The Elk: A Minor Classic!

By Chris Chadwick

Originally published in EUG #03

I'm concerned that there are still arguments about whether or not 8-bit computers like the BBC or the Elk are obsolete. Of course they the same way as the good old Morris Minor motor car is obsolete. No one would deny that the most basic 90's family car offers a comfort, economy, sophistication and equipment level (e.g. a radio and heater deminsters as standard) far in excess of anything that was being considered in the heyday of the Moggy. Yet there is still a roaring trade in refurbished Minors; there is a greater turnover of stock at the Morris Minor Centre than some new car showrooms I travel past on my way to work. When was the last time you say someone driving a Moggy? Yesterday?

So it is then with the Beeb/Elk. The basic model on release was a poor show when compared with the 90s' Amiga/ST. A small memory and tape-based storage is not sufficiently alleviated by goodish graphics and is let down by some very slow running. Where these ancient Acorns score is their built-in expandability and extreme robustness. More importantly, 8-bit running through 64K is quite enough to write a rude letter to your bank or a friendly letter to EUG and can support a big enough spreadsheet to cast the financial runes for home or small business and still has enough to scoot about the galaxies teaching nasty bad-mannered aliens and pirates the full meaning of the word "tonk". In fact, all the main uses for a computer using disk-based storage.

In the same way that the "obsolete" Morris Minor is a sought after car (exactly not because it has heated fuel economy, 150mph and heated seats but because it does its job well!), the 8-bit computer retains a solid user base, and thus a thriving supplier platform because there isn't actually any advantage in replacing it! 16-bit computers are not inherently better at being computers than a properly designed 8-bit, but they are perceived as being superior because of their increased memory and greater processing speed. If Laurel and Hardy would have been funnier in colour, I'd accept that this letter would be better if written on a 16-bit machine.

I hope that sinks the argument that the Elk is not obsolete, but establishes that obsolete does not automatically mean useless.

By the way, I enjoy nothing more than overtaking Morris Minor, or Triumph Herald, drivers in my hairy chested Ferrari-engined Fiat Saloon and yelling commendations on their sedate progress along the highway. In reply these Knights of the road tell in two words of the joys of sex and travel!

Chris Chadwick