Archive for January 1st, 2018

Amper Exeltel VX

January 1, 2018

Exelvisions EXL 100 and Exeltel are some of the most interesting under-appreciated home computers of the 80s. This under-appreciation stems partially from the fact that they were available basically in only one country (France) and that they had stronger competition (Thomson) in this market. And, of course, that also had all the ingredients of computer models that often appear in this blog: from a consumer point of view they were neither price-wise nor feature-wise appealing.

The story starts with former employees of Texas Instruments France who take a lot of the technologies developed there for the TI CC-40 and build a home computer around it: the EXL 100 from 1984. The features that owe to this heritage are:

  • the CPU (a TMS 7020)
    As far as I can tell this is and the CC-40 (which uses a CMOS version) are the only computers with this CPU.
  • the speech synthesizer and sound chip
  • the infrared connection between keyboard, game controllers, and main unit
  • the graphics chip
  • the Basic (although in an improved form)

The system is highly modular, with detached keyboard and game controllers, the Basic is on a cartridge. Therefore, the ROM is with 4 kB very small.

The next (and last) model of the family is the Exeltel from 1986. As the name indicates, this model is all about communication (i.e. the communication that was broadly available around this time frame: telephone-line-based things). The main difference to the EXL 100 is the now integrated V.23 modem using, of course, a TI chip (1200/75 bps, it was an accessory for the EXL 100). Smaller differences are the upgraded CPU (now a TMS 7040 (this is the only computer with this CPU)), the possibility to connect a (better) keyboard, more RAM, and much more ROM (82 kB). The ROM still does not include the Basic, but a program that allows to exchange files between Exeltels via the modem, an answering machine feature (in some versions, uses an attached cassette recorder), a speech synthesizer program, some educational programming language, and some windowing support. Exeltels also come with 16 kB RAM module bundled with them.

From now on, newer models differ only in ROM content, not in hardware.

The Exeltel VS renders the Exeltel into a Prestel terminal supporting the French Prestel standard, Minitel. For our younger audience I have to explain what Prestel, Minitel, BTX, etc. actually is. You see, kids, before the Internet took off widely, in Europe people thought it would be a good idea to have some sort of cloud network on some central computers that ordinary people can use by small computers and telephone modems, possibly connected to TVs. The computers would be so small (and cheap) that they were not expected to execute programs, but to display pages with text and pseudo graphics as well as forms that could then be send back to the cloud. Using this simple system, users could use electronic telephone books, send messages to each other or do Electronic Banking. For a limited amount of time (say, 1983 to 1993) this was very popular, also because it was by and large the only alternative and because it was offered by the national telephone companies. The first of these systems was Prestel in the UK. Later on, Minitel in France, and BTX in Germany offered similar systems. The systems were roughly the same, but were not standardized completely (although some partial standards were used).

The Exeltel VS is said to have bundled also a connector module that offers a serial and a parallel interfaces as well as a mouse interface.

The next model is the Exeltel VX, which is an Exeltel VS, but with multi-norm Prestel support, namely for:

  • CEPT 1 systems like BTX (Germany, Austria) and VTX (Switzerland)
  • CEPT 2 systems like Minitel (France)
  • CEPT 3 systems like Prestel (UK, Australia)
  • Ibertex (Spain)
  • Mistel (Belgium)

Now, you might think, ok, so this is your model, right? Are we done? Well, the answer is: not yet. You see, I got an *Amper” Exeltel VX. So, what’s the difference?

Well, Exelvision wanted to expand into other European markets, in this case the Spanish market. Therefore, they partnered with the Spanish telecommunication manufacturer Amper, owned by the national Spanish telco, Telefonica. The firmware is translated into Spanish, even the speech synthesizer is fitted with a new software version that can output Spanish sentences. Also software is translated into Spanish (in the end about 50% of all titles are also available in Spanish). The Amper Exeltel is sold exclusively via the Spanish “El Cortes Ingles” chain of shops. Apart from giving its name Amper is not involved too much in the lifecycle of the devices, however, they do Quality Assurance for the Spanish models and also After Sales Service.

The Spanish market in the 80s has a funny peculiarity: If you import a computer into Spain with 64 kB RAM or less, you have to pay some hefty additional fee (like 90 Euros). Therefore, there exist models like the Amstrad CPC 472 which has an additional 8 kB RAM soldered on the PCB that is non-functional. Exelvision solves this problem (as it has nominally only 2 kB RAM) by bundling a battery-buffered 64 kB RAMdisk module with the Amper Exeltel.

As in Spain, Prestel is not widely used for a long time (until this changes in 1992), the Amper Exeltel is not a success. Especially as Exelvision closes down for good in 1991.

Technical Data

Manufacturer: Amper
Model: Exeltel VX
Introduced in: 1986
CPU: TMS 7040@4.9 MHz
RAM: 66 kB + 64 kB Ramdisk
ROM: 38 kB
Text Mode: 24 x 40
Resolution: 320 x 200, 8 colors
Interfaces: cartridge slot, exelmémoire slot, expansion slot, tape-recorder, keyboard, IR, power, telephone line, RGB video output

The premier resource (in French). Most of the information in this entry were taken (and translated) from that site.