Acorn BBC

In the early 1980s the BBC wanted to release a branded computer to support the BBC Computer Literacy Project. The BBC Micro was produced by Acorn Computers, and was a huge success, 1.5 million were sold, mainly to schools. It had its own language, BBC Basic, which was very easy to use. In 1986 Acorn released the Acorn RISC Machine (ARM) processor as a second add-on processor unit to increase the processing power of the BBC Micro. The ARM processor uses very little power which makes it an attractive choice for mobile computing devices. ARM processors are now used in over 95% of mobile phones as well as many other portable and non-portable devices.

Acorn A3000

The Acorn A3000 was released in 1989, aimed at both primary and secondary schools. It used the fast ARM processor and had its own RISC operating system. It had a clear colour graphics user interface which made it easier for the user to interact with the computer. The Graphical User Interface (GUI) allowed the user to select actions he or she wished the computer to take without having to type in commands. Moving a mouse controlled a pointer on the screen and clicking on an icon or colour image instructed the computer which operation to perform or which application to run. Data and programs could be loaded from floppy discs. The Acorn 3000 was the last of the BBC microcomputers. Acorn computers are no longer made but the ARM processor has gone from strength to strength. It was used by Apple Corporation in some of its early mobile devices, such as the Apple Newton, as well as by other manufacturers. It is the dominant processor in modern mobile phones.

  • BBC

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  • A3000

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ACORN Computers


ACORN Computers


BBC Domesday System


ACORN Computers

Processing - Arm processor

The ARM processor was over specified for its purpose in the BBC Acorn computers, that is, it wasn't stretched to anything like its full capability. Partly as a result of this it consumed very little power using only 0.1 of watt electrical power. This made it ideal for development of mobile technologies. The Apple Newton Message Pad, an early mobile PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), used an ARM processer. Had it used a more conventional processor it would have consumed more power and the battery would run flat sooner. The low power consumption of ARM is a feature on which the development of mobile devices such as the smartphone is based.

  • ARM processor

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User Interface - A3000 and birth of GUI

Before the Graphical User Interface (GUI) was introduced users of personal computers (PCs) typed in commands in text in a language, such as BBC Basic, into the computer to make things happen. Many people, including some teachers, thought that this was the same as programming huge computers in air conditioned rooms by men in white coats, and therefore beyond their capabilities.

The introduction of the graphic user face (GUI) on computers such as the Acorn A3000, gave users the ability to use an on-screen pointer controlled by a mouse to select icons, images or menu entries displayed on screen. Clicking on any of these instructed the computer what particular action to take or which program to run. GUIs were adopted universally by computer manufacturers and software houses. Features of the GUI were called WIMP which stood for windows, icons, menus, pointer. The user-friendliness of the GUI played a major part in the rapid take-up PCs by non-specialist users.

  • A3000 and birth of GUI

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Impact on Society

BBC Domesday System

Images of ACORN Computers

  • A BBC Computer complete with Colour CRT display

  • Acorn RISC Operating System

  • It was possiible to upgrade the BBC Computer with an external processor

  • Mobile technology old and new - but both powered by the ARM processor

  • The Acorn ARM chip

  • The BBC Computer display used CRT technology similar to televisions

  • The BBC Computer was built to withstand the demands of a school environment