Scor­pio News


January–March 1987 – Volume 1. Issue 1.

Page 35 of 63

I’m sorry, Mr. Martin, but it’s about here that our opinions start to differ. I don’t know your profession, but I would guess it’s not involved with either electronic manufacture or retailing.

Agreed, the Nascom was unique, being in advance of tte time and aimed at a totally (in this country) untried market. Its virtues were simplicity (relative term) and the fact it was supplied as a kit. But was not its success due to more to its uniqueness in the marketplace rather than the fact that it was communicable and supplied as a kit? In the beginning there was Nascom and no other choice except either a much simpler machine (the original the Cambridge ??? (you know, the thing before the ZX80)) [Ed. MK14??] or the machines being published as serials in the electronics mags at the time which were almost totally diy.

The original high cost was brought about by the need to amortize the original development cost and not the cost of the chips employed at the time. The fall in chip prices was reflected by a price reduction in the Nascom 1 a year or so after its introduction. Also I can think of no examples of board manufactures ‘hiking up’ prices in line with the Nascom. All manufacturers are faced with the same problem, the need to recoup the cost of a design. The material cost of the finished produce usually has little relation to the final selling price. Most other computers started life priced fairly highly and prices fell as the costs were recouped (ignoring the dumping of produce which did not sell at all).

Next, Sir, you imply the lack of progressive design and by so doing contradict one of the main virtues of the Nascom. One of the gain reasons that the Nascom was so adaptable and of such value in (self) education was the very fact that design was NOT stuffed into a ULA. Apart from the fact that ULAs were only just becoming available at the time the Nascom 1 was designed. ULAs are marvelous things from a mass production point of view. But you can hardly get inside one with a soldering iron and bend the original designers’ ideas towards your own. Secondly, ULAs are extremely costly to develop and to gain benefit from their use, a market must exist in hundreds of thousands or even millions. The Nascom sold in thousands, but never enough to make the use of ULAs viable.

Gemini have compromised a bit, they tend towards specialized PROMe and PALs in their designs. This saves a lot of chippery and by so doing simplifies board layout. Again Gemini boards sell in quantity, but not enough to make ULAs viable. Also, Gemini I think must know that they are a specialized market, and even the introduction of PROMs places restraints upon the flexibility of the boards. I wonder if you have looked inside an Amstrad PCW8256, it’s only got half a dozen chips in it (excluding eight RAMs) all centered around one postage stamp sized 99 legged beast in the centre. Marvelous from manufacturing point of view, it even keeps the accountants happy. But you’ve got to aim at making 1.000.000 of the machines to make it viable, and heaven help anyone who wants to personalize an Amstrad!

And so to extended addressing. There is a craze at the moment to endow the Z80 and the 6502 with 128K, 256K, 512K or even a 1M of addressing capability. But what can you do with it? No application software for micros is ever written that big, and no individual in a Nascom/​Gemini context is ever going to write anything bigger than 60K because the market is too small and even smaller for the few Geminis fitted with 256K RAM cards actually used as RAM. It’s the numbers game! I’ve got something bigger than you – never mind what you do with it! The only sensible thing to do with this amount of RAM is to use it a virtual disk. Gemini have done both with the GM813 with its extended addressing and their 256K RAM card and the 512K silicon disk. But I often wonder if it was worth the effort. Don’t forget, to use this RAM, you must have application software to run in it and loading 128K from tape will take all day, and disk software has to be applicable to machines which don’t necessarily have this address range, so what’s the point? Ok my machine has a 512k virtual disk but I hardly ever use it, and something like the Amstrad only uses it as virtual disk because it’s only got one drive and it was cheaper than fitting a second.

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