The world of the CPC-464 

This computer looked so good, it made you look good, and smart. Seriously, think about the Apple II, the C64, even the IBM PC XT. They do not even come close. It looked like it was a prop from Star Trek mixed with the control panel of a nuclear submarine. At that tape deck, yes it was just a tape deck, but looked like a part of the cockpit of a 747. Plus, it was designed to be easy to connect, with a minimal number of cables.
But this baby was not just all looks and ease. When you compare it to other computers of the time, this machine gave you the biggest bang for the buck. In the UK, the monochrome package started at £199, and £299 for the color package. Yes, that would be the computer and monitor. And with 64K, and similar resolution, color, and sound as the Commodore 64, this is a worthy competitor. Sadly, the US did not get to see a lot of the Amstrad CPC 464, as the computer was popular mostly in Europe. Truth is, it came out in 1984, so it was a couple of years late to compete with the C64, and the Amiga was right around the corner.
Nevertheless, it was a great value. For £199 or £299, which ever option you choose, you ended up with a computer that was fully capable and ready to use, no need for cables, adaptors, or using your TV, cassette tape deck, or any other accessory. This was a full stand-alone unit. Plus, Amstrad included software in the package. And there was enough software in the market to keep you busy for a while.

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Amstrad Disk Drives, and all the other drives

So, let's just say that you spend £199 on a CPC-464 with a monochrome monitor. That's one hell of a deal. Just keep in mind the prices of the Spectrum, the Commodore 64, or even the ZX81 a few years before. Even at £299, this was an awesome deal. Anyways, you are all set, but just like with any other computer of the time, one thing that was annoying was having to wait to load or save programs; needless to say, interactive data access was not possible on cassette tapes. So, the next logical step would be to buy a disk drive. Amstrad had a solution; and it was not like the Commodore 1541, which was a piece of garbage, nor the Spectrum Microdrive, which was, well another piece of garbage. The Amstrad 3-inch disk drive was far more reliable. It obviously had Random Access, and faster access times that cassette tapes. But there was one more benefit, and it was an important one: CP/M. Yes, when you added your drive, you got CP/M on your computer. Albeit it was ROM, you had an operating system, and this was big. Basically this £160 upgrade was a lot more that you would get with any other computer. One caveat, the 3-inch disks were not that common, and expensive. But not to worry because there were several third parties that were making other 3-inch drives and also 5 1/4. Either way. If you thought that the Amstrad CPC-464 was a great deal, getting a drive made it an even better deal.

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Amstrad Disk Drive

Amstrad Memory Expansions (64K, 256K and 512K?)

Assuming you got your CPC-464, you set it up, played games, added a drive, discovered CP/M…Where do you go from here? Well, there's several routes. But first, let's see what other systems have to offer when you got to this point. The ZX spectrum: In this case you wouldn't have gotten here because the micro drive was useless, as I mentioned before, plus it didn't make sense to add memory since there was no software to take advantage of it. The Spectrum was great, but its useful life finishes when you got tired of playing games. Next the Commodore 64. Yes, you have a drive and you're playing games. Does it make sense to add more memory? I guess you could run GEOS. The truth is that the Commodore 128 proved that adding more memory to a C64 did not make any sense, since most commodore 128 users were using the C64 mode and software. But for the CPC-464 it was a little bit different. Because now you had CP/M. And memory upgrade options were a lot more interesting. This home computer was borderline of a personal computer that you could use in an office environment, and having more memory would make more sense; software was available and since you had an operating system, and plenty of peripherals you could do useful stuff. In a way. among the home computers of the time, this one graduated from just being a fancy gaming console. And that was proven by the fact that towards the end of its life, there were upgrades to 512K. Not too shabby for a C64 competitor.

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Memory Expansion

Speech Synthensizers and Audio Samplers

We now must unfortunately enter the world of the trinkets and novelties that do not serve much of a purpose. I'm not saying they were not cool. I'm just saying they were useless. The technology was there, so why not, let’s build them. But there was no practical application. Digital music was still in the infancy, and voice recognition was something you would only hear about from Captain Kirk, and the crew of Battlestar Galactica.
Like with any other computer of the time this worked as well as the capacity and memory of the computer and peripheral in question. Speech synthesizers were simply fancy playback devices with a mixed of pre-recorded sounds and some modulation. Samplers were simply Analog/Digital convertors, which needed a fast process to work (sample) properly. Whatever, other than impressing your friends, parents, or grandparents when they came to visit, you could not do much else. 

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Speech Synthesizer

Amstrad Light Pens

And talking about useless trinkets and novelties this gets the award. I would have recommended, at the time, paying £20.00 for this before any other “toy”. When most people saw a light pen for the first time, they thought it was super high-tech, like NASA, Space Shuttle or James Bond’s technology. If you're wanted to impress people, this was it. For very little money, everyone would think that you were the next Bill Gates getting ready to design Window 27. As you soon discover, once you got one, all these light pens, regardless of the brand, were horrible. They lack precision, and you couldn’t possibly draw anything on the screen. The technology should have been limited to Nintendo’s Duck Hunt.

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Light Pen

ROM Packaged Software, O/S, Assembler, and Monitor

The CPC-464 was branded as an all-in-one, easy to set up computer that anyone could use, requiring no additional accessories to run. Amstrad fulfilled that promise, and at a very low price, and it was accessible and made it to the home of many first-time computer users. If you were a more serious users, you could also buy some accessories, like a disk drive, more memory, a printer, etc. and increase your productivity.
But that wasn't the end of it. If you're a hobbyist, there was something for you too. You could buy ROM chips. So, hobbyist could have some fun too! In fact, if you were adventurous enough, you could also write your own EPROM and put it inside. This was basically like giving a lobotomy to your computer. And while this was not a popular activity, it gave a lot of users the ability to modify their computers to do exactly what they wanted. In other words, it was almost like putting a Z80 skeleton in front of you and letting you play with it until you gave it the personality you wanted. Almost like dressing dolls. This was great for a £199 computer.

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Joysticks for all Tastes

Back in the late 70s. When Atari came up with their gaming console, no one was paying much attention to hardware licensing rights and proprietary standards. That familiar 9-pin joystick connector became a standard. Thanks to that, and the popularity of the Atari, we had endless number of choices for joysticks, not just for the CPC464, but for the C64, C128, Amiga, Atari computers, and many other gaming consoles which use the 9-pin port. It became an industry in its own, with all kinds of options, price points, and styles. And the community followed with reviews and favorites. And of course, there was some innovation, sort of: Rapid Fire… well it did help!

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Amstrad Serial Interfaces and Modems

If there is one criticism that must be raised against the CPC 464 was the lack of a serial port. Amstrad, like any other home computer manufacturer, needed to keep their costs low to sell affordable machines; but on-line services and BBSSs were already happening. Plus, modems were widely available, and from a technical perspective adding a serial port was not difficult. Amstrad made a standard serial interface, RS232, for the CPC 464. Which means that once you had one, you could connect any modem you wished. Options were plentiful, as they were with on-line services. There is not a lot more to say here other than the fact that, just with the other computers of the time, connectivity was becoming a quite important, and online communities played a big role in developing a loyal user base.

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Serial Interface

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