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The Acorn Archimedes A3010 Kid – Battling with Amiga & Atari ST

Christmas 1994, I had a single yet monster of a request for Santa as a 13 year old boy. An Acorn Archimedes A3010 please. I had hoped I had avoided any kind of naughty list and instead sat proudly somewhere among the better behaved children to receive such a gift.

An up-close photo of an Acorn Archimedes A3010 computer keyboard, showing the off-white alphanumeric keys with symbols and green function keys from F1 to F12. The keys have a vintage design indicative of early computing hardware.
Those dazzling green function keys

Flicking through a popular UK catalogue, a striking green Acorn logo with matching function keys stood out among the many pages of computer tech and maybe the brilliance of those dazzling green highlights pushed this one computer to pop right off the pages and into my now drooling tech desires.

Acorn Archimedes A3010, the Impossible Mission

It was a huge ask though! Even split over monthly payments, £599 was not a small amount of change back in 1994 (£1,207.72 now adjusted for inflation), so it was certainly one of my more hesitant requests without much expectation this would actually arrive. The educational angle, like many children of this era, was a good selling point to any parent. Yes it had games, but you could do so much more with it. Seriously!

In one of the oddest conversations I have ever had with my Dad, a bass guitarist, he proclaimed yes, I could have the Acorn computer as long as… with what seemed like a very long dramatic pause… I had a guitar as well. After what would have been an extremely puzzled expression on my face as I let this offer sink in, somehow I managed to get a computer and a guitar too.

My dad bless him didn’t really understand computers. He saw they were becoming more and more a part of modern life, but he didn’t use them or have any real desire to. Well, unless it was to make me laugh hard as he jokingly played games badly for my personal pleasure alone – but he did recognise my interest and enthusiasm. My Mum however saw the potential far more clearly and has always been the driving force with my early enthusiasm in technology and has helped my work career enormously as a result.

Pixel art image depicting a cozy Christmas scene: a child in a red sweater sits on the floor gazing at a lit fireplace, with stockings hung above. A decorated Christmas tree and gifts are to the left, while outside a window, snow falls against a night sky.

Christmas seemed to take an eternity that year due to the intense excitement. I visualised in my mind a countdown to the occasion, the moment I had waited months and months for. Finally, Christmas did indeed arrive, but it wasn’t without a complete lack of sleep on the eve of this special computerised event. After both my parents spotted me, eyes wide open at 4am still buzzing with expectation – they took pity and with their super eager son who with a hop and a skip in his 13 year old steps progressed downstairs to open the gifts with one very special one in mind.

Image of an Acorn Archimedes A3010 computer showing its full keyboard layout with distinctive green function keys, alongside the beige alphanumeric and navigation keys. The Acorn logo is prominently displayed on the upper part of the computer, with the model number "A3010" highlighted on a gold plate on the right.

A few presents later, I had became the very lucky kid who owned an Acorn Archimedes A3010…

Acorn Archimedes Competition with Atari ST and Amiga

When any of my friends and family were lucky enough to have one of the more modern computers of this era, it was always either the Amiga A500 / A600 or one of the many variations of the Atari ST.

I was certainly unique in my circle, the geeky kid with the Acorn Archimedes. I didn’t mind this at all though, it meant I could enjoy every major platform or the same style unit from Amiga, Atari and of course Acorn. The only missing platform really was a PC, though the cost made them quite rare among UK users, or at least within my own circle of family and friends.

Of course, as an Acorn Archimedes owner, it was a little frustrating when new titles would come along on the other platforms and not the one I owned, but that isn’t to say the games selection on the A3010 is lacking either as I will explore later in this article.

In truth, they share quite a lot of similarities with each other and although you could pick out characteristics that would have the Amiga ahead, or the Atari – but blow for blow in this competition, the Acorn A3010 held its ground competently.

The Beautiful RISC OS Operating System

I personally didn’t let the silly competition between platforms bother me at all, as comparing the systems, I couldn’t help but see the amazing presence of RISC OS. The operating system was so ahead of its time and although the Atari ST’s GEM offering and Amiga’s own Workbench were a positive step forward in this race, RISC OS looked and felt more robust. It just worked!

RISC OS 3

RISC OS is an incredibly clean and dare I say modern interface designed in Cambridge, England specifically for the ARM processor to execute instructions quickly. This was most evident when you turned on the computer, which even 30 years later is extremely fast, ready to go with a beautiful graphical user interface supporting multitasking, ie: running multiple applications at the same time.

RISC OS reminds me very much of modern ARM powered mobile phones such as the iPhone due to its icon focused interactions that entice you to explore. An icon on the lower left featured the built-in floppy disk drive and if you were extremely lucky, any hard drives you have installed. Next to this is a link to your selection of built-in apps, including Paint, Calculator, Edit (a basic text editor) and more. On the right the Acorn logo, which gave visibility to the memory being used and where. Very sleek.

One little quirk of loading an application on RISC OS is how when double clicking the icon, it didn’t actually open straightaway. Instead, it then placed an icon to the lower right of the desktop, which you then had to click.

RISC OS is an incredibly clean and dare I say modern interface.

A couple of years later and I was lucky enough to be given a 486 DX-2 66MHz PC, and although this opened up a new selection of games and software to experiment with – I am looking at you DOOM! The bundled MS-DOS operating system and Windows 3.1 felt really behind the times in many respects compared to the sleek RISC OS – so it felt a bit of an awkward “upgrade” at first.

Even now when I boot up RISC OS on my Acorn, there is still that stunning simplicity that just works.

The mouse was also quite rich in, well buttons! Three in fact, named Select, Menu and Adjust. This gave great control over the features of the operating system, allowing you to trigger a menu with a quick easy to reach click and also switch between two functions with the two other buttons. The mouse that came with my second A3010 I doubt is the original, most likely from the earlier A3000, but it works absolutely fine regardless.

An image showcasing the mouse of an Acorn Archimedes A3010 computer, featuring three beige buttons on a white mouse body, with a cable sticking out.
Acorn Archimedes 3-button mouse

ARM: Acorn RISC Machine

Your personal smartphone, tablet and more recent Apple laptops are likely to feature a technology inspired by this series of chips…

ARM an acronym for Advanced RISC Machine was actually originally referred to as Acorn RISC Machine.

A close-up image of the circuit board from an Acorn Archimedes A3010 computer, focusing on the ARM250TG microprocessor chip, surrounded by various electronic components like capacitors, resistors, and connectors.
The Acorn Archimedes A3010 ARM250TG Chip

It was Acorn Computers who conceived and designed the original ARM processors first to feature on their own computers and it is to Acorn Computers who we should be truly grateful to for the amazing explosion in portable processors that are now synonymous for performance efficiency. Would the iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Android and other ARM powered devices exist or be as they are without this range of Acorn machines? Probably not. That is some serious legacy to be proud of!

Acorn Archimedes A3010 Games

It was hard not to notice that the games library on this educationally focused computer couldn’t compete with the sheer size of the catalogue available on the Atari ST or Amiga, but it had a number of unique titles and ports that stood up to the more mighty Amiga in great style.

I will select just a few and will write additional articles in more detail of each of the games, however just to give you a glimpse…

Lemmings

Let’s go! One of the best puzzle platform games on any platform it appeared on, the Acorn version actually has a few improvements over its Amiga and Atari counterparts. Improved graphics and music add to the already excellent flavour of this particular style of puzzle action.

Wolfenstein 3D

This only arrived on the Acorn and surprisingly not the Amiga nor Atari machines. For those who didn’t have a PC, this was a spectacular way of enjoying this third person shooter that soon became a classic in its own right.

Cannon Fodder

“War has never been so much fun” As stated by the lavish intro music of the game and indeed it wasn’t an idle boast – it was indeed a lot of fun. Setting your soldiers a path and then shooting at the enemies on various missions – it was a pure joy full of heart and yet with strong tones shining the light on the harshness of war.

Lotus Turbo Challenge 2

Fast and thrilling racing featuring excellent music and graphical style. Racing against the timer to reach the checkpoints while avoiding the other cars and tight bends.

Star Fighter 3000

The A3010 was also quite the 3D power house, and Star Fighter 3000 was the perfect example of this. It was pretty mind blowing for the time, with polygons littering the screen and your modern fighter jet traversing the 3D terrain on various missions.

There were also many unique titles, however these deserve their own articles which I would love to write in the future for you…

Upgrading the Acorn Archimedes A3010

In retro regrets, I now no longer have my original A3010, although I was fortunate enough that my recently acquired A3010 came already with an upgrade, a Gotek Floppy Emulator unit.

The image shows a close-up of the side panel of an Acorn Archimedes A3010 computer with a Gotek floppy drive emulator installed on the right-hand side, identifiable by its USB port and control buttons, which replace the original floppy drive.

This allows me to add on a USB stick images of floppy disks that I can then insert into the Gotek drive. The drive replaces the original A3010 floppy disk drive completely and by pressing a few buttons on the unit, I can select which floppy disk image I wish to use at any time. Perfect for exploring the library of applications, games and demos.

The image presents a detailed view of an Acorn Archimedes A3010 computer's circuit board, highlighting the RAM modules that provide a total of 2MB of system memory. Visible components include various integrated circuits, capacitors, and connectors, characteristic of the internal hardware of this vintage computer.
The Acorn 2MB of RAM

Officially, the Acorn Archimedes A3010 was upgradable to 2MB of RAM however there are more modern alternatives now that allow for double that, up to 4MB. It is a relatively inexpensive upgrade so up to 4MB I went with this handy replacement module.

The image displays a close-up view of an Acorn Archimedes A3010 motherboard with an upgrade: a RAM expansion board is installed, increasing the computer's memory to 4MB. The board is populated with integrated circuits and other electronic components, signifying a hardware enhancement to the original system.
The modern replacement 4MB of RAM
4MB of memory installed as reported by RISC OS 3

Another available upgrade and one I would have never been able to afford when I was 13 years old, was a hard drive. I remember one of the computers at school, an A3010 had a hard drive in. It was most likely measuring in the megabytes, guessing 20MB – however, nowadays you can purchase a podule with a 1GB flash storage space acting as a couple of hard drives. Impressive stuff. I also love the term “podule”, how cute is that!

The image shows an internal view of an Acorn Archimedes A3010 with a podule installed, which includes a 1GB flash storage module that functions as a hard drive, expanding the computer's storage capabilities significantly from its original design. This podule is connected to the motherboard, integrating with the system's architecture.
1GB flash storage for the Acorn Archimedes A3010

I certainly feel now this is a fully loaded beast of a machine and will give me plenty of room to experiment and enjoy the world of the Acorn A3010 with all the bells and whistles while still remaining authentic enough to an original device. I have also purchased a SCART RGB cable, so the output is beautifully clear compared to what I would have experienced back in the 90s.

Final Thoughts

The Acorn Archimedes A3010 is a true gem of retro computing and now thankfully in more recent years is really getting the attention from enthusiasts it deserves. There are many computers with the Acorn Archimedes name attached, and many with the hugely influential ARM chip that inspired a whole new generation of chip design sitting inside many of our personal devices.

For me, the Acorn Archimedes A3010 in particular hits a definitive nostalgic nerve. It was not only an amazing computer of its time, with a great selection of applications and games – but, it was also the last Christmas with my father as he passed away just a few weeks later. No longer having my original machine, hunting down another became a bit of a mission and thankfully I found a great example that now sits with pride in my collection.

A computer that helped define ARM, a computer that sported a wonderful operating system and a dazzling selection of software, and a computer that should be respected for every aspect of its design and influence – the Acorn Archimedes A3010.

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James Woodcock

James is a Freelance Journalist, Copywriter, Author, Blogger & Podcaster specialising in gaming, gadgets and technology, both retro and modern. Ever since he experienced the first controllable pixel movement on the television screen, he has been entranced by the possibilities and rewarding entertainment value generated from these metal and plastic boxes of delight. Writing hundreds of articles, including commentary and reviews on various gaming platforms, whilst also interviewing well-known industry figures for popular online publications. Creator of the ScummVM Music Enhancement Project and host of the Game & Gadget Podcast. View his portfolio here: James Woodcock's Portfolio.

James Woodcock has 1096 posts and counting. See all posts by James Woodcock

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