|★ PEOPLES ★ CONSOLE AND CPC PLUSES TAKE 8-BITS INTO THE '90s ★|
|Console and CPC Pluses Take 8-bits Into The '90s (New Computer Express)|
New-look CPCs have extra hardware which rivals 16-bit machines
As we exclusively revealed in Express in February, Amstrad has unveiled an updated range of CPC computers and, in a radical move for the firm, a games console.
As we stated in Express 68, the two new CPCs have been named the 464 Plus and 6128 Plus, and replace the existing machines. They have been substantially re-styled to resemble the Amiga 500 and have also been upgraded internally.
The console, called the GX4000, is a new departure for Amstrad and is aimed at the Nintendo and Sega games machines. Internally it is based on 8-bit CPC technology.
The 464 Plus will sell for £229 with a monochrome monitor (now paper white rather than green) or £329 with a colour screen. The 6128 Plus will cost £329 for the mono and £429 for the colour versions. The GX4000 will be £99.
Amstrad sees the machines as tar-getting both the 8-bit Commodore 64 and the Atari ST. Said Amstrad's Roland Perry: “Our aim was to produce an 8-bit computer with many of the characteristics of a 16-bit, and I think we've succeeded.” When asked at the Paris press conference where the machines were launched if it wouldn't have been more logical to produce a 16-bit games machine, Alan Sugar, Amstrad's boss, replied: “If we were to follow the rules of logic we would never have made the 6128 because it is actually more expensive than an IBM-compatible. But logic does not prevail in the home computer business - if it did we would have been dead long ago.”
The new CPC Pluses have been substantially revamped and redesigned to look like machines for 1990, but the electronics have been updated too.
New hardware drives the sound and graphics independently of the main processor, speeding up games and allowing more complex graphics to be used. A cartridge port has also been added.
The sound hardware allows three channels of sound to be driven from special programs using direct memory access techniques, so that playing tunes does not tie up processing time.
Hardware sprite handling supports 16 sprites at a time, each 16x16 pixels and using 16 colours. The colours can be set independently of the palette used for the rest of the screen, allowing 32 colours on-screen simultaneously.
The colours can be chosen from a palette of 4,096 - up from 27.
The guts of a Plus. The new features come from the square chip in the centre of the board. >>
The 32-colour limit can be broken using ‘scan line interrupts' which allow the palette to be altered half way through the screen - like the Amiga's HAM mode.
The new hardware also allows the screen to be scrolled a pixel at a time. This should hugely improve shoot-'em-ups and other game which use scrolling.
These hardware additions combine to make a games machine which can rival the ST. Unfortunately, the extra hardware is only accessible via the cartridge port, not by cassette or disk games.
Amstrad has also changed the expansion connector at the back of the CPCs, which means that existing peripherals will require an adapter to plug in.
Another change to the 6128 is that the cassette port has been removed, limiting the user to disk and cartridge games.
The cartridge port is shared by both models in the range, and the machines come with a cartridge containing the BASIC language and a racing game, Burning Rubber.
As cartridge games will be compatible with both CPCs and the new console, it seems likely that future titles will eventually concentrate on the cartridge format, although with 2.5 million CPCs sold the existing formats will continue to be supported for some time.
Games using the new facilities already announced include Batman, Operation Thunderbolt, Plotting, Shadow Warriors, Chase HQ, Robocop II , Epyx World Games, Crazy Cars II, Pro Tennis Tour, Kick Off II, Klax, Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters and Spiderman.
The console, first predicted by Express last September, is basically a CPC without the keyboard, and contains all the graphics and sound enhancements of the Pluses.
Selling at £99, it is a direct competitor to the Nintendo and Sega machines, but Amstrad is not concerned about its rivals. At the launch Alan Sugar went so far as to thank the firms for showing him how to market a console.
Amstrad hopes that it will attract software support to the console by waiving the tight control that Nintendo keeps on the games for its machine. Companies such as Domark, Ocean and Anco have already pledged their support. ■
Stuart Anderton , New Computer Express #93 (18 August December 1990)