Amstrad is an electronics firm based in Brentwood in Essex, England and founded in 1968 by Sir Alan Michael Sugar in the UK. The name is a contraction of Alan Michael Sugar Trading. It was first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1980. During the late 1980s, Amstrad had a substantial share of the PC market in the UK. As of 2006, Amstrad's main business is manufacturing Sky Digital interactive boxes. Amstrad was bought by BSkyB on the 4th of September 2007 for £125 million.
1960s and 1970s
Amstrad was founded in 1968 by Alan Sugar. Amstrad entered the market in the field of consumer electronics. During the 1970s they were at the forefront of low-priced hi-fi, TV and car stereo cassette
technologies. Lower prices were achieved by injection moulding
plastic hi-fi turntable covers, undercutting competitors who used the vacuum forming
process. Amstrad expanded to the production of audio amplifiers
In 1980, Amstrad went public trading on the London Stock Exchange, and doubled in size each year during the early '80s. Amstrad began marketing their own home computers in an attempt to capture the market from Commodore and Sinclair, with the Amstrad CPC range in 1984. The CPC 464 was launched in the UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Spain and Italy. It was followed by the CPC 664 and CPC 6128 models. "Plus" variants later in the products' lives increased their functionality slightly, while building in compatibility with the GX4000, Amstrad's short-lived foray into the video gaming world.
In 1985, the business-oriented Amstrad PCW range was introduced, which were principally word processors running the CP/M operating system and the LocoScript word processing program. The Amsoft division of Amstrad was set up to provide in-house software and consumables. Amstrad briefly entered the video game console business with the GX4000 based on the CPC Plus hardware which failed to catch on.
On 7 April 1986 Amstrad announced it had bought from Sinclair Research "...the worldwide rights to sell and manufacture all existing and future Sinclair computers and computer products, together with the Sinclair brand name and those intellectual property rights where they relate to computers and computer related products." which included the ZX Spectrum, for £5 million. This included Sinclair's unsold stock of Sinclair QLs and Spectrums. Amstrad made more than £5 million on selling these surplus machines alone. Amstrad launched two new variants of the Spectrum: the ZX Spectrum +2, based on the ZX Spectrum 128, with a built-in tape drive (like the CPC 464) and, the following year, the ZX Spectrum +3, with a built-in floppy disk drive (similar to the CPC 664 and 6128), taking the 3" disks that many Amstrad machines used.
The company produced a range of affordable MS-DOS-based, and later Windows-based personal computers, the first of which was the PC1512 at £399 in 1986. It was a success, capturing more than 25% of the European computer market. A year later, in 1987, the Amstrad PCW 8512 was released as a computer dedicated to word processing, it was priced at £499. In 1988 Amstrad attempted to make the first affordable portable personal computer with the PPC 512 / 640, introduced a year before the Macintosh Portable. It ran MS-DOS at 8MHz and its built-in screen could emulate the Monochrome Display Adapter or Color Graphics Adapter. Amstrad's final (and ill-fated) attempts to exploit the Sinclair brand were based on the company's own PCs; a compact desktop PC derived from the PPC 512, branded as the Sinclair PC200, and the PC1512 rebadged as the Sinclair PC500.
In the early 1990s, Amstrad began to focus on portable computers rather than desktop computers
. In 1990, Amstrad tried to enter the gaming market with the Amstrad GX4000
, similar to what Commodore
did at the same time with the C64C
and the C64 GS
. The console was a commercial failure, becoming less popular because it used 8-bit technology unlike the 16-bit Sega Mega Drive
and Super Nintendo
. In 1993, Amstrad was licenced by Sega
to produce a system which was similar to the Sega TeraDrive
, going by the name of the Amstrad Mega PC
, to try and regain their image in the gaming market. The system didn't succeed as well as expected, mostly due to its high initial retail price of £599. In that same year, Amstrad released the PenPad
, a PDA
similar to the Apple Newton
, and released only weeks before it. It was a commercial failure, and had several technical and usability problems. It lacked most features that the Apple Newton
included, but had a lower price at $450.
As Amstrad began to concentrate less on computers and more in communication, they purchased several telecommunications businesses including Betacom, Dancall Telecom, Viglen Computers and Dataflex Design Communications during the early 1990s. Amstrad has been a major supplier of set top boxes to UK satellite TV provider Sky since its launch in 1989. Amstrad was key to the introduction of Sky, as it was the only manufacturer producing receiver boxes and dishes at the system's launch, and has continued to manufacture set top boxes for Sky, from analogue to digital and now including Sky's Sky+ digital video recorder.
In 1997, Amstrad PLC was wound up, its shares being split into Viglen and Betacom instead. Betacom PLC was then renamed Amstrad PLC.
The same year, Amstrad supplied set top boxes to Australian broadcaster Foxtel, and in 2004 to Italian broadcaster Sky Italia. In 2000, Amstrad released the first of its combined telephony and e-mail devices, called the e-mailer. This was followed by the e-m@ilerplus in 2002, and the E3 Videophone in 2004. Amstrad’s UK e-m@iler business is operated through a separate company, Amserve Ltd which is 89.8% owned by Amstrad and 10.2% owned by DSG International plc (formerly Dixons plc).
Amstrad has also produced a variety of home entertainment products over their history, including hi-fi, televisions, VCRs, and DVD players. Recently, Amstrad has also started producing animatronic Alan Sugar heads.
Following the success of the US version of the The Apprentice television series, Sir Alan Sugar has continued in Donald Trump's footsteps, with The Apprentice (UK),
2007: BSkyB Takeover
In July 2007, BSkyB
announced a takeover of Amstrad for £125m, a 23.7% premium on its market capitalization. BSkyB had been a major client of Amstrad, accounting for 75% of sales for its 'set top box' business. Having supplied BSkyB with hardware since its inception in 1988, market analysts had noted the two companies becoming increasingly close in recent years.
Sugar commented that he wished to play a part in the business, saying: “I turn 60 this year and I have had 40 years of hustling in the business, but now I have to start thinking about my team of loyal staff, many of whom have been with me for many years.”
It was announced on July 2, 2008 that Sir Alan had stepped down as Chairman of Amstrad which had been planned since BSkyB took over in 2007.
Computer product lines
- CPC464 (64 KB RAM, cassette drive)
- CPC472 (same as CPC464 but with 72 KB instead of 64 KB)
- CPC664 (3 inch internal disk variant of CPC464)
- CPC6128 (128 KB version of the CPC664 with 3 inch Disk)
- 464 Plus (CPC464 with enhanced graphics and sound)
- 6128 Plus (CPC6128 with enhanced graphics and sound)
- GX4000 (games console based on 464 Plus)
- Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2 (Re-engineered ZX Spectrum 128 with tape drive)
- Sinclair ZX Spectrum +3 (as ZX Spectrum +2 but with 3 inch disk drive instead of tape drive)
- PCW8256 (Z80, 3.5 MHz, 256 KB RAM, single 180 KB 3" floppy drive, dot-matrix printer, green screen)
- PCW8512 (same as PCW8256 but with 512 KB RAM, 180 KB 3" A: drive, 720 KB 3" B: drive)
- PCW9512 (Z80, 3.5 MHz, 512 KB RAM, single or dual 720 KB 3" floppy drives, daisywheel printer, "paper white" screen)
- PcW9256 (Z80, 3.5 MHz, 256 KB RAM, single 720 KB 3.5" floppy drive, dot-matrix printer, "paper white" screen)
- PcW9512+ (same as PCW9512 but with single 3.5" 720 KB floppy drive)
- PcW10 (same as PcW9256 but with 512 KB RAM and a built-in parallel port)
- PcW16 (Z80, 16 MHz, single 1.44 MB 3.5" floppy drive, new machine not directly compatible with old PCWs)
- NC100 (Z80, 64 KB RAM, 80×8 character LCD)
- NC150 (NC100 with 128 KB RAM, floppy disk interface and NC200 firmware — sold in France and Italy)
- NC200 (Z80, 128 KB RAM, adjustable 80×16 character LCD, 3.5 in floppy disk drive)
- PC1512 (Intel 8086, 8 MHz, 512 KB RAM, CGA Graphics) - Marketed in the United States as the PC5120
- PC1640 (Intel 8086, 8 MHz, 640 KB RAM, MDA/Hercules/CGA/EGA Colour Graphics) - Marketed in the United States as the PC6400
- PPC512 (Portable using NEC V30 processor, 512 KB RAM, non-backlit Supertwist CGA, one or two 720 KB 3.5" floppy drives) - released around the same time as the PC1512.
- PPC640 (Portable using NEC V30 processor, 640 KB RAM, non-backlit Supertwist CGA, one or two 720 KB 3.5" floppy drives, internal modem) - released around the same time as the PC1640.
- Sinclair PC200 (integral desktop PC for home computer market based on PPC512)
- PC-20 the Australian version of the Sinclair PC200
- Sinclair PC500 (rebadged PC1512)
- PC1386 (Intel 80386SX CPU, 20 MHz, 1 MB RAM)
- PC2086 (Intel 8086 CPU, 8 MHz, 640 KB RAM, VGA Graphics) launched 1989
- PC2286 (Intel 80286 CPU, 12.5 MHz, 1 MB RAM, VGA Graphics) launched 1989
- PC2386 (Intel 80386SX CPU, 20 MHz, 4 MB RAM, VGA Graphics) launched 1989. Due to a problem with the on-board Seagate hard drive controllers which shipped with the Amstrad PC2386, these had to be recalled and fitted with Western Digital controllers on one of the four available ISA explansion slots. Amstrad sued but following bad press over problems with data corruption and crashing Amstrad lost its lead in the European PC market despite the prompt recall of affected computers.
- PC3086 (8 MHz 8086 CPU, 640 KB RAM)
- PC3286 (16 MHz 80286 CPU, 1 MB RAM)
- PC3386SX (20 MHz 80386SX CPU, 1 MB RAM)
- PC4386SX (20 MHz 80386SX CPU, 4 MB RAM)
- PC5086 (8 MHz 8086 CPU, 640 KBm RAM)
- PC5286 (16 MHz 80286 CPU, 1 MB RAM)
- PC5386SX (20 MHz 80386SX CPU, 2 MB RAM, VGA Graphics) launched 1991
- PC7000 series: PC7286, PC7386SX, PC7486SLC
- PC9486 (25 or 33 MHz 80486SX)
- PC9555i (120 MHz Pentium)
- ALT286 (laptop; 16 MHz 80286 CPU, 1 MB RAM)
- ALT386SX (laptop; 16 MHz 80386SX CPU, 1 MB RAM)
- ACL386SX (laptop; 20 MHz 80386SX CPU, 1 MB RAM, colour TFT LCD)
- ANB386SX (notebook; 80386SX CPU, 1 MB RAM)
- Amstrad DMP1000 9-pin dot matrix printer
- Amstrad DMP3000 dot matrix printer
- Amstrad SM2400 2400 baud Internal modem (came with Mirror software)
- Thomas, David. Alan Sugar - the Amstrad Story (1991), paperback ISBN 0-330-31900-0.