PEOPLES ★ The disk version of Sir Clive's old stalwart has had its chips ★

The disk version of Sir Clive's old stalwart has had its chips (New Computer Express)
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THE SPECTRUM PLUS 3
DIED THIS WEEK - WHY?

Amstrad has stopped manufacturing its top of the range Sinclair Spectrum, the Plus 3. The disk-drive based machine is no longer available from mainstream stockists.

The firm's shock decision to scrap the three-year-old micro is based on the company's own perception of its 8-bit line-up. The Spectrum ‘range' is now restricted to only one machine - the predominantly games based Spectrum Plus 2. Amstrad says it does not want buyers to face a decision between the smart new disk based CPC 6128 Plus and the old fashioned, but much cheaper 128K Speccy.

The Plus 3 had been manufactured in the Far East until the beginning of the summer. A decision by High Street retail chain Dixons to stop stocking the machine, added to Amstrad's growing fears of a clash with the new CPC, sealed the Plus 3's fate. No machines have been manufactured since the summer, although it has taken a few months for stocks to be pushed through the distribution and retail system.

Spectrum Plus 3: victim of the new decade, and of Amstrad's progression

Amstrad does not normally worry too much about the profile of its machine range, and still operates under Alan Sugar's ‘if it sells, sell it' business doctrine. However, the Plus 3 was one of the few home computers which did not suffer from shortages last Christmas. Come January there were still plenty stuck in warehouses around the country.

‘Users shouldn't panic. We only need
worry if the Plus 2 gets the chop as
well. ' - Daniel Garner, chairman
of the Plus 3 User Group

Paradoxically, the tape based Spectrum Plus 2 is still a roaring success and Amstrad is understood to be planning a television advertising campaign for the machine this Christmas.

At the recent Computer Entertainment Show not one Plus 3 was to be found on Amstrad's large stand, despite the fact that Plus 3 games are still coming out on a regular basis.

Amstrad's spokesman Nick Hewer told Express: “We made the decision some months ago to stop the Spectrum Plus 3. We felt that the Plus 2 is doing a good job and that the new CPC range covered those aspects which the Plus 3 was known for."

He could not give any definite sales figures for any machines preferring to wait until the forthcoming announcements of Amstrad's 1990 financial performance.

And Amstrad's marketing manager Mike Walton told on-line news service Micronet that “the Spectrum Plus 3 is no more”.

The Plus 3 story - why it was

In 1985 the computer industry went crazy because Alan Sugar, the rough and ready boss of Amstrad, bought the rights to Sinclair, Britain's leading home computer company, from the scientist and intellectual Sir Clive Sinclair. Industry purists were utterly horrified because Sugar had picked them up for a trifling £5 million.

The no-nonsense boys at Brentwood decided to stop messing around with leads and add-ons.

A new Speccy was built with the tape loading device stuck on the end. The Spectrum Plus 2 would be a games machine aimed at the bottom end of the market. It cost little more than £100, software was soon to cost less than fiver, and it could be set up by someone who had never seen a computer before. It was, and is, an amazing success.

Amstrad was then launching machines based on the curious three inch disk (PCW and CPC). The company had access to loads of these floppies in the Far East, and the drives to go with them. The logical move would be to launch yet
another Spectrum, this time aimed not only at slightly more sophisticated gamers but also the people for whom the original Spectrum was built in the first place - computer enthusiasts.

The Spectrum Plus 3 was launched with disk drive, attracted business software, comms packages a plenty and all manner of productivity and serious programs. It also attracted three distinct type of users - Speccy upgraders who did not want the tape based machine, first time ‘educational' buyers who had heard that tapes were useless and that the Plus 3 could boast serious software and games players who wanted fast load machines.

Its best point was the hard keyboard, a change from the rubber keys of the original. But it always suffered from poor sound quality.

Since its launch the machine has always retailed at £199, and has been a moderate success, at least until the end of 1989 when its appeal appears to have ebbed.

A dedicated user looks back

Daniel Garner, head of the Plus 3 User Group said: "It's really sad that Amstrad isn't staying with the Plus 3 because, even with its faults, it's a good machine. But to be honest there was a big stock-pile at the end of last year, the machine suffered a slump. The good thing is that Plus 3 users are dedicated and there's still a surprising amount of software coming out.

“Plus 3 owners go for quality. But we have to admit that, even though there's a long way to go, it's the beginning of the end for the Speccy. The machine looks outdated and I doubt if Amstrad will be looking to upgrade it in the same way as the CPC. You have to remember that this is the top of the range Spectrum that is being killed, not just one that sat uncomfortably in the middle.”

The user group has 500 members. If you are interested in joining call 0582 ******.

  • Alan Sugar: never one to miss a good opportunity, or one to tolerate non-profit making kit. Remember the PC200? It was launched with great expectations, mercilessly slagged off by the press, ignored by the public and within one year, forgotten by Amstrad.

One major complaint against for the Plus 3 has been the price of software. Blank three-inch disks cost as much as £2 each while games come in at £14.95. Also, the Spectrum market relies heavily on budget games - but the price of three-inch disks mean there are none on that format.

The news was greeted pragmatically by the Plus 3 User Group. Chairman Daniel Garner commented: “It looks pretty bad at first, but the Plus 3 still has a lot to offer and I think we're going to be around for some time. It's sad that Amstrad is no longer committed to the machine, but my message to owners is not to panic. We only need worry if the Plus 2 gets the chop as well.”

Consequences for the others

The disappearance of the Plus 3 directly affects two machines - the SAM Coupe and the CPC Plus.

It's not good news for the former. If a large corporation like Amstrad loses faith in a disk operated 8-bit based on Spectrum technology then things do not look good for those very small companies trying to sell another disk operated 8-bit based on the Spectrum.

The Coupe is prettier and better than the Plus 3, and it costs exactly the same. But manufacturer MGT crumbled because of the Coupe and its offshoot SAM Computers is desperately trying to rekindle some interest, without a great deal of success. It has even rechristened the machine ‘Super Spectrum'.

The people behind MGT may take heart that a competitor has been removed but one
suspects that the cons outweigh the pros.

The CPC Plus is a completely different story. Imagine you want a first computer. You go into a shop and there are two disk based options. You can buy a sexy looking CPC with monitor, or you can save more than £200, and live with a cheaper machine which plugs straight into the telly.

You can see why Amstrad pulled the Plus 3. The bottom line is that the company would rather you bought a CPC than a Spectrum.

So why wasn't the Spectrum Plus 2 pulled in favour of the CPC 464 Plus or even CPC console? Simple. To pull the Plus 2 would have been intolerable given its success.

Amstrad sees its future success as being only slightly less important than that of the CPC machines.

Garner estimates that some 15 per cent of Speccy users own the Plus 3. The theory is that many of the original Spectrum owners of the early 1980s upgraded to the serious Plus 3 without bothering with the Plus 2. Certainly, the machine carries a loyal following. Also, users are more likely to be interested in comms and serious software than users of any other 8-bit machine (with the possible exception of the SAM Coupe).

There are currently three popular bulletin boards which deal with Plus 3 affairs. Last week they were buzzing as furious or saddened owners had their say on the micro which lasted only three years but whic meant so much to them.

Spectrum owners buy an astonishing
180,000 machine specific magazines
every month — more than any other
home computer.

New Computer Express #99 (29 September 1990)

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L'Amstrad CPC est une machine 8 bits à base d'un Z80 à 4MHz. Le premier de la gamme fut le CPC 464 en 1984, équipé d'un lecteur de cassettes intégré il se plaçait en concurrent  du Commodore C64 beaucoup plus compliqué à utiliser et plus cher. Ce fut un réel succès et sorti cette même années le CPC 664 équipé d'un lecteur de disquettes trois pouces intégré. Sa vie fut de courte durée puisqu'en 1985 il fut remplacé par le CPC 6128 qui était plus compact, plus soigné et surtout qui avait 128Ko de RAM au lieu de 64Ko.