LGR – Amstrad CPC 464 Computer System Review


[typing sounds] The UK: Early 1980’s Holy crap, things are happening and it’s awesome! Computers like the Sinclair Spectrum
and Commodore 64 are leading the way in the home computer revolution and even the BBC is pushing things forward with the BBC Micro by Acorn. Enter businessman Alan Sugar, out of London’s east end. Well before he was known for firing apprentices on TV, he had a company called Amstrad, which stood for Alan Michael Sugar Trading, which was founded in 1968. They had achieved success in selling efficiently manufactured hi-fi audio equipment, but after seeing all the success of the home computers in the UK, he decided to launch his own 8-bit machine. This was the Amstrad CPC 464, launched in 1984 at £249 with a green screen monochrome monitor, or £359 with color. The idea was to differentiate the system from the rest by using as few separate components as possible, at as low a price as possible. Their target market was people unfamiliar with computers so a simpler integrated design was key. Although it didn’t dominate the market held by the Spectrum or the C64 in the UK, the CPC still struck a chord with lots of consumers all throughout Europe, eventually selling at least 3 million units by the end of the 80’s. While the 464 model gets a lot of nostalgic recognition and will be the focus of much of this video, there are many other models beyond this base 64K machine. 1985 brought about the CPC 664, which featured a built-in 3 inch floppy drive instead of a tape deck and a redesigned keyboard. Only about 6 months later, the CPC 6128 was introduced, which was an improvement on the 664, with 128K of RAM and built-in compatibility with the CP/M operating system. And by the time the 90’s were set to roll around, Amstrad was trying to breathe new life into the aging lineup, with the 464 Plus and 6128 Plus machines featuring entirely new case designs and micro-ribbon connectors on the back instead of edge connectors. There are also a few oddities, the most notable being the GX4000 video game console, which was, more or less, a CPC 464 Plus with a cartridge slot and no keyboard. There’s also the KC Compact, which is
a clone of the 64K CPC from 1989, and finally there are the machines by Schneider, which Amstrad entered a partnership with, in order to distribute to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. They are pretty much the same as Amstrad machines but with a different colour scheme and some slight hardware changes, in order to conform with German electromagnetic compatibility regulations. I got my Amstrad CPC 464 for the low, low cost of nothing, due to a generous viewer of mine sending me one from France. At the time of this recording, you can find one for anywhere from $35 to $100, depending on what it comes with. It’s not very hard to find online if you’re in the UK and the rest of Europe, but if you’re in the US, keep the hefty shipping fees in mind. The aesthetics of the CPC appeal to me in an odd way; these computers are not exactly what I would call beautiful but they’re not exactly ugly either.
They’re mostly just long. Really long. The addition of the number pad area and storage drive on these things really gives them a stretched out look. I’m pretty sure you could play a game of cricket by just swapping the bat with one of these and it would do just fine. The 464 is one of the most interesting to look at though, as some of the later designs seem somewhat utilitarian. At least on this model you get some colorful decals and keys to look at and not just a bunch of grey and black plastic. It’s a shame that this particular 464’s keys aren’t that enjoyable to use, however colorful they may be. They’re not quite tall enough and have a weak feel to them when typing, and seeing as the very next model of the CPC improved this, it seems I’m not crazy for thinking so. And, yes, this is a French machine so it has an AZERTY keyboard instead of the usual QWERTY. I haven’t gone and screwed with the layout just to ruin your day or anything. Of course, you do get a number pad, some arrow keys and a copy key, which makes use of the Amstrad’s copy cursor. This is an additional on-screen cursor which pops up when you hold down Shift and press a cursor key. It then detaches itself from the main cursor and can then be moved around the screen independently, allowing you to correct mistakes and copy text by using the copy key. And, of course, you also have the floppy disk or tape drive built-in, the latter of which in this case. It’s pretty sweet to have this thing inside the system itself, as most computers of its day had you buy an external drive to work with any kind of external data. Of course, the disadvantage to this is when it inevitably dies, you have no easy way of replacing it with
a new one. Around the right side of the 464, you get a volume wheel for the tape deck and a power switch for the, uh… I forget what, the power? Nah, it couldn’t be. On the other side, you get an Atari compatible joystick port, and a stereo audio output jack, at least on this revision as some have these around the back. Speaking of the back, it exists, featuring an edge connector expansion port for things like floppy drives, a 6 pin DIM monitor output, 5 volt DC input and a printer port. Now, this all looks pretty straight forward, what with all the expected ports being right there, but the thing is, due to the all-in-one
mandate from Alan Sugar, this actually requires an Amstrad monitor to work. There is no separate external power supply or video cable to hook it up to a TV or the wall. The monitor has the cable and power supply built right into it. Like the built-in storage drive, this not only made the CPC a little more expensive, but if one of the integrated parts went wrong, the whole system was pretty much useless. Man, screw forward thinking. This is an Amstrad, we’ll have none of that! Thankfully, nowadays you can get a third party PSU and video cable set, like this one I got from the Online Retro Computer Shack store. This is a SCART video cable which
provides the best signal available for it, but I have to convert it to HDMI since this isn’t a standard used in the US. Also, these don’t use the NTSC video standards, so you’ll need a display or a capture card capable of handling it’s European ways. Chances are, you’ll never have to open the thing up, but because I’m a bit of a perv when it comes to computers, let’s strip her down and take a good look! This is a later revision motherboard which is about half the size of the original but pretty much everything is the same technically. It features a 4Mhz Zilog Z80 8-bit CPU, 64 kilobytes of RAM and a 32K ROM, with 16K of that dedicated to firmware and another 16K for the Locomotive BASIC language. There’s also a variant of the CRTC 6845 graphics chip, providing an 80 column text display and a palette of 27 colors with three official resolutions, ranging from 160 by 200 with 16 colours, all the way up to 640 by 200 with 2 colours. And you also have the widely used AY-3-8912 sound chip, running at 1Mhz, which provided three channels and seven octaves of mono or stereo sound. You’ve also got the cassette tape datacorder in here and while it was cheaper than a floppy drive, it’s painfully slow and often unreliable, and even though it can be a hassle, it does provide a low cost way to try games you don’t have by using a tape adapter, along with something that plays wave or MP3 files, same as with other cassette based systems. And it didn’t end there if you were serious about getting the most out of your machine, as you could choose from a huge variety of add-ons and peripherals from RAM modules to modems, to ROM and OS upgrades to disk drives, synthesizers, real-time clocks, you name it, it probably exists, and, yes, this includes things like modern IDE hard drives and flash memory. Using the CPC is about as easy as
any other 8-bit micro of its day. You start it up and you’re greeted with a statement stating the computer version and BASIC version, as well as a prompt letting you know it’s
ready to take whatever you throw at it. As long as it’s in BASIC! Having a manual would be helpful in order to learn the various commands to start up programs and such, but just look around online and
you’ll find them without much trouble. Now, what can you actually do with the thing? Well, most of the applications were
actually for CP/M, rather than AMS-DOS. But for the bog standard 464, you had a whole slew of great games to choose from. Although don’t confuse these
with the Amstrad PC titles, as these are completely different and are compatible with IBM systems; that’s another thing entirely. These are the CPC games. A large number of titles that were available on the competing Commodore 64 and
Sinclair ZX Spectrum computers were available for the CPC. Granted, it was kind of the odd one out among those computers, and you didn’t always hear of the CPC having the superior version of a game. But that certainly didn’t stop developers from porting their games over, and here are just
a few of my favourites. Of course, nowadays, you don’t need to rely on sourcing old hardware just to experience these games. While it may not recreate the
entire experience of owning a CPC, there are some fantastic emulators for the
machines such as WinAPE and Caprice32. These will emulate the entire range of
CPC computers without much trouble, so feel free to check everything out before plopping down the cash on any original hardware if you’re not already familiar with it. Especially if you’re in the US, and you have to get a power transformer, and some way to display a PAL format video
and all that stuff, it could be a real pain. So, is it worth tracking down an
Amstrad CPC 464 or not? Well for me, there are two big reasons to do so and they are pure nostalgia, if you grew up with one, and the other is just straight up vintage computer morbid curiosity. Now, if you had one of these things as a kid, well I cannot argue with that. That’s great, it’s nice to connect with something from your childhood again, but me, as a vintage computer collector, as well as just a gamer, I must admit that I’ve had more fulfilment, success, maybe even enjoyment overall with computers like the Commodore 64 or the Sinclair Spectrum. It’s just the fact that the hardware and the
software and pretty much everything is cheaper and easier to come across than for
the Amstrad, at least here in America, especially because this thing requires that monitor. I do like it though, I kind of wish I had
a 6128, one of the more capable machines, and really, I think a lot of collectors and hardcore enthusiasts of the CPC would agree that that’s probably the machine to go for, but I do like the look of this thing, I like playing with it, and I’m glad to have it. So if you do run across one for a decent price, or are just insanely curious and want to order one from overseas, I would say to absolutely go for it. It’s a fun, little machine for what it is. And if you enjoyed this video and would like to see some more, why not check out some of my others? I do more of them every week so you can subscribe, or just click these! Hardware videos, software videos, a bunch of other stuff that’s odd and interesting, and being that this is the internet, I’m also on Twitter, Facebook and even Patreon, and, as always, thank you for watching.

100 thoughts on “LGR – Amstrad CPC 464 Computer System Review

  1. Was Elite available for the 64 and the 128.. I remember waiting for games to load only to get an error….. People don't know they are born these days………………

  2. So, the machine is French and the label on front is in French, but all the port labels are in Spanish and English. Makes sense… (?)

  3. My Aunty bought this for me and my brother; we had the greenscreen but it was the first computer we ever had….such memories.

  4. I remember having one of these as a kid, the same version but, mine had the separate non-compatible with any other system, floppy drive and colour monitor. There was only a couple of games I liked and played, harrier and spin dizzy, which I had on floppy. After a while I started to hate it, because it was a hand me down, and at the time much better systems were becoming available. Sometimes the cassettes would become stretched and the age, that took them to load, at least it seemed that way, and then would then fail. Going round to friends or family who had better systems, then coming back to mine, i felt cheated. It sounds strange but instead of enjoying it for what it was, I looked at it as something one step behind. It languished in the loft for a while before going to a neighbor. Looking back I regret so much letting it go, what you don’t realise as a kid, I wish I knew then wha I do now.

  5. Aaah tape drive based gaming. Type run, hit play, and spend the next 5 – 15min hoping the damn thing works. If not try again. That was my experience of tape based gaming on a Commodore 16, which I got for Christmas as a 12 year old.

  6. One neat feature I never saw advertised, even in the manual, was that the 27 colours in the palette actually formed a nice grey-scale when displayed numerically on a monochrome screen. Contrast the Electron, where many of the 8 colours were indistinguishable from each other on a B/W TV.

  7. the 464 tape deck wasnt as bad as you make out…it never failed me over 15years of useage….the tapes themselves on the other hand….it also doesnt "require" the monitor..the connection is RGB+vsync…its not hard to make your own adapter to get video out…infact i made a simple black and white video back in the day by flipping 2 screens stored in ram, and 2 wires out (connected to green and vsync) to composite in on TV…sure PAL might be an issue…but thats what ya get when ya country doesnt like standards the rest of the world uses! (PAL vs NTSC…Metric vs Imperical etc etc!)

  8. Hey an amstrad 464!! I had a friend who has that computer back in 1987.
    He had the color monitor version 😀😀
    Sadly for him he had severe software shortage, and having a pc with limited software sucks ass.

  9. Your CPC is French but… the case is all in Spanish! Did we get AZERTY units here in Spain? Or it was repaired?

  10. I love how the tape deck is built right into that keyboard. Makes me want to build, like, USB ports and SD card slots into a keyboard.

  11. I grew up with this computer and learn programming on it. The thing is that it was so easy to copy any games if you had a double hifi cassette recorder. It worked for years without any problem

  12. I find it odd that the writings in this CPC's ports are in Spanish while being an AZERTY (French) keyboard (Spanish keyboards have always been standard QWERTY keyboards). BTW, I didn't know what AMSTRAD stood for until now!

  13. Well, that's strange. I got two Amstrad CPC 464s as my first computers, here in France, and they were QWERTY (with an english front panel) instead of AZERTY and french. I don't think they were straight-up imports from the UK (my grand-father bought them and he's not around anymore so I can ask him). Amstrad might have sold both in France at some point.

  14. The 6128 does have twice the memory but it's not easy to access. The peek/poke instructions expect a 16-bits address that lets you only reach the lower 64 kB (16 of which are video memory). You had to extend the BASIC instructions with new instructions called RSX (resident system extensions), and for that you had to run a program that would 'install' them in memory. I remember that, with my 6128+, I could store strings and video memory to upper memory but that was a hassle. I'd be surprised if any game dev ever bothered with that; I'm pretty sure everybody stuck to 64k.

  15. You should defo look into getting the 6128… had its own colour monitor and disc drive which made me feel so high tech.. back in the day 😀

  16. Now that is “good-looking ugliness”. Lime green keys. Wow. But still kinda cool looking. I’ve never heard of this computer so thanks for making a video about it.

  17. Nearly got one of these back in the day as came with a monitor all for£149.99
    Something about it I just didn’t like

  18. I had no idea SCART wasn't used everywhere. How did people connect their VCR and DVD player to their TV before HDMI in the US?

  19. If you ever get a chance you should play Batman -The Caped Crusader for the 464, by far my favourite Amstrad game plus great music.

  20. 10:32 Roland on the ropes wow this is taking me a while back! r type was great game as was the dizzy series. I recall writing up a game of connect on the command screen from a magazine and was overjoyed back then when it worked. Holy crap technology has advanced so much now I own a razer blade 15 laptop but I do miss those days.

  21. Oh shit! I've seen one of these in 2000 at my grampa's home (well, i was like 3 at that time) and wondered how the hell can a keyboard run like a computer

  22. The Amstrad had clearly the best color palette of the 8-bit micros (AT LEAST OF THE uk MICROS), too bad it was plagued with a lot of horrible direct speccy ports, and lazy coders who didn't know the hardware

  23. One thing I'm learning from my binge watching of retro computing videos is to steer away from computer models that integrated storage devices like floppy disk drives and tape drives. Things with mechanical moving parts are eventually going to wear out and 30 to 40 years of time takes its toll even when these things just sit in storage. Audiophiles build their systems out of best-of-breed components – this looks like a wise approach to retro computers too.

  24. Let's cover a few simple facts: RGB output and a monitor with RGB input provide you with a very sharp picture. You get nice crisp 80 column text, which is a no-go with most other 8-bit machines of the era. Oh, and did I mention that lovely palette that goes with that RGB output? It's brilliant! I don't own one and even I know that!
    The better of the titles have this look… More colorful than C64, like more MSX-like, but with C64 chunkiness.
    There are a number of titles where the CPC version is "the version" to have, for example, Donkey Kong, which is very widely accepted as the best arcade adaptation.
    And then there's the fact that CPC scene is very active right now, perhaps even more active than C64/VIC-20 scene, and they manage to pump out games that easily rival what is possible on C64. Discovering CPC was a big eye-opener. I knew of the machine, but I never knew just how competitive it was against C64 and that its appeal had endured. I highly recommend checking more games to see what the machine can do.
    As for serviceability, I think this machine does well. It was very wise to put the power supply in the monitor, this way the computer case contains no high voltage components, meaning the end user can service it or upgrade it (not sure what mods there are for it) without worrying about electric shock hazard. As for having to use their monitor for the sake of the power supply, look at it this way, there were no cheap consumer RGB monitors at the time, and TVs did not have RGB inputs, and you didn't want composite because you wanted a clear picture for 80 column text. Amstrad gave it all to you on the cheap, it's just too bad they didn't really widely market them in the states, which is why you had a hard time substituting the monitor. It could have easily been something that Radio Shack sold, had there not been the TRS-80 line.

  25. Back in early 90's I had CPC6128 – from teenager perspective, who was looking for some games and simple basic programs, 6128 wasn't that much different. Same graphics (based on 6485 – I think the same chip used in CGA graphic cards), same sound – AY3something – 3 generators with envelopes and noise generator. Yes – floppy drive – maybe not so floppy those 3 inch inventions – was really nice. I don't think there were much games using fact it has 128kb of RAM. I was to young and didn't have access to books about CPM system available on that machine and not much interest in programming which you could do on that. However it had much better look. Bit 'colder' and pro.
    Cheers

  26. This was technically my first computer (the CPC6128). Initially bought for educational purposes (I remember the French 5th Grade Maths program called "La Bosse des Maths", about a dromedary that lost his hump, that can only be regained if you solve the maths problems), but quickly used to play on it. It did not last more than a year, thanks to the fault 3"DD, but it had the cool TV Tuner you could connect the monitor to, becoming a cheap TV set with RF and SCART (we name it "La prise PERITEL", certainly the best feature we had in France!). From my knowledge, it was very popular in France, UK and Spain. Germany seems they had much more interests in Commodore C64 (it is funny but you had geographical preferences in terms of computer and videogames systems back in the days, at least between France and Germany). 
    Oh boy, such a nostalgia.

  27. You don’t need the monitor. I had an additional colour module with my 464 which was as heavy as hell but meant you could plug the computer straight into the TV and play away (well after waiting 20 minutes for the tape to load)

  28. I was donated one as a kid in the mid 90s, unfortunately I ended up killing it by experimenting what would happen if you put the DC power cable into the headphone jack. . .

  29. this is not the original cpc 464..the original i had back in 1984 had chunky key board..thanks great vid..btw we paid 399.00 uk pounds for it in the day with a green screen monitor

  30. I had an amstrad as a kid. It was gash, it got refunded as it had loading issues with some games. Went to the beautiful c64.

  31. Okay I get the different keyboard layout for Asian countries because they don't use Latin characters but the hell is this layout france?

  32. My friend had one of these and I had Spectrums, we used to go round each others house to play them and argue which one was the best, happy days

  33. Can I just correct you, the Amstrad, like the Sinclair stuff, used the UK spec Z(ed)80, and not the US spec Z(ee)80, ho ho.

  34. That AY sound chip must have been hecka cheap because it wasn't much of a sound chip, it seemed every computer had it in the 80's even the spectrum got it in the end, compared the sound chip in the C64 or Amiga it was a total POS. I worked in a computer store in the UK from 1982 to 1989 and each system had it's game that we thought was it's killer app, like MSX Konami Ping Pong cart, on the CPC it was it's version of Commando, that was the dogs danglies.

  35. I had an Amstrad 1512 PC in the late 1980s. It was an IBM compatible with CGA graphics and 512k of RAM. I think the CPU was an Intel 8086 at 8 mhz

  36. I remember these from Growing up in the UK! There were better systems that you wanted to own over this. Two of which you mention at the start of the video. The BBC was one of the best systems you could obtain. We use to build great computers here at that time.

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