Founded in 1968 by Alan Sugar, Amstrad had already built a reputation as a budget British manufacturer of low-priced, all-in-one hi-fi systems when they began marketing home computers in 1984 with the 8-bit CPC 464 (pictured), a 64k machine with a built-in cassette drive and its own monitor.
The following year, Amstrad released two disk-based CPCs (the 664 and 6128) and launched the PCW (Personal Computer Word-processor) range, bundled with a printer.
In 1986, Amstrad launched the PC1512 system (a clone of another company’s machine) priced at £399. Code-named AIRO (Amstrad’s IBM Rip Off), it proved revolutionary and captured 25% of the European market.
By the time the PC1512 was unveiled at the QEII Conference Centre in London, Amstrad had snapped up Sinclair and the ZX Spectrum brand and – apart from Acorn and BBC with the Micro – was now the biggest British name in the burgeoning computer industry.
The PCW, however, showed Amstrad there was even more profit to be had in the commercial market. The debut PCW 8256 was appearing on hundreds of thousands of office desks, bought by managers attracted to the £399 price.
With eight million sales, this range would cement its place as the bestselling British computer until the Raspberry Pi beat it in February 2016.
Price was an important selling point for Amstrad and it could see the IBM PC, launched in 1981 and priced at around £2,000, was going toe-to-toe with Apple at a huge cost to the buyer. The success of the PC1512 was purely down to it being inexpensive.
The PC1512 was followed by the PC1640 – which had 640 KB of memory – and affordable portable Amstrad PCs, as well as the PC 2000 series, created to compete against IBM’s new PS/2 architecture. The series ran from 3000 to 9000 and 1993’s Mega PC even had a cartridge slot so users could play Sega Mega Drive games.