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1980s Computers Explanation of terms

The BBC Model B

BBC Model B


Acorn Computers Ltd (UK)


BBC Model B

Date Launched

December 1981


Later increased to £400

Microprocessor type

MOSTEK 6502A @ 2 MHz
(A faster version of 6502)

ROM size

32 kilobytes

Standard RAM

32 kilobytes
(16 kilobytes in Model A)

Maximum RAM

32 kilobytes

Keyboard type

Good quality typewriter style with function keys

Supplied language

This was the fastest version of BASIC on any 8-bit microcomputer at the time and was 'structured', i.e. it allowed named functions and procedures, with local variables, to be defined, making it much better suited to learning the principles of good programming practice than simpler BASICS which relied on subroutine calls.
BBC BASIC became so important in education that Acorn's rival Research Machines were supplying a version of it with their own 80x86 based schools computers in the late 1980s.

Text resolution

Various, up to 80 columns x 32 lines

Graphics resolution

8 different graphics modes, up to 640 x 256 pixels maximum.
Some modes were not available on the unexpanded Model A due to lack of memory.

Colours available

2 colours at maximum resolution, up to 8 fixed colours plus 8 flashing colours at lowest resolution and for text.

Example Screenshot

BBC 4 colour screen
The BBC B could produce quite detailed displays by the standard of 1982.


Three note polyphonic

Cassette load speed

300 or 1200 baud

Dimensions (mm)
Weight (grams)

409 x 358 x 78

Special features

Was designed for expansion and included interfaces for serial communications, analogue input, networking, parallel printer port, external disc drive, TUBE connection for a second (6502 or Z80) processor, receiving Teletext, and sockets for additional ROM chips.

Good points

An excellent, structured and very fast version of BASIC.
Ability to interface to external hardware, e.g. to monitor or control laboratory experiments.

Bad points

Expensive compared to the opposition, even considering its capabilities.
RAM size was rather small and there could be as little as 13 KB left for programs when using graphics.

How successful?

Sold in large numbers, over one million in total, particularly to the schools and further education market.
An updated version, the BBC Master, which had at least 128KB of RAM and a word processor and spreadsheet in ROM, was in production from 1986 to 1993, making it one of the last 8-bit home computers.
Some BBC Model Bs remained in use in schools well into the 1990s.


The Model A, with only 16 KB of RAM and lacking some of the interfaces, was launched at the same time but most sales were of the 'B'.
The BBC Owl logoThe computer was designed specifically to accompany a BBC television series about microcomputers which was soon to be broadcast, and the BBC brand name rather than Acorn's tended to be emphasised in advertising. Indeed Acorn were forbidden from putting their name on the BBC micro itself.
The BBC B was the computer to aspire to in 1982, even if you could only afford the Sinclair Spectrum (at less than half the price).

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