Two models were offered: the £233 Model A and the £267 Model AD. The A had 32KB of Ram, a Zilog Z80A processor clocked at 4MHz, and proprietary printer, communications and twin tape ports, plus monitor and TV feeds. An expansion port on the back could take 64KB, 128KB, 256KB or 512KB Ram packs. The packs had pass-through connectors, allowing up to 2MB of memory to be added, way more than rivals machines could provide.
The AD also sported the well-remembered vacuum fluorescent 16-character, 14-segment display. It could also take the (optional) long-promised battery pack.
The Model AD came with a built-in 16-character displsy
Novelly, the NewBrain shipped with a Basic compiler to convert software into machine code in one go, rather than simply interpret programs line by line, as most other micros did back then.
Your Computer said of the machine at the time: "It could not be recommended to a beginner but could prove attractive to an experienced user who is prepared to explore some of the possibilities only hinted at in the manual.
"As a business machine, the NewBrain should do well: its highly adaptable operating system and large potential memory makes it suitable for applications which were hitherto only within the scope of machines several times as expensive."
Missing the market
So much promise and yet… it's the same old story. For instance, Grundy said the NewBrain would run CP/M - a version of the OS would be out by January 1983. It didn't appear for many more months. Users had problems with the cassette port. Promoted peripherals, such as floppy and hard drive controllers, expansion modules and a special multi-module housing, launched much later than announced, if they arrived at all.
Promoting the NewBrain
Yet the potential pulled in punters. Sales were slow initially, but picked up in the Christmas period, more so than Grundy was at first able to satisfy. As a result, the decision was made early in 1983 to ramp up production tenfold. But demand slumped, in part on the back of delays getting the promised peripherals out.
Basil Smith and Mike Wakefield, who had been working on the NewBrain since the very beginning, quit around this time. So closely were they associated with the machine - and so deep their knowledge of it - it would have been hard for their remaining colleagues to continue the project.
They wouldn't need to: Grundy pulled the plug later that year. Grundy Business Systems was closed down. It is thought some 50,000 NewBrains had been sold by that point. The remaining NewBrain stocks were sold to Dutch firm Tradecom, which installed them in schools in Holland. ®
The author would like to thank all those fellow enthusiasts for scanning and uploading so many adverts and manuals from the 1980s, without which this article would have been much less detailed.
The Grundy NewBrain is 30
Re: Further reading...
>Sounds like GBS didn't really know how to develop, sell or support the NewBrain. But then it was the early days of microcomputers..
Yeah. These days you don't have to suffer shoddy support, release dates slipping or broken promises. Manufacturers have learnt so much over the years.
Pricey back then..
The ZX81 was only £50 when my dad bought me one, and the Spectrum £130 (sold the '81 for £40, added pocket money, and parental contribution). The £200+ jobbies were way out of our league, used to see ads of it thinking, wow, a proper-ish keys AND an LCD, cool! I hated the BBC Micro, because if was just so expensive at £400, had great graphics and sound, and I never did own one, ever. Oh and the only chap in the class who had one was held up as being the only one with a 'professional' dad. Enough envy there to turn one a very deep shade of green indeed!
Fascinating article though, but the idea of trying to load 256kb off tape! Rough guess, a 3k bit per sec baud turbo loader could manage it in about half an hour. Did disk drives ever come out for the New Brain?
Re: Really good article series...
Oooh! oooh! —Do one on the Oric. It never gets a nostalgic mention.
Promise and potential but management handicapped
Basil Smith and Mike Wakefield joined the project after the design was well underway; something I didn't realise until many years later.
The design for the BBC micro was the Newbury NewBrain. The change in software and hardware, particularly adding colour was the result of Acorn actively bidding for the contract. Newbury did not supporting the bidding for the contract and Acorn at least had a working and commercial computer in the Atom. Newbury, then Grundy Business Systems, had only the battery powered Vestic machine with built in ROMS. Management did not want to supply the BBC micro and didn't try to get the contract.
The battery power machine relied upon CMOS components and was never made. The battery module for the Model AD would run for about an hour. Some owners replaced as many of the components, in the AD, as they could and achieved longer battery life.
In 1982 there were plans for modular cases to house the modules and expansion boards. This wasn't happening so the tower shown was made as a stop gap. As even these didn't appear in numbers loans of machines to software companies where supplied with an 'oil rig' tower to support the monitor with floppy disc controller and 96K expansion module in slim brown cases held together by locking keys. The brick at the back was the multiple power supply for four modules (the computer/keyboard module being one of them). This was so over engineered that it would also run a pair of 3.5" floppy drives (in house custom alteration).
Disc controllers and expansion modules were sold in limited numbers. All the components for a production run where supplied but there were hold ups in soldiering the boards. Tradecom battled to get these as the contractor hadn't been paid, but had been making a little return selling completed but untested disc controllers. The same contractor also was sitting on components to built NewBrains - which Tradecom then got completed. Existing customers wanted the expansion boards. New customers were waiting for the arrive of the long promised expansions. It would have cost very little to have turned the stock of components into machine for the Christmas market.
The plug was pulled in August 1983, but heralded the collapse of the other microcomputer companies in in 82/83 leaving Acorn, Sinclair and the late to market Amstrad as games machines with business having moved to the IBM PC.
There were many comments in the press and from people who didn't own a NewBrain about the keyboard. The keys have a full bounce and metal springs mounted on a metal plate. The spacing is exactly the same as on professional typewriters but the keys are straight, not tapered as used on most keyboards at the time. The small return key and short space bar where the only compromise for lack of space. There were many discussions about replacing the caps with ones that filled up the gap between keys so they looked 'proper'.
Cambridge based development gave overoptimistic delivery dates for modules but Teddington marketing gave unrealistic dates. At least they didn't stock pile customer's money months in advance.
Given the described history of UK then Holland, I'm curious where the model on Page 1 was destined. It seems to have a French AZERTY keyboard.
Speaking of keyboards, I think people sometimes underestimate the effect they had. I know that for many of my friends one of the major deciding factors for going the BBC Micro route was that it had a "proper" keyboard, not a chiclet-style one.