Acorn Atom

Updated on April 28, 2017
RetroBrothers profile image

Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,

The Acorn Atom

The Acorn Atom was the ancestor to the BBC series of computers manufactured by Acorn.

They seemed to like to name their machines with scientific names (Atom, Electron) - if they were still going today would be have the Acorn Proton? Or Nucleus?

Anyway, like just the ZX80 and ZX81 (which were both soon to follow in the UK) it was sold in kit form or as a ready-assembled computer.

Buying it in kit form was of course, the cheaper option.

So let's have a look at another classic 8-bit home computer from a classic company that helped pioneer the early days...

Competing in the marketplace with the Acorn Atom

The great advantage of the Atom compared to its competitors (The Tandy TRS-80 and the Commodore PET), was its high resolution display capabilities (256 x 192 was achievable) which was quite unusual way back in the era of physcadelic shirts, hanglider collars, platform shoes and Ford Cortina's.

Yep, the Atom was given to us by Acorn way back in 1979.

The price was nice too, in kit form it would cost you £120 and a ready assembled computer would set you back £170.

The built in BASIC did have some limitations, such as only being able to use integer variables.

An optional 4K ROM could be added to the machine and gave the programmer the ability to use floating point numbers, trigonometric functions to convert degrees/radians and also to draw graphics in color. Nice.

Being able to see graphics in colour in 1979 was something rather special it must be said.

More add-ons were also available to enable autonumbering, a faster cassette interface (running at an incredible 1200 bauds), and functions such as INKEY$, MID$, READ, DATA, FILL and so on. There was even a BBC BASIC board available.

Speed, as of other machines during the era was pretty standard at 1Mhz, courtesy of a 6502 central processing unit.

The Acorn Atom

The Acorn Atom must have laid the template for the looks of future Acorn machines
The Acorn Atom must have laid the template for the looks of future Acorn machines

Acorn Atom Utilities

A lot of applications were available on sideways ROMs that plugged into the utility ROM socket.

Applications such as the "Atom Word Pack ROM" could be used for word processing or Atom-Calc, which was a 4K ROM spreadsheet could be used via the ROM socket.

A colour card could be connected to the BUS connector, to give the system eight colors, 4 simultaneously at the 64 x 192 resolution or 2 at 128 x 192 for example.

The sound generator was a simple beeper, similar to the beeper that would be installed inside the ZX Spectrum a couple of years down the line.

Still, any sound on a home micro at this point in time was a real nicety.

It was possible to expand the sound generated by directly accessing the sound I/O port and manipulating it at a certain frequency, real geeky stuff!

The machine itself does resemble it's later offerings (such as the BBC Micro) in appearance, using a similar colour scheme and style.

None of them ever stood out to the eye when sitting on the shelf.

What was packed away on the insides really counted - and as Acorn would prove over the next decade they were in many ways, ahead of the competition.

A Brochure For The Acorn Atom

Choose the power of the mighty Acorn Atom!
Choose the power of the mighty Acorn Atom!

Classic Frogger On The Acorn Atom

Acorn Atom Peripherals

A lot of other peripherals were available for the machine including:

A 5.25 inch floppy disk drive which was capable of storing 100K of data. This held the DOS in a 3K ROM but actually cost about twice as much as a new Atom. Did they use an integer based program to work out the price? ;-)

A digital-tape recorder, yes you read that correctly, a DIGITAL TAPE RECORDER!

A printer interface.

A network card known as the 'EcoNet' which could enable the linking of up to 250 Atoms running at 210 K/Bauds transfer rate. A solid network without Windows!

RAM expansions were also available.

The machine was really quite something at that time with these sort of expansion capabilities.

Omega Mission on the Acorn Atom

Warlords on the Acorn Atom

Gaming On The Acorn Atom

Despite the Atom never being designed as a games machine there were still some notable titles that are worthy of mention.

The following titles are definitely worth a go if you pick up one of these machines or via emulation:

  • Warlords - think of Crossbows & Catapults set within Breakout!
  • Trap - a very basic kong type game that exudes charm
  • Bell Hopp - simple yet brilliant
  • Frogger - the classic arcade game found it's way onto the Atom

Trap on the Atom (a little bit like Kong)

Let's sum the Acorn Atom up...

Whilst this computer was never a classic games machine, it really got the company moving.

Acorn would go on to be a household name in the UK over the next ten years or so.

In many ways the Atom was ahead of it's time, and it did have versions of classic arcade games such as Space Invaders, Scramble, Pac Man and Frogger. The gamer was catered for by the Atom.

There were even early 3D games such as Space Battle - remember this is back when any sort of '3D' was truly mindblowing!

This game was basic in concept but the programming behind it was pretty clever it must be said.

Those guys at Acorn were really ahead of their time in many ways and would continue to innovate with the excellent BBC Micro and Archimedes.

Space Battle - An Early 3D Shooter On The Acorn Atom

Another UK Brochure Poster For The Acorn Atom

The Acorn Atom was reasonable at £199 - taken from The Advertising Archives
The Acorn Atom was reasonable at £199 - taken from The Advertising Archives

Questions & Answers

    Any fans of the Atom?

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        Kai 

        5 days ago

        For the record there is an acorn proton

      • profile image

        Geir 

        5 years ago

        "They seemed to like to name their machines with scientific names (Atom, Electron) - if they were still going today would be have the Acorn Proton? Or Nucleus? "

        The BBC Micro was the Acorn Proton.. And somehow Acorn is still with us - the ARM processor once powered the acorn archimedes range.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, levelskip.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://levelskip.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)