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History of the PC-3201 
written by Maurice Hawes / SUC/UK 
Source: SUC-magazine November 1999, Volume 19 Number 3, p. 17  
A Brief History of the PC-3201

The PC-3201 was Sharp‘s first attempt at a business computer. The only PC-3201 brochure I have is dated ‘81, and the machine was reviewed in the PCW Magazine in July 1981. The benchtests were done using software supplied by Padmede Ltd, consisting of Sharp‘s own FDOS, BASIC, and a set of accounting programs ( Purchase Ledger, Sales Ledger, Nominal Ledger, and Sales Invoicing ).

Re-reading the review, I recalled the many non-standard and now archaic-sounding commands in the FDOS and BASIC systems for the PC-3201. For example, CAT A0 / CAT A1 instead of DIR A: / DIR B:, INIT instead of FORMAT, and DISP instead of PRINT.

The rewiewer noted early on that the wiring between the main unit and the peripherals was ‘like platefuls of spaghetti‘; but he complimented the arithmetical accuracy and some of the other features of the BASIC, and concluded his review by saying:

“This is a good-looking, apparently reliable .. computer. The keyboard is excellent and so is the adjustable screen, except that there are no true descenders. Drawbacks are that it only supports BASIC and it is extremely slow.“

The prices quoted in the review were:

PC-3201 main unit 64K RAM  £1500
CE-320C Display Unit £250
CE 331M Twin Disk Drives £670
CE 341M FD Card £125
CE 332P Printer £450

All these prices are EX VAT; in the same Magazine the most obvious competitor is a 64K SUPERBRAIN QD £2195 ( 2 x 360K FD‘s but no printer ).

The big problem with the PC-3201 as supplied, not mentioned in the above review, was that it had a BASIC-IN-ROM ‘wired in‘ at $0000 - $3FFF. Such a machine cannot run a ‘normal‘ version of CP/M. Sharp later got round this by writing an idiosyncratic version of CP/M which starts at $4200 and requires programs to load and run at $4300, thus defeating the whole object of having CP/M at all, which was to provide a standard program ‘platform‘ for all Z80 disk-based machines. A better solution came from Microtechnology Ltd; they provided a ‘relocator‘ card for the PC-3201 which allows the ROM chips at $0000 - $3FFF to be replaced by RAM, and they could then write a version of CP/M which starts at $0000 and requires programs to load and run at $0100 i.e. in the usual way.

I bought my PC-3201 in April 1992, for £50. lt was a useful experience as it did not have a ‘relocator‘ card, and I thus learned about the machine‘s idiosyncracies. I later acquired the necessary card and was then able to transport all my favourite CP/M programs to the PC-3201 and run them O.K. under the Microtechnology version of PC-3201 CP/M 2.2. But the machine is now out of action due to a fault on the main board, and I am finding it hard to raise the enthusiasm to search for it.

In short, I hesitate to recommend anyone to take on the PC-3201, even as a gift. The MZ-3500 provides a similar platform but offers the distinct advantages of having built-in disk drives, printer and RS-232 ports, and much better graphics. So if you want to get the feel of an early Sharp business computer, go for the MZ-3500 rather than the PC-3201, which is, I‘m afraid, a ‘Dodo‘.

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last updated September 17, 2002
SUC / UK: Maurice Hawes

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