BeebEm Review

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BeebEm is a free BBC Micro/Master emulator for Windows.

Introduction to BeebEm

BeebEm has been a comprehensive work in progress since it's creation in 1994 by David Gilbert which was originally created for the Unix system and was then ported across to the PC. Since then and with the increase of broadband internet and most notably eBay, more and more people have been finding that retro computing application that run on the PC and Apple Macintosh are enabling them to revisit their childhoods and in some cases allow them to 'own' a BBC albeit in an emulated format.

Something which at the time of release of the BBC Model A & B in 1982 was an expensive item costing more than most families could afford and realisitically was geared to high income earners and those who had a need for a 'home computer' and a 'business computer'.

BeebEm in it's current revision (3.8) runs the BBC B, B+, Master 128 series and several flavours with add ons in between, this is probably the most comprehensive emulation available on any PC platform and it simply puts to shame other quirky and inferior emulators which are rarely updated and utilize strange and perhaps obsolete filing systems or interpretations thereof.

BeebEm runs on most fast and modern PC's and can be run full screen or windowed. Multiple instances of BeebEm can also be run, and for the brave-hearted you can also run a complete Econet network running a virtual file server and as many slave systems as you think the computer can handle.

Full support is made for add on hardware such as the ubiquitous Teletext Adapter and 6502 2nd Processors, items which at the time cost nearly as much as the machine themselves but now are readily available to the enthusiasts who wish to use them. The following second processors are currently supported: 65C02, Master 512, Acorn Z80, Torch Z80 and ARM.

Two distinct flavours of BeebEm exist, The PC version now runs the Arm Second Processor (from version 3.7) whilst the Apple Macintosh is at 3.2a at the last count, it is belived that there 'may' be the intention to keep step between the two variations so that PC and Mac owners know where they are with the system.

Mike Wyatt maintains the PC version (see link at top of page) and Jon Welch maintains the Apple Mac version as shown below, although JW has made the additions to 3.8 for the PC, so in all fairness you could say that this is an ongoing and progressive project, which thankfully goes from strength to strength.

Link To Jon Welch's Site for the Apple Mac Port

There have been several ports and releases on to several other operating systems and PDA's and a brief run down of those ports available from Mike Wyatt's site are shown below. Undoubtedly as time progresses more will be added to this list.


One significant failing however, and that to which lets the emulator down a point or two, is the lack of user manual support, the text files that come with the emulator to the new user can be daunting, unhelpful and lacking in graphical content but this infraction aside, the emulator package is quite simply the best you can get at present and given the poor offerings available elsewhere it is unlikely that BeebEm could ever be surpassed, of course anything better than an emulator has to be the real thing, and there is the expectation that there may be users of BeebEm out there who will actively engage and buy a real BBC, with an inexpensive cable and some proprietary software called Xfer (which is probably the easiest to use, but making the cable is not for the beginner) you can transfer files between a real BBC and BeebEm.

BeebEm runs .ROM images for the system operating files, BASIC, DFS in/out and other system roms of which there are several hundered in circulation, the majority of which do in fact run perfectly fine on BeebEm but some from Computer Concepts and others do not, yet when blown on to a suitable EPROM work ok in a real BBC Micro system, remembering that most .ROM images are still actively copyrighted. ROM images are merely the copied rom contents of real system and utility roms that have been acquired over the years, these exist in a hexidecimal format inside the real rom and providing the image is not corrupted and is designed to work on the machine emulation you are using, for example a standard 32k BBC 'B', all you have to do is rename the file with a .ROM suffix and edit the system configuration file to 'see' the loaded 'virtual rom', you will find little or indeed no difference to its operation on a real BBC system.

It also runs disk 'images' in either standard BBC Floppy 5.25" format with a .SSD or .DSD extension (single sided/double sided). It can also run .uef images which are tape image files and has an in built virtual tape recorder which can be speeded up or dlowed down as required. The system also supports .BBC .IMG and .ADL format files. There are literally thousands of game and commercially released software images available from the internet to use.

Several individuals have over a number of years compiled their own sites, some have been left to the way side and haven't been updated in several years, these contain old and uninspiring disk images and other details of software and hardware, other sites seem to have taken the moral high ground with asserting dubious 'compilation copyrights' to the contents and whilst this is a petty aspect to go into depth on, certainly marrs the purpose of retro computing by the dedicated user.

However if you can put up with the apparent 'heavy handedness' (Draconian Attitude?) of some of the sites, you can in fact amass yourself a nice collection of software very quickly indeed. Bearing in mind file sizes are small, so some considerable work will be needed from a directory point of view in archiving images off.

The link below shows the latest text file detailing all revisions in a brief and concise summary, as you can see the level of comprehensive hardware support is quite simply outstanding.

Changes Text File 3.7 and 3.8

The best way to get started with BeebEm is to download either version 3.5 or 3.8 and throw yourself in at the deep end, one great feature is that unlike with a real BBC, if you mess the configurations up or use erroneous rom images, the worst thing that happens is that the emulator will refuse to run, this is an invaluable 'pre-test' tool for those who own a real BBC and want to experiment with various different configured options.