As a very happy 13 year old, possessing an Acorn Archimedes A3010 was an eye opening journey of exploring operating systems with graphical interfaces with a trusty three button mouse as your main tool. It was my introduction to the world of Acorn in the comfort of my own home, however prior to this many years earlier, another equally impressive computer took over UK classrooms and this was the BBC Micro by of course the same Acorn Computers. A time when floppy disks were actually floppy and an excuse to digitally explore games even if they were primarily designed for learning.
Fast forward 30 or more years and I stumble across another Acorn computer, the Electron listed online for just £20. This was just a few weeks ago and although I had no evidence it worked and even from the basic photos looked quite dirty – for £20, it was certainly worth the investment without the slightest hesitation.
Acorn Electron History
The Acorn Electron was designed as a cost cutting version, a more affordable sibling of the BBC Micro, yes the same BBC Micro dominating the classrooms for a number of years. Launching in 1983, the Acorn Electron was intended specifically for the home market, where rivals like the Commodore 64 and arch rival the ZX Spectrum by prominent figure of the time Clive Sinclair were already making their strong presence in the market.
The Acorn Electron sold for £199 with 32KB RAM. Even though corners were indeed cut to hit this price point, mostly the graphics and sound, it still featured an RGB monitor output. One of its best selling points though was the mechanical keyboard encouraging you to type pure nonsense just so you can hear that ever so pleasing ‘clack’ sound over and over again. The Electron also included BBC BASIC II, an ideal addition for those beginner programmers already taking advantage of the BBC Micro computers in school and elsewhere.
An Unexpected Treasure – The £20 Acorn Electron
£20… When stumbling upon this retro marvel purely by some marvellous fluke while on holiday in Wales, it was certainly worth a 25 minute drive to go and collect it.
The owner came to the front door of his house with his pride and joy Electron cradled in both hands. He looked a little sad and quietly muttered “I don’t really want to let this go you know”. My heart sank a little with the possibility I may be travelling back empty handed, however I reassured him with the kindest of words “well, I promise it will be going to a good home”. I meant it too and slowly he passed over the computer in exchange for a crisp twenty pound note.
A treasure it most certainly was, and adding to the realism the dirt covering the entire system as if it had sank into some deep hole where X marked the spot and was dug up just moments ago. A black, grubby covered computer that was quite unpleasant to the touch, especially if you looked closely at the dark speckled spectacle as your finger landed on one of the crusty textured keys.
The poor little Electron was crying out for some attention and had obviously seen better days with its yellowed casing and keys, although on the positive side with only very minor scuffs and marks.
An Electron Restoration
Once home, tired from the driving I again stared at the micro machine now in my hands. It was getting late, so I set it aside and imagined a brighter and hopefully cleaner day ahead… This dream lasted for all of 15 minutes as I hastily grabbed a bucket of water mixed with car wash solution and started to take apart the computer. A new wave of energy came over me, I was truly on a mission to at least remove these horrid layers of, well whatever it was sat on the surface and goodness knows what awaited me inside.
No complicated set of screws here, just a very simple opening process with one removed every few seconds. Ahh they don’t make anything like this anymore! Layers of dust was the reward for my efforts, trapped in-between and under the keys of the keyboard in circular clumps. Let’s not forget the obligatory dead bug or two either, where they seem to also have the same reverence for retro tech, although I don’t share their enthusiasm for laying upside down awaiting discovery 30 or more years later. The keys were also simple to remove, even by hand you can carefully remove each one with a little gentle persuasion.
The Electron casing and each individual key was scrubbed down, a toothbrush finally penetrating that rather disgusting coating with a little physical effort. Comparing one of the dirty keys to one of the newly cleaned and although yellow still from age, there was no denying the improvement – it was pretty spectacular.
I continued scrubbing, drying and stacking up the keys and then turned my attention to the mainboard, which actually to my surprise was not too bad. So just a little IPA and rinse and I was happy.
Putting the Acorn Electron back together, I was proud of my old yet new Acorn Electron. I want to retrobrite it too for the full restoration effect, but this will have to be another day. For now, it is time to see if this nearly as old as me computer can turn on and show a screen of information…
Amazingly and to my absolute delight we have life with no work needed on the inside at all. For what was originally a dust and muck magnet, to see the little Acorn Electron boot up was a joy and I have to confess a little dance did follow. I can’t be the only one who had this retro moment of excitement surely?
For £20, this certainly turned out to be quite the bargain. Sure, it looked like something out of a nightmare to start with (although I am sure there are far worse examples out there!) and yet underneath it not only worked, but the nasty grime was fairly easy to remove and now I have another beautiful computer for my collection.
Next the Atari 520STFM…