A snapshot of 8-bit diversity in 1982 magazine advert

#1

I rather like this full-page advert from the January 1982 issue of Your Computer (pdf here):

You can buy a VIC-20, an Acorn Atom, a Commodore PET, an Atari 400 (or 800), a Microtan from Tangerine or an Apple II. By some coincidence, all of them 6502-based designs, mostly 1MHz or so but I believe the Atom was readily overclockable to 2MHz. Prices from £80 up to £790, quite a healthy range. Only the PET came with a screen included, and none of them had a disk drive built in.

I think this was a time fairly shortly before the Spectrum and the C64, and very early days for the BBC Micro. The ZX81 gets a lot of traction elsewhere in the magazine, and the not-quite-yet-available-in-volume Beeb gets a preview:

Predicted sales of the BBC Microcomputer have mushroomed from an original estimate of 12,000 to possible orders of 100,000 during 1982. Tim Hartnell assesses one of the first of the £225 systems to leave the production line.

CONCLUSIONS
• The BBC Microcomputer is a splendid machine, with many avenues for exploration.
• Acorn and the BBC have done their work well, producing a machine which is better than the market demands ̶ it is even over-specified. By doing this they have ensured they will probably not be able to meet the demand for the machine once word travels as to how good it is.
• They have also ensured that it will not become obsolete quickly, and they have earned the undying hatred of every other manufacturer of £200 micros.

(The Beeb had an early price hike, and the cheaper A model never sold well. So the true price of a Beeb was rather higher than £200.)

Nearby there’s an enthusiastic report from a computer club:

CROYDON MICROCOMPUTER Club is definitely thriving ̶ its two meetings a month at the borough’s Central Reference Library attract between 40 and 100 members and a variety of machines. ZX-81s are understandably popular with UK101s a close second, plus a representative selection of the more expensive machines.
A few of the first batch of BBC Micros have now arrived and are being put through their paces with interest. The on-board sound chip of the micro might well lead to the computer becoming the 1980s’ equivalent of the electric guitar.

There’s an interview within with Kenneth Baker, Minister of State for Industry and Information Technology - see page 24.

not only is 1982 the Government’s Information Technology Year, it is the year of the BBC microcomputer series and of an explosion in the sales of microcomputers at the bottom end of the price scale.

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#2

£ 80 for a Microtan 65 isn’t too bad at all (of course, we had to add another 11 for the keyboard) – computing on the cheap well before Sinclai! Any idea what a RAM expansion for a more usable amount of memory (basic configuration was just 1K) would have cost?

#3

Good question! I do believe RAM costs were a primary driver of machine specs and prices. Let’s see what we find in this same issue of the magazine:

  • 3k RAM expansion for VIC-20, £45
  • 512 byte RAM chip, £1
  • 1k byte RAM chip, £4
  • 2k byte RAM chip, £12
  • 48k RAM kit for Spectrum, £110
  • 32k RAM extension board for Atom, £75
  • 16k RAM pack for ZX81, £55, or £45 as a kit
  • 2k RAM pack for ZX81, £16
  • 16k PET vs 8k PET, £100 price increase
    This takes us only 1/4 way through the magazine, but I’ll stop there with a clipping:
#4

So … there was a memory expansion board for the Microtan 65 for 32K RAM and 8K SRAM, with the SRAM coming at about £ 50 we’re problem facing about £ 100, maybe more for the board assembled. Then we’d probably want the TANEX board for 2 VIAs, UART, cassette port and sockets for additional ROMs like MS Extended BASIC, maybe the debugger and assembler ROMs (about £ 50 as a bare kit, £ 115 assembled with ROMs). Wikipedia gives a price of £ 395 for the full installation preassembled. – There goes the dream of cheap computing in 1981!

(I guess, what you got for the base price was much like a 6502 training kit with the additional advantage of video and a keyboard connector, which is still a bargain. Not to forget the ROMs including BASIC! However, RAM and additional IO make the difference for a practical computer and this comes at a price.)