The Oric Atmos was a British 8-bit computer that superseded the slightly buggy but decent overall Oric 1. Like its predecessor, this machine gained some level of popularity in Europe during the early to mid nineteen eighties.
Despite being a decent machine, just like it's predecessor, it never really managed to fully compete against the likes of the ZX Spectrum, Commodore's Vic 20 and Commodore 64, the Amstrad CPC 464, or Acorn's Acorn Electron and education king-pin the BBC Micro.
So let's have a look at another lesser-known 8-bit computer that just didn't quite manage to make it in the UK during the height of the 8-bit era...
The Oric Atmos
Just like the Oric 1, the Atmos was manufactured as a direct competitor to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
It was blessed with a better keyboard than the Oric 1 (which also had a nice keyboard) and the pesky problems in the ROM which had niggled the previous Oric machine, had finally been ironed out. This was a major plus point over the Oric 1.
It was by far less a cool looking unit though, and the black and orange combo keyboard just didn't look good at all. It looked a little cheap and tacky to be honest, and a more subtle colour scheme would have helped a lot.
The problems loading programs from cassette were still present though, which was a real downside to the machine. The Atmos really should have had this little quirk nailed on the head, especially as it wanted to compete with other 8-bit machines of a similar stature.
There was nothing more annoying than not being able to load your favourite game until you tried it four times.
A Brochure Advert for the Oric Atmos
As was becoming the norm, the machine came in both a 16K and 48K version, although the 16k version was not upgradeable, which really was unforgivable.
By 1984 16K was no longer considered enough memory for a home computer, and the fact that you could not expand it virtually made the 16K version of the machine instantly obsolete. It goes without saying that not many of the 16K models were sold.
This small amount of memory could not support many computer games by 1984 and by this time your average punter demanded more memory. 16K? Pah! If you fancied trying your hand at programming, a good version of BASIC was installed on the machine.
Tangerine basic was actually created by Microsoft and was an upgrade to the Basic used on the Oric 1. For budding learners, it was a decent version to get your teeth into. Not quite on a par with Acorn's BBC basic, but no other 8-bit machine was.
The peripherals that had been promised for its predecessor (including a Modem, 3.5" floppy disk drive and printer) were also released for the Atmos late in 1984; but again this was a problem as other machines such as the ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro and Commodore 64 were already blessed with a host of peripherals such as micro-drives, floppy drives, printers, joysticks, modems and light-pens.
A UK TV Advert for the Oric Atmos
Oric Atmos Gaming
How it ended for Oric, and How It Began Again
The machine, like its predecessor, became popular over the channel in France. The French models incorporated a scart power supply which tidied up the Oric cable problem that I am sure Oric users will remember (a cable for the machine, one for the cassette deck, one for the TV and one for any other peripherals that may be attached!). Phew.
The Oric Atmos was a fine machine that never really managed to take off in the UK. It lived through 1984 and 1985 before fading into obscurity as it lost out to the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum. BBC Micro and the Amstrad CPC machines.
By 1986 it had effectively vanished from the high street and the ZX Spectrum and C64 ruled the home computing roost (with the Amstrad lagging just a little behind). As the whole retro gaming scene is booming, new titles are now being developed for the Oric Atmos, which is great news.
Emulation is also in full swing and classic and new titles can be enjoyed by enthusiasts (check out www.oric.org and www.defence-force.org). The AY Chip was always a pretty good piece of hardware too so the machine was capable of producing very nice sound effects and music.
Perhaps we can all finally see what the machine is capable of after all these years...
Flash! Ah-AHHHH! Couldn't Quite Save the Oric....
Defence Force games for Oric machines
Defence Force are making modern games for both the Oric 1 and Oric Atmos. They have even developed some 4KB (Yep that's a paltry 4KB of RAM folks!) games to really push the capabilities of the machines as well as the programmers!
A 'Light Cycles' game (made famous by the movie TRON) has been created called Cyclotron. Sparse on sound effects but high on gameplay, a superb piece of programming within the limits of only 4KB of RAM. A 4KB version of the classic arcade game Kong was created for the minigames competition and is also available from the Defence Force website.
These games are a marvel in technical achievement and prove just what can be accomplished on a retro computer via the use of good old assembler. More games are being created all the time so keep looking around for new games for your Oric machine.
Elite Style Game for the Oric Atmos
© 2010 Martin Allan
Any Fans Of The Oric Atmos?
brian from uk on June 13, 2019:
I was only twelve years old at the time anyway but when I was old enough to work my first pc was a tulip 286 pc it was the only thing I could afford at the time even the pc of that time was a 486 thank you martin
Martin Allan (author) from Sunny Scotland on June 13, 2019:
I write a single article on a single machine at a time. The TRS80 is one I still haven't written about, but may well get around to it.
I did know one person back in the 80's who had one, but I have never actually used one.
brian from uk on June 13, 2019:
There's no mention of the tandy tr80 what it was there was a main assembly room and a smaller room at back of assembley room which had glass window looking onto main assembly room at the back of this assembly room were outside windows which normal had there curtains drawn on occasions they were opened to let more light in there were rows of these tr80 machines but they were rarely used I never saw anybody on them I used to think what a waste of money not many people knew how use them
Martin Allan (author) from Sunny Scotland on June 08, 2012:
Yep - I must be INSANE!
Dan on December 12, 2011:
You are insane. The atmos is the gr8st looking after the speccy
Mickael Pointier on September 18, 2010:
Not a bad article, but you could probably add a bunch of useful links to modern Oric resources for people who are interested in knowing more about the machine, like:
- www.oric.org - where most of the Oric software is reviewed, with screenshots, etc...
- www.defence-force.org - which host the most active Oric forums and is responsible for games like Space:1999, 1337, Stormlord, etc...