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Monday, 26 January 2015

The Amstrad Mega PC - 1992-93

Processor: Intel 80386SX or 486DX 
Memory: 1MB(Expandable to 4MB).
Graphics: 256KB.
Sound: AdLib.
Hard disk: 40/80MB.
Monitor: 14" Dual-Sync.

What's it all about:

By 1991, Amstrad had completely dropped the Amstrad CPC model of computers, but they weren't ready to give up on home computing just yet. This new venture was a joint development with Sega. Starting at just under £900, the hybrid PC came with both the 68000 and 80386 central processors, a 3.5” drive, a Megadrive Cart slot and H.D.D compatibility. A CD-Rom with MEGA-CD compatibility was also available, but this was optional, massively bumping the price up. I’ve never seen it, but apparently Amstrad also released a 486 model, the Amstrad Mega PC Plus.

The good bits:

The Mega PC unlike the console was region free, which meant you could play JAP and US games through the computer. I have to admit, playing Mega Drive games on the Amstrad PC was a revelation at the time, especially when you consider the crystal clear VGA display!

The bad bits:

Due to some unforeseen non-standard Mega Drive cartridges, around 5% of games suffered in the compatibility department. For example; Mega Probotector and Populus couldn't run without open heart case modification. The Mega Drive ISA card that slots into the main PC, formed an almost completely separate unit. Only a connection shared by the Adlib compatible sound chip linked the innards. The main issue is that the PC itself was massively underpowered and overpriced, things had moved on by this point, and nobody wanted the older 386 technology anymore.

Alternatives:

Yep, the Sega Teradrive was another hybrid PC. It was released a few years earlier in Japan. It was an IBM-built 286 PC/Mega Drive. It could play Mega drive video through a VGA monitor and work as a development kit. One unique feature was the ability to allocate some of the PC memory for emulating a Mega drive cartridge. One other alternative was the MSX models AX-330 and AX-990.

Should I get one?

To be honest, it’s just a novelty with a Megadrive bolted on. Definitely a nice to have, especially for collectors. If you can find one cheap enough and have space, why not? It really is a user-friendly and nicely built computer, and don’t forget, you can play all those lovely PC classics. It's rumoured that Mega PC (PC7386SX) can be replaced with the PC7486SLC motherboard, effectively giving you a 486 Mega PC Plus.

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