Acorn Electron

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The Acorn Electron is a 1983 micro produced by Acorn, intended to be a Spectrum-priced sibling of the BBC Micro, providing essentially the same software environment.

Whereas the full BBC Micro is a lot like a 6502-powered version of the Amstrad CPC — besides the processor it has a CRTC clocked at 128 cycles/line, a three-channel tone generator, and a couple of interrupt-generating timers — the Electron is designed much more like a ZX Spectrum with a single ULA reproducing most of the graphics modes utilised by BBC BASIC (including 80-column 640px mode) and a single channel of tone.

Despite strong preorders, Acorn initially had difficulty producing it in volume. This caused it to be scarce during its first Christmas, leading to a lot of purchasers cancelling their orders and buying something else instead. Once the quantities Acorn had intended to be ready for Christmas were completed in early 1984, the market was in its seasonal slump, and the Electron was no longer a competitive machine by Christmas 1984.

As a result the quantity manufactured, a large volume of Electrons were sold over its lifetime but most of them at a heavy discount in the mid-to-late-'80s after the machine had no hope of becoming a market leader. It was therefore never one of the leading micros targeted by software developers.

Despite offering a decent selection of video modes for its era — in fast mode, 160x256 in four colours, and either 320x256 or 320x200 in two colours; in slow mode the CPC-esque 160x256 in sixteen colours, 320x256 in four colours and either 640x256 or 640x200 in two colours — hardware scrolling was limited to 8-pixel vertical steps or 8-column horizontal steps, slow memory severely affected performance due to the manner in which it is shared with the video display, and the total amount of RAM is small.

It was nevertheless one of the launch platforms for Elite, and received decent ports of a bunch of several other cross-platform titles such as Chuckie Egg, Exile, Boulderdash, Robotron and Thrust.