Amstrad MegaPC 386SX

Image of Amstrad MegaPCThe Amstrad MegaPC 386SX is the first computer our family owned, and the cause of my present nerdyness. This is a dedication to that machine, which I still have, and is still functional.

About the MegaPC

The MegaPC was released in 1993, it was an attempt to cross business PC and games console into one machine. Alongside the standard PC hardware, an ISA expansion card, containing Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) hardware allowed the PC to switch modes into a Sega MegaDrive.

Initial take up was slow due to the price tag of the unit, £599 + VAT and the fact the machine was already a generation behind, it's 386 CPU had already been replaced with a 486, and Intel's first Pentium processors were released during the same year.

The PC

The Amstrad PC mode sported a Intel 386SX processor running at 25MHz, and came with 1MB of RAM. It had an Adlib sound card, the hardware of which is contained onboard the MegaDrive ISA card (see below).

The monitor was a special "dual-sync" monitor which allowed it to operate at resolutions and frame rates compatible with the MegaDrive. It supported a maximum resolution of 800x600, the video card supported 800x600 @ 16 colours, 640x480 @ 16 colours and various CGA/EGA modes. 256 colours could be achieved at a 320x240 resolution.

I'd upgraded the meaty 1MB of RAM to a whooping 4MB in order to get Windows 3.1 running in 386 enhanced mode. Several years later in an attempt to resurrect the Amstrad as a dumb terminal, I'd installed Damn Small Linux along with an ISA network card, this didn't turn out too well.

Windows for Workgroups

Since I couldn't get Linux going, I decided to see how far I could get with Windows for Workgroups, I got a lot further than expected.

Software

Software that came with the machine included:

  • MS-DOS 5 (including the DOS shell), also provided QBasic and thus Nibbles and Gorillas
  • Multiworks: A DOS based office suite, providing word processor and spreadsheet functionality
  • Contraption Zack: A puzzle game where you lead Zack around a warehouse, finding tools and using them to advance to the next level, while finding solutions to the obstacles in your way.
  • World Atlas: Ours came with a World Atlas, unfortunately I no longer have the disks, and am unsure as to who manufactured this software. It is possibly the same manufacturer as Contraptions (Mindscape).

It was QBasic Gorillas and Nibbles that are responsible for my current nerdyness. As any 10 year would I was attempting to get my gorilla to launch his banana into space. This caused an overflow and dropped back to the BASIC code running the game. I was fascinated and before long had nuclear bananas. My brother wasn't impressed, despite the match being a draw.

The Sega Mega Drive (Genesis)

The built-in Sega Mega Drive (Sega Genesis to the Americans) is what made the Amstrad MegaPC unique. The front of the unit sported a plastic slider, that could be in one of two positions. When the slider is to the left, it is covering the MegaDrive cartridge slot, and the 3.5" floppy disk drive is exposed, this is the PC mode.

Slipping the slider over to the other extreme exposes the MegaDrive and covers the floppy drive. There is a small switch behind the case that the slider hits and switches the mode of the audio and video output from VGA 640x480 in PC mode to the MegaDrive (I'm assuming this is PAL output over VGA).

The MegaCD Expansion

For years, we wondered what the connector on the front was for. In recent years, Google has surfaced to provide answers to questions only God could previously answer. The expansion port is for the MegaCD, but requires a special converter from Amstrad, I haven't looked into it, but no doubt it'll be priced as high as all peripherals that use a custom connection.

Gallery

A few years ago I pulled the Amstrad to pieces to give it a clean inside.

Windows for Workgroups