Retro blogging & Amstrad NC100 Notepad

As a teenager at school I enjoyed writing fiction, most of the time, I wrote down stories the old fashioned way, with paper and pencil. However as I got older my writing gradually progressed. To the point one rainy holiday to Bridlington, trapped in a caravan. I wrote a 25 page science fiction story. Selotaping sheets of A4 paper in to my exercise book, the wad looked pretty impressive. I still remember marvelling at how much I had written.
On returning to school, i recall my support teacher was less then thrilled at having to read my drivel. The following year, our school bought several new Amstrad NC100’s. This being 1992-93, the NC100 was pretty fancy kit.
So as to avoid being subjected to more stuck together A4. My support teacher, Mr Read. Arranged that i be lent a NC100 over the holidays. At the time my spelling and grammar was rather bad. It was thought encouraging me to write would help me get better. What did i care? I was being given exercise books and being told to write as much as i liked. And now they where giving me a portable computer with a z80 CPU, RESULT! Who said terrible spelling doesn’t have it’s plus side!

For six weeks i was able to play with the NC100 and i loved it. It was portable, easy to type on and best of all didn’t take up and room. Laptops at the time where pretty pricey and heavy. Luggable machines like the Sharp PC7200 in my collection, where still in use. Schools where filled with Acorns and BBC Micros. For it’s day, the compact size of the NC100 made it a very attractive looking portable computer.
One might argue the NC100 is nothing more then a glorified word processor. However anyone buying an NC100, would find a tiny micro with support for BBC Basic. Which was a very sweet function for Amstrad to build in. Allowing users to produce their own software. Sure there where contenders. The TRS-80 Model 100 and 101, along with the Cambridge Z88. While the NC100 isn’t perhaps as versatile as the one’s I’ve listed. It still managed to find a market and sell pretty well. During my brief six week period with one, I had been left with a desire to own one. A desire that would remain unfulfilled until a few days ago. When after much time spent looking on Ebay, i was able to win one. The very machine i am typing this blog on at the moment 🙂

So whats it like?

I’ve had the Amstrad for just under a day and already been able to crack on with a blog entry. Due to the simplicity of the interface. Other featured such as text formatting and the spell checker might require you do some reading of the manual. You navigate the menu’s using the colour coded functions keys, which makes getting around the screen pretty straight forward. I was in to writing my first blog in seconds of turning the computer on. Its interesting to note that the first section of the NC100’s manual, was apparently written by Sir Alan Sugar himself. Whether or not the chairman of Amstrad sat down and typed it all out on an NC100. is up to you to decide.

I bought the NC100 with a mind to writing my blog entries while on the move. Its rugged construction and light weight seemed perfect suited. Unlike my HP netbook or my Archos tablet. The latter being a pain for typing anything more exerting then in a search engine. I can’t type on a touch screen, well at least not very well. Boasting 60 hrs battery life on 4xAA batteries. It puts my Netbook and Archos tablet to shame. However your mileage may vary. I discovered my fresh rechargeable batteries gave out on me after 2 hours of typing. So it might mean buying ordinary alkaline batteries. Alternatively if your at home, you can hook the NC100 up to it’s own power supply. This avoids the whole battery issue all together. So long as you have a power socket in close proximity to where you have chosen to work. Which proved a problem for me. So i resolved to battery power only.
Even in light of this, it doesn’t require a great stretch of the imagination to believe the NC100 capable of impressive operating times. Which leads me to wonder how many people using modern tech, might benefit from a robust computer like the NC100. If all you want is something to type out work on. Then really there is no comparison. It makes me realize why there are still user groups for the Tandy TRS80-100’s.
Weighing 1.096kg next to the HP Mini at 1.144kg’s. The NC100 is essentially the granddaddy of the modern netbook. It is worth noting the weight comparison. Even tho this blog essentially deals with retro hardware. It’s certainly impressive to see how modern tech compares to is predecessors. Hard to image that 1.144kg’s, comprises of a TFT display, hard drive, USB ports, plastics, keyboard and motherboard.

Knocking heads with modern tech

Unless your sole reason for owning a NC100 is to write and print your work out. You’ll be wanting to get your files over to your main PC. This does require a bit of work with Hyper terminal and a null modem cable. However i was able to figure out and get a test file transferred from my NC100 to a Winxp computer in roughly 30 minutes by following the instructions i found online. The only real issue i had was hyper terminal. I found using another free ware app instantly gave better results.
In this throw away, IPAD society we live in today. The general consumer seems put off by anything that requires more then clicking a few buttons. So hooking up a null modem cable and using hyper terminal might only appeal those who don’t mind getting stuck in. Half of the reward is in making the effort in the first place.
The best part about transferring files is aside from purchasing a null modem cable. If you have a Linux or Windows computer, you already own the software. Under Windows Vista or 7, you will have to download software. However it’s still free ware, so doesn’t cost a penny. Tho probably worth emailing the author and thanking them for their hard work.
If you follow the guide i found, you will end up with a text files on your desktop. Which you can load in to any word processor or simply cut and paste in to your blog and get it uploaded. Which is exactly the process I’m using for ByteMyVDU.

Conclusion

As an avid recycler of old tech, I always try to find modern uses for old computers. Sometimes my endeavours end in failure and on rare occasions, success. I think the NC100 still has something to offer as a portable computer, if nothing more then for its word processing abilities alone. Here at ByteMyVDU, there’s no doubt the NC100 will be getting much use for up coming blogs.

Keep on geeking guys and thanks for reading!
James

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7 Comments on “Retro blogging & Amstrad NC100 Notepad”

  1. That machine is (dare I say it..) sexy.. oh yes, it looks stunning!

  2. iggy says:

    Yeah, I have two of these I pull out from time to time. Have had them for years and years. A great machine if all you want to do is bash out text fast with minimal distraction. Battery life should be about 20 hours I think. Much under rated in their time and still a frequent find on ebay.

    • heamogoblin says:

      Mine is in constant use for the BMV blog, files are then uploaded to an IBM PC350 and posted online. Always run to find uses for old tech in today’s world of social networking and tweeting.

  3. iggy says:

    Glad to hear that you find yours of so much use still. With mine, the oldest one I have has software version 1.06. This has never lost data unlike my other one with 1.00 software. So make sure u back up if not to a PC then to a memory card. Still a terrific piece of kit – you have to love that boot up time – even if the keys are very noisy by modern standards.

  4. Arif says:

    What is the name of the free app alternative to Hyperterminal? Thanks

  5. James Malloy says:

    MUCH better than hyperterminal:
    http://www.umonfw.com/ucon/index.html

    “At first glance, uCon is a terminal emulator (i.e. an alternative to hypterterminal). Dig a little deeper, and a lot of other handy “stuff” shows up: scripting, function keys/buttons, timestamping, logging, telnet/plink/comport backend options, network servers, network access of com port, etc.”


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