The History of Tanagerine and Oric 48K

 

The Oric 1 was an 8-bit computer system that was developed by Oric International Ltd and was released in 1983.  Apparently the name ORIC came about by juggling the letters of the word ‘micro’ and the best they came up with was the word ‘oric’ (somewhere the letter ‘M’ was lost) and the name stuck.  When the first Orics were released the Oric logo on the casing was shown as a grey logo whereas later models sported a coloured logo (Red, Light Blue & Dark Blue).

The system came to exist due to a British micro-computer company that was originaly based in St. Ives, Cambridgeshire known as Tangerine Computer Systems. Founded By Dr. Paul Johnson, Nigel Penton and Mark Rainer in 1979.  Tanagarine had previously produced the TAN1648 VDU (Visual Display Unit) which was one of the first VDU kits, and it was this product that gave them the recognition they needed in the home computer market.  To move forward in the computer market they then produced one of the first 6502-based kit computers known as the Microtan 65 or the M65.

This early system went on sale in 1979 and was a very simple machine.  The computer was available as ready-built system or in kit form consisting of a mainboard and components that requiring soldering and putting together.

Most of the internals of this machine were later to become the basis for the ORIC, ATMOS and later computers.

Microtan 65 or the M65.

  • an NMOS 6502 CPU running at 750 kHz clock rate.
  • 1K byte of RAM, used both for display memory and user programs.
  • 1K byte of ROM for the monitor program (this wasn’t even called an operating system).
  • video logic and a television RF modulator, for the 16 rows of 32 characters display.
  • a software scanned hexadecimal keypad.
  • An ASCII keyboard was optional.

Things started to progress when a gentleman called Barry Muncaster became involved operationally within the company were he introduced new ideas.  It was then that the company changed from Tangarine computers to more well known Oric Products International and to create a fresh start they moved to new premises in Ely, Cambridgeshire.
The Oric  was based on Sinclairs ZX Spectrum using a 1 MHz 6502A CPU and came with either 16K or 48K of RAM.  Both variations of the Oric were priced at £129 of the 16K and £169 for the 48K respectively,  this pricing made the Oric ever so slightly cheaper that the Spectrum models.

The Oric featured a modified BASIC interpreter and its operating system contained in an on-board 16K ROM.  Unlike the Spectrum the oric also had a proper sound chip as appose to a beeper but it only had a small internal speaker as apposed to sound being played through the TV .  The system had two different graphic modes on board HI-RES & LO-RES.  The LO-RES mode was a mainly a text only mode (though the character set similar to that on a spectrum & commodore 64 keyboard could be redefined to produce graphics) with 28 rows of 40 characters.  The HI-RES mode allowed 200 rows of 240 pixels above three lines of text.

Unfortunately the Oric-1 never had sprite capabilities so similar to the spectrum the system still suffered from the dreaded attribute clash. However in the HIRES mode it was possible to limit the clash to a lesser degree, when a single row of pixels could be coloured differently from the one below in contrast to the Spectrum, which applied foreground and background color in 8 x 8 pixel blocks.

Heres quite a good demo of an old sci-fi series called ‘Space 1999’ from back in the 70’s.  I think that this sort of gives you a decent idea of the Oric’s capable of and how much it resembled the Sinclair Spectrum . . .

Space:1999 Oric game intro

A couple of features i liked about the Oric was an almost standard (except for the connector) built in Centronics Printer Interface and as the system was meant for the home market, it had a built in television RF modulator as well as RGB output and was meant to work with a basic audio cassette tape recorder to save and load data.

A few features i though could have been improved and some people may disagree was although the keyboard on the spectrum with its dead flesh feel was annoying, the orics wasnt really any better with its thin plastic buttons that was horrible to use.  Personally i think i preffer the spectrums. Secondly was the error-checking of recorded programs was bugged that frequently causing user-created programs to fail when loaded back in, surely this should have been soak tested?

Early in 1984 when Oric International  released the much anticipated Oric Atmos.  This system was basically a re-vamped version of the Oric 1 but had features like a true keyboard and an updated V1.1 ROM.  Some of the old features were annoyingly still there like the faulty tape error checking routine.  Soon after the Atmos was released, the modem, printer and 3-inch floppy disk drive originally promised for the Oric-1 were announced and released by the end of 1984.  A short time after the release of the Atmos machine, a modification for the Oric-1 was issued and advertised in magazines and bulletin boards. This modification enabled the Oric-1 user to add a second rom (containing the Oric Atmos system) to a spare rom socket on the Oric-1 circuit board. Then, using a basic DPST (Double Pole Single Toggle) switch, the users could then switch between the new Oric Atmos rom and the original Oric-1 rom at their leisure which i though was a nice little touch.

To sum up the Oric, some 160,000 units were sold in the UK which was not a bad figure considering some of its rivals at the time it was released. . .

Written by: Tony Lyon

3 Comments Added

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  1. Jeff Shipman January 27, 2013 |

    Was Oric computers available in the U.S.? Also, was system now can operate the Oric programs? I thank you in advance and sincerely hope to hear from you soon.

    Jeff Shipman

  2. mario September 9, 2016 |

    Space: 1999 is from late 70s, not from 80s.

  3. Tony Lyon January 6, 2017 |

    Hi, thank you for pointing this out. Its so easy to make mistakes when writing these posts and even reading them a couple of times I still miss bit or spelling. Regards Tony

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