BBC B Microcomputer – Computerphile

BBC B Microcomputer – Computerphile


It comes like this it plugs into your own television so out of the back here. We’ve got a cable That’s just connecting into a standard aerial input in fact It was quite a job trying to find a TV that would plug into this computer So George a few minutes ago just did a race up to the other end of the physics [building] to try and find a Monitor sufficiently Old which would plug into this computer the home computer that I Got out my parents lost actually. I think my dad bought it in about I use probably defender in 1982 I think my dad used it most to start with and then quite rapidly I got it I was worried about 11 years old at the time and I basically taught myself to program using this this thing here which this is the BBC micro? This is a BBC model b microcomputer. It was one of the earliest computers one of the earliest home computers and It was actually made for the BBC So this was a time when computers were completely brand [new] so nobody nobody had seen computers computers weren’t these all ubiquitous things that you have in homes and offices now, so people didn’t really understand them and so the BBC wanted to develop a project to get to introduce people to computers and and Programming because this was going to be the next big thing and the BBC thought this was going to be the next big thing So [they] a commission that can accompany a British company called acorn to make this computer not only badged it with the BBC badge and the BBC did a series of TV programs using this computer to try and teach people how to Program a lot of people [you] find [they’re] working professionally in computer computers now computer programming certainly in my age their first experience of Computer programming and computers will be something something like this or as that x spectrum or a commodore 64 or something like that It’s getting on a bit now this computer and so it tends to overheat after a while So I’ve just taken the screws off so we can actually take the top off This is the central processing unit here, so this is a 6502 central processing unit and [that] Process is running at two Megahertz So you can pair that with a clock speed [of] modern computer which is around about two to four Gigahertz so we’re running this is running about a thousand times slower than the typical computer nowadays It’s got 32 K of memory that’s 32 thousand bytes of memory. This is the memory down here this is the [area] down here is the memory and all these chips amount to 32 kilobytes [so] it’s 32 times 1,024 bytes of memory So you can pair that with a modern computer which has now got something of the reason of a gigabytes of memory? So you can see how much of a difference there is between the Modern PC And these keys types of computers, but [one] of the really neat things [about] this is that It turns on instantaneously, [so] you don’t have to wait for it to boot up So if I do this and turn it off And turn [it] on and that’s it it’s ready to go You just turn it on it’s ready to go [and] [the] reason is because if I just move this keyboard here So it’s because that the software the operating system of the computer is stored on Rom Which is a read-only memory as a chip so [you] don’t it’s got no hard disk inside It’s got no disk drive attached to it at all in fact All the software that it needs to run is stored on this chip so when you When you switch it on it’s ready to go and that means I always put the cover back on again And that means we can start programming it straight away We can make it do stuff really straight away And as you can see once when you turn it on you’re presented with this it says here the BBC computer 32k that tells us. How much memory we’ve got to play with? Basic so we’ve launched into the basic programming language, so we’re not presented with any mice pointers Windows or anything like that just [a] cursor and we can start just immediately writing a Computer program so I can stop enter line 10 and let’s try writing the simplest ever program ever written first and remember how to do this I’m going to use the dreaded go-to Okay, so that’s a that’s the first program that [pretty] much anybody have a right so when [you] [learn] to start programming There you go So you just print hello world millions of times over until you tell it to stop press escape And [I] can list that program back by tackling list And you say it basically start you start off with line ten says print Hello world, and the second line. Just tells it to go back to line ten again. I started Just mucking about with the graphics. So this is you know you can write programs to do You know muck around with playing with text and things but I wanted to start playing with graphics So I can write a little program to let’s let’s start another one Remember the command to do it. This is going back a Few [years] now. I’m going to tell it to repeat this program I’m going to choose a color Random color each time this computer’s got one of seven colors or eight if you include black So that’s how many colors you want to play with Then I’m going to just tell it to plot triangles everywhere and last thing I need to do is change it to a graphics mode so if I type run now, I Should just print triangle. So [every] place so various different colors so it’s not much to look at but the Beauty of it is you can really just you can get into programming so easily doing this and you can you can start doing more? Fancy things like plotting circles and the at ado figures and things like that, and then you can make it do sounds by typing Just one command at the command line like this So so you muck around with planes stop that? Say muck around with sounds and graphics, and that’s what I got into as a kid and I spent ages and ages but probably far too long learning [how] to program out of this this user guide at one point it had a ring binder on it and I just spent my time reading this this was my bedtime reading when I was a kid is a bit sad really I suppose [but] That’s what? That’s what I wanted to do, and that’s the so like holding that book again If it was big part of your childhood [um], it’s quite unusual. Oh, it’s quite unusual I actually kept it some of the pages that still are turned upside down for some reason, but yeah I couldn’t bear to throw it away, really I mean, I’ve got a lot of computers have had since and I’ve just when they’ve come to the end of the life I’ve just thrown them away And they’re just expendable But this one because it’s the first one I ever had I just [gotta] sticks to my fingers and I try to throw it away I can’t get rid of it, and I’m sure a lot of people but we feel the [same] thing the same way actually so they’ll have a piece of technology [a] first bit of Technology like this which they just can’t bear to throw away So this is this is a computer game [called] Elite Elite was the first Really proper game to use three-dimensional graphics. Okay like so it’s firing at us now sadly [I] can still name that spaceship. Which is a copper mark 3 as we got some pirate something

100 thoughts on “BBC B Microcomputer – Computerphile

  1. This is just an extension of, "just because you have a [brain] does not mean that you know how to use it." Though for youtube, "just because you can type and have an opinion does not make you right." is probably more appropriate ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. What may be the case is, like now, computer hardware is labelled as GB or TB, which is base 10, however what you're referring to is GiB, 'Gibibytes', which is base 2 and would give 32,768 bytes. This is why when you get a 1TB HDD, you only get 9xx,xxx,xxx bytes because it's 10^12, not 2^40 bytes.

  3. oh no, the megahertz myth (which is to say, oh no, the idea that clock speed is a one-to-one with performance)

  4. Ahh….basic. That takes me back to my first jr. high computer programming course 20 years ago. :p

  5. Awesome video, real trip down memory lane! I had the same user guide and it looked about the same when I finished with it ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. How advanced piece of code is one able to write on the BBC B computer? How sophisticated would the software be?

  7. MHz myth is a bug of mine too, and I'm sorry if I'm inadvertently keeping it going! The 6502 has three 8-bit registers, compared to stacks of 32 or even 64 bit regs in modern processors, is CISC not RISC, has no hardware floating point, you get the idea. Cos I'm a physicist, when I say 'about a 1000x slower', what I really mean is "a number somewhere between 500 and 5000x, and willing to entertain another factor of 10 if someone can give me a good reason for it". Cheers, Rik (guy in vid)

  8. But it is good to know what you are really doing with your code. Most books will tell you but TheNewBoston does not.

  9. yes but understanding your code requires you to be interested in programming, reading books about programming isn't very intreging in my generation's eyes, videos do, not even classes, I took 2 programming classes for VB and Java the first one only me and 5 others were interested in the class and the rest were slaking off in the second course ONLY those 5 kids came back for java course this is why I recommend people the Newboston because it will get them interested in programming

  10. That game was fantastic. You and your co-writer Clive Gringras are responsible for me spending rather too much time on the computer when I should have been revising for some exams. Great to make contact with one of my childhood heroes! ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. I had severel of those. They were great. Unfornunte I gave then away. Actually, it could do procedure Basic, not only the line oriented you show.

  12. Wow- thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it, it was a fun time. Sorry about those exams, but it looks like you did OK ๐Ÿ˜‰

  13. Go to stage of writing my own graphics paint program to draw shapes, apply paint brushes, clone areas etc. 7-colours overcome by dithering which gave about 34 shades albeit with only 320×200 resolution but programmed in about 12kb. For my degree, a program to analyse & record doppler ultrasound, allowing user to adjust signal processing parameters yet still coded to repeat process exactly every 40000cycles of 2MHz clock to sync with probe – used in medical research and on a paediatric ITU.

  14. The BBC Micro lives on (tangentially)… Acorn Computers developed the first widespread use of RISC processors for its Archimedes computers – the chip division separated off as Acorn RISC Machines (in collaboration with Apple & VLSI), which was later changed to Advanced RISC Machine and in 1998 became ARM Holdings. ARM designed chips predominate in the smart phones we now all use (and also licensed to Intel too), and a free app for android emulates the BBC Micro !

  15. hello brady… i'm big fan of yours. love the new computerphile series!
    but notice you're videos are getting soooo much more "moving" nowadays… too hectic for my old eyes. too many zooms. too many pans. too fast movements overall. it's often a little distracting from the topic.
    i'm putting this up here in the comments as a feedback in hope for others to join in (or rebuke me if they find it's ok).
    thanks for all the hard work involved in these videos! ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. It depends on what you mean by 'advanced' and 'sophisticated'. The BBC BASIC lang on ROM was (still is) a pretty powerful language, with an integrated assembler. You can tackle some pretty sophisticated mathematical problems with it. If you want to see examples of what the machine can be made to do by expert programmers extracting everything they can from it, google the games 'Elite' by Bell & Braben (more on this +my minor obsession with it in a coming video!), and 'Exile' by Irvin & Smith

  17. Anything! That is, up to 32K bytes long, including(!) space for variables. The instructions will most likely be tokenized, then you can write programs of several thousands of lines long. You can write a chess program, and the comparable TRS-80 computer ran a flight simulator (very rudimentary graphics) in the same amount of memory, though that will have been written in assembler language.

  18. Wow, this takes me back. The Beeb was my second computer after the PET. I loved that thing it's little Acorn soul. Was lucky enough to strike a deal with a local distributor who sold into the regional education authority and a copy of my CESIL interpreter went with every one he sold. Seem to remember you could pull off all kinds of video trickery with the VDU command.. Know what you mean about not being able to part with it. Modern computers just don't ignite that sense of wonder.

  19. you can write code as advanced as you would want it to be… problem being the computational power of the machines. do not forget they sent a man up in moon and the computer they used was 10 years older then this bbc micro computer.

  20. Interestingly, the BBC computer was used to emulate the first ARM processor before they had made any ARM silicon whstsoever

  21. Heh! I had machine language for my bedtime reading when I was 7. Eventually got rid of my first computer, but ended up building a replacement 6502 based computer from scratch.

  22. The sophistication isn't limited by the software. In programming there is a space-time tradeoff, you can make a program go faster by using more RAM or you can make it use less memory by making it go slower (generally by not storing calculation results but recalculating them every time they are needed).

    The hardware sets the limits, for example the BBC B has 32 kB of RAM while the average web page in 2012 was a 1114 kB download, so a full-fledged web browser is out of the question.

  23. Reminds me of the Tandy Color Computer. That was the first personal computer I saved up to buy, not counting the Atari 2600 VCS.

  24. my first pc was a c64. i wish i would still own it. i did spend a lot of time with it when i was young. some day my father was so upset by this he took it and threw it on the ground ^^

  25. Come on, he said "GigabyteS", plural. surely this guy know about pc… don't try to mock inapropriately… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  26. Hi. I coulden't help notice there is a "caps lock" and a "shift lock" key. What is the difference between these ? And could you do a computerphile on the history of keyboards ?

    Thanks !

  27. I had a Commodore PET and a Commodore CBM that I played with when I was a kid. It was lots of fun to make programs with.

  28. About this sophisticated: watch?v=9bwQZ8ykhqA
    Although I'd have swapped it out for the C64: watch?v=8kJz_XfbxX0

    Much better sound on the C64, and with more mem and a faster CPU to play with, the demos are a lot more interesting…

  29. That graphics stuff just reminded me of LOGO programming which i did in the 90s when i was about 10, totally forgot about that..

  30. Commenting for no real reason except that it's not every day you find someone who actually had an Aquarius! I never did; I just remember the distinctly unimpressed review it got in Your Computer, which at the time was practically a holy work to me!

  31. It took me until 1996 to get my hands on a Beeb! My first micro was a ZX81, so I'll always have a soft spot for RAM pack wobble. Then later there was an Amstrad PCW handed down from my dad. (I was always amazed so many people thought that was just a word processor. It ran CP/M, for crying out loud!)

  32. The BeebEm emulator does a very good job (and is free) but if you want a real one, eBay UK has lots. They're not all that expensive as there are still heaps around.

  33. You need to tune the TV to a specific analogue channel to see the signal sent from the computer. A bit tricky if you have a new TV with no analogue capability!

  34. There were later models that had more memory – my Model B Plus has 64K, for example. Plenty of people have done their own hardware enhancements (eg to add flash drives) but those are beyond me!

  35. Caps Lock = CAPS123. Shift Lock = CAPS!"ยฃ (the BBC symbols are different, but you get the idea).

  36. I have a Model B Plus, which is basically a B with some of the rough edges smoothed out (eg you can actually use colourful graphics without using up most of the RAM) and I love it to bits; it's easily my favourite 8-bit micro. I only wish I (well, my parents) could have afforded one in the 1980s!

  37. Thanks for the reply. I appreciate it. I thought it would be something like that, but I didn't know whether television broadcasts in the U.K. were today analogue or digital; and, if there had been a transition, when it would have occurred – would it have been recent, or far enough in the past to present much difficulty…

  38. haha, yeah, the Mattel Aquarius was a oddball system at the time, half games machine half home computer, it also released software on cartridges… but what i remember most was the blue keyboard keys and bright orange 'on' light it had when you switched it on…. ๐Ÿ™‚ I was like 4-5 at the time, back in the 80's, good times.

  39. In my experience, the major limitation is that 32k of RAM holds both the code and the data. The first versions of UNIX, however, ran on 24k machines – so clever people have done quite advanced things with less.

  40. verry basic, as the language suggests, you can calculate, save variables, goto (where you can jump to another segment of the program) and some more useful things
    programming it back then would take a lot of practice, they couldnt just look up everything they needed to get started

  41. I'd say you could do pretty much anything with basic, but it might take ages to run on a BBC B. I'm just guessing but I think these worked with 16bits precessors, so you'd have to hack your way through very very large or precise numbers by using several variables for one number.
    If you want to try something close to a BBC B in terms of performance and programation, PICBASIC's PBM R5 processor has close specs to the one he mentionned ๐Ÿ™‚

  42. Can you guys do a vidoe on the Gigahertz myth? Explaining what clock speed means and how a computer could do more even if it has a lower clock speed.ย 

  43. As far as I know, the first ident of Children's BBC was made on this little piece of hardware. It was quite innovative at the time because the ident was generated on-the-fly, whenever it was needed.

  44. The 'cub' screen was the monitor that came with this computer for schools.
    My favourite program was called 'Build' and it made simple cube blocks, ahh memories!

  45. Another great video, nice little history of the BBC which was my first computer and i treasured that manual, still have a working one in the loft, but its not my childhood one.

  46. The same computer, the same mucking around, the same dog-eared user guide ๐Ÿ™‚ There must be thousands of us…

  47. Great video.
    I enjoyed the Micro .but liked the Spectrum better somehow.. Sinclair's Spectrum has a special place in gaming history. It was the UK's best selling games computer for years. It inspired hundreds of users to write and produce games and flight simulators etc..ย  One such company was DMA Design from Dundee in Scotland, who would go on to produce a little game called Grand Theft Auto, which was directly inspired by the pioneering Spectrum game called Turbo Esprit.ย  For more than a decade the GTA series has been THE best selling action-adventureย  game on all platforms; and that Scottish company is now of course called Rockstar.ย  So thank you Spectrum!

  48. Aha we have in 1983 a Atari 800XL but our TV Station (ORF) in Austria don't send a usefull Computer School for the people. Only informations from a Dr. in the TV make from the new technology a mystic mysterium. They told us there are Computers on the World they can controll the World etc. In this time i have no conntact to anyone that used Computers and i can't remember that the PCs are coming after the Amiga 500 and later in the early 90this. Now i found a old one C64 with a Floppy.

  49. My old secondary school was still using them in the early 90's when I did my Scottishย Standard Grade in Computing Studies. I didn't pass (got a 4) but I did later manage to get an HNC in Computing at college.

  50. Those sounds invoke many fond memories – startup noises, a keyboard with that sound to it. That tattered book with the rockets too…ย 

  51. Still have one of these, including working tape player. Remember when computer programs were just transmitted by the local radio station…good times

    You could use a VCR or decoder to translate the signal to modern TV's ๐Ÿ˜‰

  52. "Bit sad really" no it's not.ย  Everyone has hobbies and Steve Wozniak did the same as you, accept wrote the code on paper before he created the Apple 1.ย  Then, as we all know, went on to make millions from it ๐Ÿ™‚

  53. Does anybody remember a colour graphic demo for the bbc from the 80's of 3d globes/planets spinning? Does anybody know what tape that came from.

  54. 1982 I saw the first computer the Commodore VC20 at my cousin's. He sat with my uncle typing programs and I was completely sold by it. Soon the novelty wore off for my cousin and I got it on lend. I learned so much from that machine and later the C64. Which I extensively hacked adding 64K extra with bank switching
    In 1987 my other uncle died and he had an IBM XT. A massively expensive system akin to 10k pounds of today's money. And he had specifically left it to me. The idiotic thing was that this big machine could do less than my C64. It had a monochrome card so you couldn't even write single pixels to screen, audio was mere beeps.
    But I liked Pascal a lot. In 1990 we put an EGA card and an additional memory to go from 256K to 1M.

    I put an NEC processor in it (can't remember the type) that cranked the speed up noticeably and I finally 3 years down the line was using it daily and I did so until 1995 when I started my first job. And brought it in (now hacked significantly) to change the mainboard and upgrade it to a 486. Well obviously the mainboards didn't fit. So I ended up buying a complete new system, 486 DX66. Fastest Intel at the time. 6 months later it was a P60, then a dual P133 a year later.

    Yet all these new and powerful systems never filled me with the same joy and excitement as the old VC20, C64 and MSX-1 Z80s.
    I miss that extreme novelty that computers were. People feared them, people didn't understand them (hence the fear) and it was always a mystery how you could apply them to solve problems. Today, they are so common place that when you have a certain problem to solve you immediately apply a computer to it.

    I threw out my VC20 because it broke beyond repair (or I may have actually used parts for it on the C64 and MSX-1). The C64 is gone but the MSX-1 I gave to my colleague, who actually pushed me to scrap the IBM XT and buy a whole new system. I said I still had an MSX and that was his first computer. So I gave it to him and that was 20 years ago and he said, if I have kids one day I will show them what daddy used. He actually pulled it out a year ago or so and his kids 13 and 9 at the time were completely entranced by it.
    And specifically the programming in BASIC. So I wonder why programming is not a subject in primary school?

    Teachers claim it is too hard for kids but I disagree. Basic (and many scripting languages now) are so easy to use and kids obviously have an innate urge to create things. Like the man in the video and my then colleague and I. We were teaching ourselves to program and use it for all sorts of things.
    Much more entertaining than just downloading an app. And the fact that my friend's kids loved hacking in basic and this BBC TV show where they brought a family back in time (Electric Dreams I believe the documentary was called) the oldest son when they got into the 80s and got a BBC was entranced by programming as well as his friend.
    And that is 30 year old tech!

    So let's bring back programming in primary school, use arduinos and some LEDs and Servos,.It costs hardly anything and they can safely learn and get a genuine interest in engineering — especially since we are begging for good engineers because every year less people go to a school to learn engineering.

  55. my bedtime readings tonight are those sections of "The C++ Programming Language" (c++11), that have to do with multi-threading, concurrency, etc. ย Things really haven't changed all that much.

  56. if only we could turn back time, those years were so exciting, these days it is ever so complicated. Don't throw it away Richard… I am about to find out what capacitors I need to swap out in my beeb's psu. atb Richie.

  57. It was the beginnings of the very best and most powerful version of BASIC, and I absolutely long for the days when I can write apps to convert for use on Android, similar to how Russell Davis' emulator spits out executable code for Windows. Everyone said BASIC in general was rubbish and it encouraged bad habits but BBC BASIC taught you to tighten up your code and make it more efficient. Couldn't beat it.

  58. This was the micro computer that go me into computing, i was mesmerised with this computer when i was a kid at school, loved playing chunky egg, and the text adventures, and ELITE was mind blowing, so later on i got a Vic 20, so i had my own computer at home, i got obsessed with commodore and Sinclair, i also had a C16, C64, ZX Spectrum 48k, computers became a regular Christmas present.
    Thank for the video, i have lots of nostalgia for this computer :o)

  59. hey i type your gfx program and then the sound on my bbc and it worked !! the buzz of knowing a program worked after you typed it in was fab! Still is ๐Ÿ˜‰

  60. RetroClinics data centre for the bbc is fantastic ๐Ÿ™‚ using usb sticks and cf memory cards as hard drive is all possible on the bbc today. If only it was available back in the day it would have cost lots of money ๐Ÿ™ Things are so much cheaper today ๐Ÿ™‚

  61. I had that computer and that exact same computer book when I was a kid. It's weird to think that my smartphone is a hell of a lot more powerful than the BBC Micro I had. I think that we got our BBC Micro in the early 1980s when I was about 4 or 5 years old. This video brought back so many great memories. I found it amazing how much professional programmers could programme on a computer with only 32k memory. My favourite computer game was the Repton series by Superior Software and Tim Tyler who was only 15 at the time of writing Repton 1. I play the Repton games on my iPad now. Thank you very much for sharing this video. It brought back so many happy memories of my childhood.

  62. hi, I have a couple of these… I have an ancient black and white TV that my dad bought in the 70's that i can use it with…. I was born in the 80's… had one of these as a little kid. Is there a way to use one of these with a modern small monitor?

    ah… I had that book.

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