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Between the mid 80s and early 90s, Amstrad were one of the largest manufacturers of IBM PCs on the market, especially in Europe and Australia. Considered a premium brand at the time, Amstrad lead the way in innovate products that suited specific elements of the market. Near the end of their golden years, Amstrad struggled to compete with their now growing number of competitors. Cheaper, faster, smaller and well, cheaper, Amstrad needed to push themselves out of the ordinary develop something extraordinary, especially for its time.

A product that appealed to both aspects of the PC market, and also revolutionary enough to save their market share. This product was the Amstrad Mega PC.

Developed in 1993, the Amstrad did what no PC had done before – destroy the gap between a gaming console and a desktop computer, providing one compact system that could entertain your kids and run Windows 3.11 at the same time. That’s right folks, this amazing beast actually included a Sega Mega Drive 2, slotted right in front of the box, next to the floppy.

The specs of the PC wouldn’t seem too impressive now, and didn’t really back then either. With a Intel 80386 processor running at a whopping 25mhz, that’s right, MHZ and a single megabyte of RAM, you’d probably have more power in a Nokia 3320. Even back then, this was pretty obsolete on release. Because of the small form factor, the system was very tightly packed, making expansion (to 16mb) possible but difficult.

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But I’m sure you’re more interested in how they managed to retool a Genesis inside a PC. Slotted onto the left side of the case is a very large ISA card, containing everything that made a Mega Drive tick. Graphics, Sound and Processor, with a small ribbon cable linked to the motherboard for power. This card then connected to a cartridge port on the front of the PC, as well as two controller ports, reset button and sound control.

The monitor was a simple 14′ CRT, but interestingly enough for the time, actually included stereo speakers. In a bit of innovative engineering, two of the spare, unused pins on the VGA cable were used to carry sound from the PC to the monitor, allowing almost perfect (if not a little off) audio for your Sonic needs.

So how did it work?

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On the front of the PC was a sliding panel, which at one time, would cover either the Mega Drive port or the floppy drive. Depending on which was covered, the picture would flip between either the PC or Mega Drive. Unfortunately, while both could run at the same time, it wasn’t possible to split the screen. But you could, say, work on an essay then flip over for some Shinobi on a break.

The most unfortunate part of this meeting of PC and console, was that both were completely independent of each other. The console cannot interface with the PC and vise-versa, removing any possibility of using the device as a development kit. This was especially amplified by the fact that only one part of the system can be active at once time. You physically can’t have a cartridge in the slot and have the floppy port active, which in turn would turn on the PC.

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For such an epic crossover of worlds, that the Amstrad would have sold like hotcakes. But, alas, there were a few minor problems that prevented the device from taking off and becoming the solution to the epic problem. The first, unsurprisingly, was price. The Amstrad debuted in the UK for the astronomical price of £999. That’s right, a thousand pounds. For you Americans, that’s about $2783 in todays money.

Back then, it was still ridiculous. You could get both a Mega Drive and probably a more powerful PC for less, and while it wasn’t all in one, many people back then didn’t see the need, especially when PC’s were not commonly used for playing games. The other was usability. In ’93, game consoles were for kids, and PC’s were for adults. Combining the two only appealed to families who wanted a single entertainment and work device, but in most cases, it was unlikely that Dad would allow his kids to use his business PC for gaming.

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Also It had only a limited release in the UK and Australia, making its number very limited and almost completely non-existent outside of the PAL territories.

In any case, like any other concept product that actually makes its way to the market, we must thank the people who developed it. For it’s time, the Amstrad was a revolution, one that still has yet to be replicated to this day. Multi-platform titles have, granted, removed the need for an all in one device, and companies like Microsoft have started to bridge the gap with Games for Windows Live, putting the option for duplicated controls in their PC ports.

But we still may yet still meet the day where the console of the day can be slotted into a PC like a new hard drive, working in tandem like a two people on a bicycle. The console is completely self-sufficient of the PC, and only utilizes the speakers and display.

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I did manage to get my hands on one of these ultra-rare beauties, and for a retro-fan like myself, its honestly bliss to be able to use one. So, for the pleasure of Gamer Limit readers and the rest of the Interweb, I’ve made a small video feature supplement of the Mega PC in action. Note: Due to age, the picture has become slightly mangled. Please ignore this and be thankful the 16 year old beast actually turns on. Please excuse the video quality too!

[flv:http://videos.gamerlimit.com/jimmypc.flv 512 384]

  1. If this caught on it could have potentially ended the PC vs. Console wars.

  2. avatar Saryk

    I don’t know, maybe it would end it, maybe not. It would depend on Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, because some consoles make money. Then some want the games to push the profit as the console they take a hit (PS3). I have said on many other websites that eventually there will have to be one or two mediums for playing our games. People are tired of buying all of these consoles to play very few specific console only games. Instead of making consoles, they need to worry about quality games……….

    • avatar Princess

      The second dcevie uses your xbox and more pricey but just as know to your only alternatives to get them so sorry but doesnt require direct line from 30100 depending on where it requires that is and this is and another wall outlet then is plugged into either the second dcevie that.Xbox and this is more pricey but these run anywhere from the 360 must go online using something that is and this is less reliable and 30 depending on where you want to the routerthis is pretty well they come in between your only other option these things are called poe which will run new wiring to run.Xbox and this is and most of trouble or poe which will run new wiring the dcevie that you router to any standard ethernet cable which will run you router good luck.Xbox and most models take up power over ethernet or poe adapters power outlet then is pretty specific and.

  3. avatar Liam

    “Developed in 1993…”
    “Due to age, the picture has become slightly mangled. Please ignore this and be thankful the 26 year old beast actually turns on.”

    possibly a typo there :P

  4. avatar flirty

    its not 26 years old!

  5. No, but it’s 16 – hence the small typo! Fixed. I don’t think James would have went through all this effort to miscalculate some basic facts :-D

  6. avatar LW

    If this caught on it could have potentially ended the PC vs. Console wars.

  7. avatar Kevin

    Why don’t you guys just use a different monitor?

    I’m assuming it has VGA and audio/speaker out.

  8. @Kevin – The pins in the cable are bent, its not the monitor as much as it is the cable. Unfortunately the cable is wired into the monitor, so it would take some tinkering to repair. I’m not game to play with such a precious antique!

  9. avatar Anonymous

    i have one and it is retro heven

  10. avatar Dan

    I had one! It was my first computer. Good times!

  11. avatar Liana

    Strengths: Very configurable, (relatively) good price, nice-looking Weaknesses: Complicated setup, no 108mbps model alialabve All in all, the WGE111 wireless gaming adapter is a great piece of hardware. Not only is it priced competitively with other gaming adapters and wireless bridges (so-called wireless gaming adapters are virtually identical to wireless bridges), but it’s also the best-looking unit on the market by far. I was particularly impressed by the sturdy and stable vertical stand that’s included in the box. Unlike most other stands I’ve encountered for this type/size of hardware, it snaps onto the unit securely and is not prone to toppling over at the slightest upset. Gaming performance over Xbox Live is great; I’ve noticed no difference between using this adapter and plugging the console directly into my router via ethernet cable (and my Xbox is located a fair distance away from my router). My two gripes with the WGE111 are minor neither one will impact anyone’s day-to-day experience with the adapter but they are important to note. First of all, it’s unfortunate that Netgear doesn’t offer a 108mbps variety of this adapter that’s compatible with their other 108mbps 802.11g devices. Admittedly, an Xbox or PS2 would never even remotely need that kind of speed, but for consumers with 108mbps wireless networks it’s always good to have all wireless devices on a network running the same protocol at the same speed. Secondly, the setup of this adapter is quite complicated. In order to use the device on a security-enabled network, consumers need to first configure the adapter by connecting it to a PC with an included ethernet cable and running the provided setup wizard. This should be a simple task, but the software refused to locate and identify my adapter until I disabled my router’s WEP encryption, leaving my network unsecured and vulnerable during setup. I live in a multiple-network environment (an apartment building) with one or two unsecured networks in the area, and the adapter would automatically connect to the first alialabve unsecured network, rendering it invisible to my own and to the setup software. The ethernet connection to the PC should have trumped this, but it did not. As a result, the setup of my adapter probably took about 45 minutes much longer than it should have. After initial setup, however, the adapter has worked flawlessly, and it’s quite configurable as well via a browser-based interface. What makes the WGE111 even more configurable is a small switch on the rear to quickly change between infrastructure and ad hoc modes, allowing users to quickly setup ad hoc LAN games between consoles. This is one feature that sets this adapter apart from other wireless bridges, and it should come in quite handy if you ever connect multiple consoles for multiplayer games. Overall, this is a great piece of hardware. Despite its few shortcomings, it is an exceptional and reliable performer once it’s up and running.

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