The Amstrad PCW 8256 was a dedicated word processing computer (PCW stands for Personal Computer Wordprocessor). It was supplied with everything necessary, the word processor, printer and dedicated keyboard (with Cut, Copy, Paste and Print keys). This model had great success because it was the first word-processing system available for such a low price. Once again Amstrad used the same principles with this professional computer as it did with the CPC-464 on the home-computer market. Two years later, 700 000 PCW systems had been sold!
All the hardware was located in the monitor case, as well as the 3" floppy disk drive. An optional secondary disk drive could be added (360 kb/side). There was only one power cord used for the printer, monitor and keyboard - it couldn’t be simpler.
Actually, the PCW was odd in that it has NO ROM. The boot sequence was loaded into the main CPU from the printer control ASIC and only had enough smarts to load and run the first sector from the floppy drive.
The printer was an Amstrad matrix printer (90 cps in draft mode and 20 cps in letter-quality mode), but it was not possible to connect another printer to the PCW. To use another printer, optional RS232 or Centronics interfaces were available.
The system was supplied with a word processor (on disk) developed by Locomotive Software (the company who made the BASIC language for the Amstrad CPC series) called LocoScript. Dr. Logo and a Basic called Mallard Basic were also delivered on disks (fun fact: Mallard is the name of an old train engine). This Basic was powerful and offered a lot of file-management capabilities. The Amstrad PCW-8256 was also delivered with CP/M+.
Locoscript was powerful but somewhat austere. You had to read 700 pages of documentation in order to master it. It used 154 Kb RAM, and the remaining 102 Kb could be used as a virtual disk. Each floppy disk, called a volume, could be divided in up to 8 sub-volumes. A particular page layout could be assigned to each of these sub-volumes. The system displayed text in an odd but useful 90 x 32 resolution. Of course as it was text-based software, you could not see exactly what would be printed (no WYSIWYG here). Another drawback was that it was not possible to link a document with an address book or a database, to generate multiple documents (this was to be corrected with LocoMail, LocoFile and LocoScript 2 a few years later). The 320k disks stored up to 90 pages of 2000 characters.
In Germany, the PCW series was called Joyce
Another PCW model was launched a few months later: the Amstrad PCW 8512. It has the same characteristics apart from having 512 Kb RAM to handle bigger documents, and two 3" floppy disk drives. The top one is a single-sided, 40-track (180 Kbyte) drive, the bottom is a double-sided, 80-track (720 Kbyte) drive. 40-track disks could be read in the 80-track drive, but it's not advisable to write to them there because the 80-track drive has a narrower head. It had slightly darker plastic mouldings than the PCW-8256, grey instead of white. It was followed by the Amstrad PCW 9512.
The PCW systems were still used in 2000 by some people and a lot of CP/M software is still available.
Update: In time of my last posting, i have back my original PCW 8256 the person that had it, all those years died :( , only needed to repair the drive belt, and working like new. - Now i have my original Schneider PCW Joyce 8256, a spanish Amstrad PCW 8256, Schneider PCW Joyce 8512, Amstrad PCW 8512 (upgraded 8256 and upgrade 3,5 inch drive), another Amstrad 8256 for daily use, and one Amstrad 8256 for spare parts. and before i forget also Amstrad PCW 9512 with Daisy Wheel Printer, and 7 Matrix Printers.
In 2 years time, i expanded my collection PCW Software boxed, from Desktop Publishers, a lot of Games, and many other tools, also extra hardware like, Memory upgrades to 1,5 MB ! for a PCW, and Mouse and handheld scanner... Books..
To Andy it was not all horrible, as kid it was hard to find in belgium PCW software and hardware, and its nice to see all these things working today days.
The PCW made me start my Retro Computer Collection, now i have around 67 Computers, 12 connected for direct use. Apple, Amstrad, Schneider, Commodore, Epson, Sharp,..
From all my computers, even today the PCW is my favorite.
Some interesting comments on the old 8256, most of them fond memories... I used to go to typing classes at our school back in the day, our school had hundreds of these things. We also had one new from Dixons - £499 all in I believe, our Grandad bought it for us thinking it was a PC - must have been totally swindled by the sales guy! Ooops! Me and my brother wanted a PC so much! The 3" disks were impossible to buy new, and to top it all off it just could not do what a PC could, even a PC that was 10 years older than it. It didn''t even have standard I/O ports. I remember having Microdesign 2 and painfully trying to use it to do something simple and it being impossible to implement. That was all the software we had, but one of my friends let me borrow Thomahawk which was slow, rubbish, and kept locking up. CP/M was a bit of an oddity too - most people were using DOS, or even early versions of Windows by the time this hit the market! Taking a step back for a moment, it was a wordprocessor first and foremost - the printer quality was good, but I''d rather chop my hands off than type on that poor quality keyboard for any length of time - it was horrible! Locoscript was impossible to use, not intuitive in the least bit. All-in-all I must agree with Dave, it was indeed a glorified Typewriter!
Tuesday 10th April 2012
I am mourning my Amstrad *512 and cannot write my memoirs. Julia, or anyone, have you still got one in working order for sale?
Thursday 23rd February 2012
Robert Fleeman (UK)
PCW 8256 / 8512
BUILT IN LANGUAGE
Mechanical keyboard with numeric keypad end special edit keys (COPY,CUT,PASTE,PRINT,etc.). 8 function keys.
Zilog Z80 A
The CPU is running at 4 MHz, but is slowed down by the internal clock to 3,4 Mhz
Video : Amstrad ASIC custom chip DD controler : NEC 765
256 KB (16 banks of 16 kb each)
90 x 32
720 x 256 (PAL), 720 x 200 (NTSC)
monochrome (black & green)
Beeper, 1 channel
Z80 Bus, Parallel
BUILT IN MEDIA
1 Hitachi 3'' disk-drive (160 kb/side)
Printer, parallel/Centronics interface
1065 (september 85)
My doctor has still got one of these, but doesn't want to leave it to me ! :(