Firing up the Electron

I have an Acorn Electron. It’s the second one I’ve owned. The first being a rather temperamental example that I bought in 1984. It kept breaking down, so I managed to get my money back on it. It was spending more time being mended that I was using it for playing Elite hard work and study. To be fair, it did kick off a project for my computer studies at school, but that ended up being completed on a more powerful BBC Model B there.

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This Electron came my way during the last few weeks at University. A lecturer had one in his office, and I just happened to tell him what it was. I was actually quite surprised to see one, especially in this configuration. He said I could keep it. He didn’t want it, and he didn’t know what he could use it for anyway. So, I took it home, and borrowed a power unit which would work with it to test it. It worked.

What this is is an Acorn Electron (the bit with the keyboard), and two extra add ons which bolt onto the back. The Plus 3 is the 3.5″ disk drive, and the Plus 1 which has cartridge slots, as well as a joystick and printer port around the back. The Plus 1 was fairly common, but the PLus 3 was less so. I don’t think I ever saw one outside of the Acorn User shows I used to go to.

It’s been bouncing around the place unused for a long time. The problem with not being able to switch it on was the lack of a power adapter. It’s a bit of an odd specification – 21V AC – nothing I have offers that kind of juice, so I turned to eBay. It was a while, but eventually something turned up. An unknown “Acorn” branded power supply – 21V. The seller didn’t know what it was for, but in the photo was the plug – with the letters “ADFS” in Dymo lettering. To someone who knows Acorn hardware, this means “Advanced Disk FIling System” – and that is just what the Electron Plus 3 has. This was, I surmised, the long lost power supply unit I need to run this machine. I bought it, and it arrived last week.

The Electron started up – but there was a problem. Right near the plug that connects to the machine was a nasty kink in the cable. This was causing power fluctuations, as well as, at times, failing power ups (and odd display artefacts). A trip to a well known electrical store and an adventure with a soldering iron later, I was able to test the machine with a healthier looking power lead.

It wouldn’t start! Yikes! Had I broken it? My thoughts were that there may be a bad connection somewhere between the expansion units, so I unbolted the PLus 3 and Plus 1 units, gave the connectors a wipe, and reassembled the machine. I knew I could not just test the Electron on its own – the voltage would probably cause it to really pop a fuse, or worse. So it had to work with the Plus 3 connected.

Power applied again, and…

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It started. The picture on the modern TV is excellent, and it remained up and running without any further power fluctuation oddities. I was surprised that the modern TV coped so well – bit it has some nice backwardly compatible sockets, and upscaling the picture to that size didn’t seem to be a problem.

Next step – sourcing a Welcome Disk. That has the all necessary formatting and other disk management software which wasn’t put on the ADFS ROM. It seems that Twitter may be answering that particular problem.

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More on this project as things develop.

See more photos of this machine here:

More about Acorn Electrons here: