to adding one to my collection one of these days.

    I have a few questions, some vague and some specific, and others just opinions.
    Of course you should have some European computers in your collection! But I do miss the Swedish ABC-80 in your list below It's a computer with similar specs to the TRS-80. (Did I mention that it was my first computer)

    1. Most British computers used the cassette tape as their standard method of recording data. If I were to download a game off of the Internet and onto a tape, would it work?
    Yes it would work. But often you wouldn't have to go all the way to tape. You could play a .wav (or maybe .mp3) of the game with media player on your modern computer or Ipod or such. Likewise for saving programs you've written, then just record with your soundcard.

    2. About plugs and currents, is there a voltage range of these old computers? I.E, can it be plugged into an American outlet using only a plug converter without any sort of stepdown?
    All European electronic devices run on 220-240V so you can't run them on the 120V you have over there... You need a stepup device. Some computers used the Hertz of the current to keep it's internal clock in sync so that would be a small problem for you. I know that the C64 did this, making the clock run a little fast on a 220V/50Hz-machine in 110V/60Hz-land.

    3. NTSC-PAL differences, will there be a major problem or will the games just run really fast due to Hz differences?
    Not with computers (video game consoles however might have some trouble). The only thing noticeable would be a slight speed increase if you notice anything at all. There probably are some demos made for various computers that really need a PAL machine to work correctly, but they aren't all that many I'd think.

    4. What should I expect to pay for a ZX Spectrum/Amstrad CPC 464/BBC Micro/Acorn Electron?
    Looking at ebay.co.uk gives you this:
    ZX Spectrum £20-50 depending on condition and boxed or not
    Amstrad CPC £20-50 depending on whether the monitor is included (you need it to run the computer)
    BBC Micro £20-200 depending on model, included accessories (disk drives etc)
    Acorn Electron £10-50 depending on loose or boxed and condition

    Beware of shipping from the British islands though it's very expensive to send any thing heavier than 2 KG from there. You might find all of the above computers at ebay.de, but then you need some knowledge in German and they usually don't take Paypal. As a side note, the Amstrad CPC was sold as the Scheider CPC in germany...

    5. Which of those are best for a person wanting to start a British gaming collection?
    I'd say the ZX Spectrum. It's a small computer (doesn't weigh much) and it has a gazillion games made for it on tape. The Electron would be my second choice. The Amstrad wouldn't be all that interesting as it needs a monitor to supply power to the computer so shipping would be really expensive. But it's a nice computer with some competent games made for it. The BBC Micro is another nice machine, that is really interesting, but it's heavy and if there's some nice accessories budled then the price usually gets high.

    Sorry about the questions, I just want to know what I'm going to get myself into.
    If you don't ask you don't learn things
    My computer and video games collection site: http://www.zeela.se

  4. #4
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    So, I need a step up converter, not a step down one?

    Such as this one:
    http://www.radioshack.com/product/in...ductId=2104179

  5. #5
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    I can add that BBC Micro's have (temporarily?) increased in value after BBC Four aired the 90 minute comedy documentary Micro Men, which was about the competition between Sinclair and Acorn for the contract to sell BBC a school computer. It seems to have stirred an increased interest in Beebs, but perhaps not in Speccys.

    Another unusual machine you may consider is an Oric-1 or Atmos, which however is less common to find. And well, you have the Welsh Dragon 32, but that is pretty much the same as a TRS-80 CoCo. Besides I think it was sold in the USA as Tano Dragon so you may be able to find those locally.

    If you look beyond the UK, you have a few more European computers but most of those are only known within the country and may have limited support, e.g. the French Thomson MO and TO series.

    What Zeela mentions about internal clock only works for those machines which require AC input, e.g. 9V AC. The ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and BBC Micro essentially use DC power of different voltages, so I can't believe that would ever be an issue. Although I think the Acorn Electron takes low voltage AC input, I doubt it has any particular use of the frequency.

    And yes, you need to step up ~110-115V to ~220-230V. Us in Europe use step-down converters to go in the other direction. You can find cheap step-ups and step-downs on eBay. I can't say if the one on Radio Shack is a good price, but 150W capacity is quite a lot. Of course if you're going to connect some PAL monitor and perhaps other device it doesn't hurt if the step-up is beefy.
    Anders Carlsson

  6. #6

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    Even though I'm not British, I would agree that the ZX Spectrum, and BBC are classic British early '80s micros. Those two especially but also the others that have been mentioned.

    The Sinclair QL and of course the original ZX-80/81 were also British. The ZX81 was also very popular but that could be bought in North America as the Timex 1000.

    In the early 80s in New Zealand we saw machines from all kinds of English speaking countries coming in such as those from Britain, U.S.A and even Australia (microbee anyone?). However, we also saw models from Japan (Sord for example) and other Asian countries (e.g. EACA machines).

    While we had a good spread, the downside was that everything was highly expensive once it reached the customer. Even in bulk, shipping still costs. Distance also increased the number of middle men with their corresponding mark-up.

    Tez
    ------------------------------------------------
    My vintage collection: https://classic-computers.org.nz/collection/
    My vintage activities blog: https://www.classic-computers.org.nz/blog/
    Twitter: @classiccomputNZ ; YouTube Videos: (click here)


  7. #7
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    Of course all these systems are emulated and you tend to have good libaries of available software. Although some people may have mixed feelings for emulation, I believe it is a good way to get acquainted with a system, find out if it is something for you. Those who simply collect computers to put them on the shelf have no need to try an emulator, but for possible enthusiasts it could make a difference or at least help defining a priority list.
    Anders Carlsson

  8. #8
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    I'm definitely going to emulate these systems before I get one, the Electron I found an emulator for, as well as the ZX Spectrum. Any other system would cost way too much to import.

    Oh, and I guess I'll need a joystick interface for either, right? Can someone post the pictures of the ports on these systems?

  9. #9

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    Spectrum joysticks are generally one of two types:

    1) Standard atari-style 9-pin joysticks (referred to as "Kempston" joysticks in Spectrum circles). These are the most common, and virtually all after-market joystick interfaces will be this type.

    2) So-called "interface 2" joysticks, which use the same 9-pin D-sub connector, but with a non-standard pinout. You can make an adaptor cable easily though. These are only really used by the Sinclair Interface 2 joystick interface, and the built-in ports on the +2/+2A/+3 models.

    There are a few other types, but I wouldn't worry about them.

  10. #10
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    So, a Kempston adapter and a standard Atari joystick will be good enough?

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