The Advance 86 was an early IBM PC compatible system conceived by Advance Technology (UK) and built by Ferranti (well known for its military products, and the ZX-81custom chip).
It was intended to appeal to the home user and to small businesses. It had the same features as the IBM PC (360 KB disks, identical graphic resolution) but had a different CPU, the 8086 which was a true 16-bit processor, for a much lower price !
The Advance 86 was totally IBM PC compatible, from the keyboard, the disks, the resolution, to the expansions which could be used with the Advance through four IBM-compatible slots.
In fact, the Advance 86 was first conceived as a home-computer (model 86A) and was later upgraded with a ''new box'' housing the two disk-drives, the expansion slots and thus the IBM compatibility features (model 86B). This is why the model 86B is composed of two main cases, the smallest one being the original one (86A) which houses the main board and has a wide trap-door to store the keyboard when not in use.
Back in 1984, the Advance 86 was one of the few professional systems to work without any fan thanks to its dual power supply unit, making work more pleasant. However, a fan was later added into the lower case.
The Advance 86B was sold with four professional software packages: Perfect Writer, Perfect Speller, Perfect Calc and Perfect File. This bundle had everything a new user needed to start, and it was great value as it all came free with the computer !
A 10 MB hard-disk was quickly sold in option, as the disks had a low capacity (360k), like the IBM PC.
A kit form was also available at a reduced price for self build.
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I had one of the very early ones (initially without heatsinks on the Ferranti ULA chips). They were fitted on an engineer visit.
I fitted a hard disk to mine, and the top power supply overheated regularly. I always had to run it with the lid off!
It wasn''t totally IBM compatible. Because it used an 8086, with a 16 bit data path, extra logic was needed to make the 8259 interrupt controller respond on the correct ports. They didn''t do this, so where a real IBM compatible would use ports 20 and 21, the Advance only used even numbered ports$ in this case, 20 and 22. Any software that programmed the interrupt controller would not work correctly.
Advance provided a conversion program that (mostly blindly) changed 21 to 22 in executables files. Not a success. I did it by code inspection with DEBUG, and was usually successful.
Friday 20th April 2012
Bob Eager (UK)
@Micah B. Haber
"Internally" refers to the processing word width. In this case, 16bit words can be computed at each cycle. But it takes nearly twice as long as computing an 8bit words, save some overheard because the process is inherently serialized. That''s why 16bit computing is only marginally faster than 8bit. 16bit real advantage is for bigger address space, not speed.
On the other hand, "Externally" refer to the bus the CPU use to communicate its information to and from the system, including RAM. A 16bit bus can effectively carry twice the information of an 8bit bus and thus, is twice as fast, because here we are talking about parallel communication.
While it''s true a 16/16 system is not twice as fast as an 16/8 system, the 8bit bus of the 16/8 setup can seriously bottleneck the 16 bit CPU in some scenario. We should say then the 16/8 is slower than the 16/16, not the other way around. Todays 32 and 64bit CPU have external bus much wider than their internal address space /processing width and are not directly comparable to the 16bit CPU era.
Wednesday 7th April 2010
Ramon Zarat (Canada)
The 86B was my first introduction to the 'PC' world after a string of home computers. It did everything an IBM junior did but was cheaper and had the 'perfect suite' of software too, which was actuall pretty good for it's day.
I remember it would regularly crash when it got warm because of poot contacts between the A and B boxes - ended up soldering the ribon cables into place to fix the damn thing once and for all!
If my memory serves - these were only available through the WHSmiths stores in the UK. Not ideal marketing as Smiths weren't big in the home or business computer markets at the time.
Friday 10th November 2006
David Martin (Crewe, UK)
BUILT IN LANGUAGE
Advance Basic (and GW Basic on disk)
Full-stroke keyboard with 10 function keys and numeric keypad, 84 keys Quite similar to the IBM PC keyboard
128 Kb, up to 256 Kb
40 x 25, 80 x 25
320 x 200, 640 x 200
4 expansion slots (IBM compatible), 2 x 16-bit slots, monitor (composite) and TV video outputs, RS232, Centronics, Joysticks, cassette interface, lightpen
BUILT IN MEDIA
2 x 5''1/4 disk-drives (360k each)
10Mb hard-disk, RAM expansion boards
86A : £399 (UK, july 84) 86B : £1499 (UK, july 84) 86B : 2744 (France, 85)