Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Amstrad GX4000 (1990)

Introduced September 1990

During the late 1980s Amstrad had been on a roll. The Amstrad CPC range had taken a respectable share of the home computing market, the cheap all-in-one PCW wordprocessor had been a remarkable success for small businesses and home users, the PC-compatible PC1512 and PC1640 had sold in huge quantities and Amstrad had bought out arch-rival Sinclair to produce their own take on the iconic ZX Spectrum micro.

Not everything had been a success. The deeply strange portable PCs – the PPC 512 and PPC 640 – proved to be a high-profile flop. Worse still, the next-generation PC2000 series which had been launched to great acclaim ended up as a disaster with a batch of faulty hard drives significantly damaging Amstrad’s reputation.

Amstrad’s success had been built on offering quality devices at bargain prices, typically by exploring ways to drive down costs. The CPC computers were a good example, a home computer, monitor and storage device starting at £399, all inclusive. Amstrad leveraged their relationships with makes of TV tubes and cassette players to give them a price advantage, the inclusion of the cheap-but-capable Z80 processor drove down costs further. Amstrad chose to use the CPC platform for their next venture.


Amstrad GX4000

The Amstrad GX4000 was essentially a games console version of the CPC. Stripped of the cassette drive, TV and keyboard, the GX4000 used cartridges and hooked up to a domestic TV. Still running a Z80 with 64Kb of RAM the console was modestly specified even by 1990’s standards… but at just £99 it was really cheap.

It was an elegantly packaged device, with two slightly creaky games controllers attached and video output via RF, SCART or and Amstrad DIN connector for a CPC monitor. You could add a light gun or an analogue joystick took, but expansion options were pretty limited. Still, it was pretty capable for an 8-bit platform and the related CPC had a huge variety of good quality games available for it. So, it should have been a success? Not exactly.

By 1990 the 8-bit era that had dominated the 1980s was at an end. 32-bit home computers such as the Commodore Amiga had been established for some time, and the games console market itself was in the process of moving to 16-bit platforms such as the Sega Megadrive. But technological obsolescence had never been a problem for Amstrad - a company that shipped CP/M computers well into the 1990s – where instead they were interested in value-for-money. And the GX4000 certainly seemed to have that.

But the GX4000 was a massive failure, and perhaps the key problem was games. CPC games on cassette cost a few pounds where a GX4000 cartridge for the same game cost £25 (a quarter of the price of the console). Only a couple of games were available at launch, and a combination of manufacturing delays and high costs means that just 27 games of varying quality were launched. The 8-bit CPC platform that the GX4000 ran on wasn’t something that gamers could be excited about either.

Perhaps if the GX4000 had been released a few years earlier with more (and cheaper) games plus better designed hardware, it might have been a success. As it was, the GX4000 was discontinued in 1991 having sold just 15,000 units. Of course, that makes this console quite collectable today with prices for ones in good condition going for up to £200 which would be a lot more than was paid for it in the first place..

Image credit:
Evan-Amos via Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain


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