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Amstrad XTs: Questions and Answers

See also Cliff Lawson's pages on the XT PCs.

Where can I get system discs?

The Amstrad XTs are pretty good at IBM compatibility, so you should be able to use any version of MS-DOS up to 6.22, or any version of DR-DOS or PC-DOS. They can also run CP/M-86. MINIX 1.x should work on any model except the PPC, PC20 and PC200.

Cliff Lawson of Amstrad maintains an archive of boot discs for the PC1512, PC1640 and PPC512/640. These contain the custom versions of MS-DOS / DOS Plus that were written for these computers.

Of course, having got the files that make up the boot discs, you then need to get them onto the XT...

How can I read/write floppy discs on my modern PC?

The floppy drive is pretty much extinct on a modern PC, so additional hardware will be needed.

3.5" floppy discs

If you're trying to access 3.5" floppy discs, then it's just about possible to do it with a USB floppy drive — but it's got to be a USB floppy drive that supports the 720k format. The TEAC FD05-PUB is one that does, but there are many that don't.

Alternatively, you can use a standard internal 3.5" drive on a 'tweener system as described below.

5.25" floppy discs

The USB option isn't practical for 5.25" discs, so about the only way to access them is to set up a "'tweener" PC — one with a motherboard old enough to support at least one floppy drive. You then need a 5.25" drive for the PC (or, in extremis, you can 'borrow' one from the Amstrad machine).

There are two main types of 5.25" drive for the PC - 360k and 1.2Mb (there are a few oddities, like 180k or 720k drives; if you want an easy life, avoid them). If you only want to read 5.25" discs, then you can use either a 1.2Mb drive or a 360k drive; if you want to write 5.25" discs which the Amstrad machine can read, you will need a 360k drive.

Some pitfalls:

Floppy emulators

These days, it's possible to replace the floppy drive in the Amstrad PC with a floppy emulator device (those made by Gotek are probably best-known). You'll need one that emulates a double-density (720k) drive — either using the stock Gotek firmware, or a replacement like FlashFloppy. You then transfer files to and fro using a USB stick.

Can the PC1512/PC1640 be booted from a 3.5" drive A:?

Despite what Cliff Lawson's page says, they can. The 720k boot floppies from a PPC512 or PC200 will boot a PC1512 from a 720k A: drive with no difficulty. Alternatively:

See Hardware Compatibility for more information on using 3.5" drives in a PC1512/PC1640.

Adding Hard Disks

Cliff Lawson gives a couple of ideas — either use an XT-style hard drive, or an 8-bit IDE controller and drive such as the Lo-tech XT-CF. A third possibility, is to find an 8-bit SCSI controller and drive. See the hardware compatibility section for more details.

The PPC laptops would either need a specially-designed hard drive (such as the Stratum Sprint), a hard drive in a docking station, or a parallel port device like the Datawise Quickdrive. Note that you can't boot from parallel port drives.

Hardware compatibility

This is such a big topic I'm giving it its own pages.

Why don't the mouse buttons work?

You're probably not using the KEYB.COM / KEYBUK.COM from the PC's own system discs. The buttons on an Amstrad mouse behave like keys, and if KEYB.COM wasn't written to handle them, they won't respond. Either use the KEYB.COM from the original discs (you may need to use SETVER to fool it into working) or use a serial mouse instead of the original one.

How do I get into the BIOS setup screen?

Note that the setup screen doesn't let you configure the hard drive (if there is one).

PC1512, PC1640

  1. Boot into DOS.
  2. Type NVR and press RETURN.
  3. If that didn't work, insert System Disc 3 in the floppy drive, type A:NVR and press RETURN.

PPC512, PPC640, PC20, PC200

There is no BIOS utility for these computers. Everything is controlled by the DIP switches (PPC, PC200).

PC2086, PC3086

There is no setup screen as such. The floppy drive and video adaptor are configured using a program on the system disc called DEVICE.COM. Type DEVICE to see the current settings, and DEVICE /? to see what can be changed.


Press CTRL, ALT and S at startup.

Can I run Windows?

That depends what you mean by "Windows". The most recent version which will work is version 3.0, which was superseded in 1992. Do not expect to run anything more recent than that (such as, inter alia, Microsoft Office, web browsers, or just about any program written since 1992).

If you still want to run Windows, you have the choice of three versions (1, 2 or 3).

Windows 1

Apart from the historical interest, there's really no point in running this. Practically no software exists for it; about the only thing that you would be able to do is play Reversi.

Having said that, if you've got a floppy-only PC1512 or PC1640, then it may be the only version of Windows that will run at all.

Windows 2

This version was supplied with the PC2086. All my comments about software availability apply here too; the supplied applets may be a little better, but nothing to write home about. There are two reasons why you might want to run it: either your PC doesn't have a hard drive, or you want the display to be in colour and can't upgrade the processor to a V30 (see below).

Windows 3

This is going to be the best in terms of software availability (still not good, but quite a bit of software was actually written for Windows 3.0, and some of it may even work on an XT).

On the 1640, 2086, 3086 and 5086, you will need to upgrade the processor from an 8086 to a V30 to get the colour video drivers to work. Otherwise you're stuck with 640x200 mono. Note that on the 3086 and 5086 the processor is soldered into position, so if you want to upgrade one of these machines it's not a task for an amateur.

Note also that there's no point in upgrading the PC1512 processor, because you'd still have to use the CGA driver afterwards.

John Elliott 26 June 2019