Hands up all those who are familiar with the SAM Coupé? In fact many of you reading this, particularly outside of Europe may on earth be wondering what was this little machine? Well back in 1989, this British machine from Swansea based Miles Gordon Technology was released upon the public as a potential successor to another British computer classic the ZX Spectrum, as the SAM was marketed with the ability to run 48K ZX Spectrum games under emulation.
Based around the Z80 CPU, this 8-bit machine only had some interesting specifications which far surpassed the original ZX Spectrum by quite some distance from a 6 MHz processor to 256K of ram which was upgradeable internally to 512KB. There were also external ram packs available to take this up to 4MB in total and the machine had the option to run 2 sets of 3.5″ inch disk drives which slotted in under the machine. The machine sold around 12,000 units before Miles Gordon Technology went under, however thanks to the Sim Coupé emulation package for AmigaOS 4 we get to discover a little more about this interesting little machine.
Sim Coupé can be downloaded from our friend Dr Hirudov who is responsible for the fantastic Hatari Atari ST/Falcon port to AmigaOS 4. Installation of the package is quite easy, simply unpack the file to a partition of your choosing and the program file contains a handy and useful read me file and the Sim Coupé executable.
Thankfully there is no additional rom to source from elsewhere and the only other thing left to do here is source some games and other software. For once I can point you to a website where it is possible to download some games legally for this system as they have obtained the copyright to do so. World of SAM is also your bible for anything SAM Coupé related
The first thing we are greeted with upon opening up the emulator is a window display which tells us that our system has a nice 512K of memory.
Pressing F10 will bring up a menu of different options
Then on the display option we then need to click on the option for this to display in full-screen. Or you can toggle at any time by pressing the F8 key.
However this information will not update for each time that you open up the emulator so what you may want to consider updating here is the configuration file and scroll down to the full-screen option which should be marked as a 0. Here change the value to 1 and the end result is that it will then open up in full screen mode.
Here below is Sim Coupé in full-screen mode:
A quick tour around first of your emulator options. In truth there is not much here that you are going to want to amend which is a good thing.
Here you have the option to run the machine with 256K or 512K internal RAM. You can also add the 4MB of external RAM here.
The sound settings are pretty much ticked by default here.
The Sam featured some MIDI ports which for the purposes of this post today I am going to leave alone.
As you can see from this picture of the back of the SAM.
The big white port on the back appears to be a parallel port and this is emulated also:
Under the Miscellaneous tab, I click on the option to have the drive LED’s switched on as this can be a handy way of letting you know if a game or a program is loading or accessing the disk.
Now for the keyboard input, you have the choice to have the original SAM keyboard set up or revert to a ZX Spectrum keyboard.
The SAM Coupé keyboard was quite a unique design actually, the bottom half of the machine kind of acts as a natural wrist rest.
On the floppy disk screen there is the option to run from floppy or hard disk which is support in drive D2:
Talking of loading floppy disks, these are in either a .dsk or .sad format, so the way to load up any disks is to go into the disk menu and load the disk in the relevant drive. In this one I have a 5 in 1 disk which was released for the system and which I will be taking a look at in a minute.
So if you have a number of disks stored on your hard drive it will be just a case of opening floppy drive 1 and selecting the disk you want to place into the emulated machine which is nice and easy,
First test today is that 5-in-1disk which was released which contains Pipe Mania, Escape from the Planet of Robot Monsters, Klax, Tetris and Defenders of The Earth.
Software support was quite limited on the SAM machine which was no surprise given that it only sold in low volumes. Escape From The Planet Of The Robot Monsters was released by Domark when it appeared on most other 8-bit and 16-bit formats, however as you can see from the screenshot below Enigma Variations were responsible for the SAM Coupé conversion.
The first thing that strikes me upon loading up this game is just how colourful the SAM Coupe appears to be. Given that this machine was touted as a souped up ZXSpectrum, it is quite a surprise to see that games look similar to an Atari ST.
This game is probably one of the best 8-bit home conversions that I have played of this game and the in-game tune really does show off the power of the SAM’s music chip.
The controls do take a little getting used to and it is possible to play this game using a joy pad as well as via a keyboard.
Now to reset the machine you will just need to hit the F12 button and then F1 to load up another disk. Pipe Mania is a puzzle game where the object is to use the pieces to connect the various pipes within a certain time frame.
It’s not one of my favourite puzzle games, but it is a pretty good conversion none the less.
Now Klax is more my type of puzzle game and is fiendishly addictive. It is a pretty good conversion too.
Graphically I would probably say that out of the 8-bit versions the Amstrad CPC Plus/GX4000 is probably better, however this isn’t a bad conversion and with Klax it is the game play which really shines!
On the 5 in 1 disk there is also an unofficial version of Tetris which kind of reminds me of one of these Demo Scene versions that I used to see from time to time on both the Commodore 64 or the Amiga.
Defenders Of The Earth is another Enigma Variations conversion which looks really good, you can see from the screenshot below that some games on the SAM really do start to give their 16-bit conversions a run for their money. I really like the tune that plays through this game too as it is an accurate representation of the famous cartoon.
Talking of 16-bit games, how about a game of Lemmings, which i have to say is a pretty good conversion here.
The title screen is quite colourful, although i did find loading up this game it did take a while in between the various bits of the disk that is was accessing.
However as you can see from within the game, this really does hold up well to the Amiga and Atari ST conversions and even more so considering the SAM is an 8-bit machine. I was really impressed with this particular game.
The jewel in The SAM’s crown however has to be this stunning and colourful conversion of Prince of Persia.
It really does look fantastic and plays really well.
Aside from the games, there are loads of other pieces of Public Domain software and Demos which can be downloaded from World of Sam, which show off the power and capability of this powerful 8-bit machine.
Which begs the question, why on earth did this machine not take off in greater numbers? Well I guess there were a number of reasons, but for me despite the nice graphics and potential of the machine, it was clear that like the ill-fated Commodore 64 Games System and the Amstrad CPC Plus range of machines, people were moving away from 8-bit machines at the end of 1989/ start of 1990 on to the Amiga and the Atari ST and this coupled with the low sales meant that Miles Gordon Technology quickly went into receivership not long after the machine was released.
It’s a bit of a shame really that this machine didn’t really take off, as I have rather enjoyed using Sim Coupe and delving into the world of SAM computing. Also getting hold of an actual machine nowadays can cost quite a bit in the 2nd hand market, so an emulator like Sim Coupe serves a really useful purpose here. I suggest that you also take a look at this fun little machine.
Until next time have fun with your Amigas!