Archive for December, 2020

Thomson TO9+

December 27, 2020

I recently bought a Thomson TO9+ on ebay because I wanted to add another videotext model of a homecomputer family to my collection. It is a rare model, but of a (at the time) succesful manufacturer, so I thought there would be certainly enough information out there so I did not have to write a blog entry. Turned out that there is quite some information, but mainly in French, so maybe some more English details do not hurt. Here we go.

Nico201214, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Thomson was a French electronics manufacturer (freshly nationalised in 1982) that produced homecomputers from 1982 to 1989. Thomson had a TO (Tele Ordinateur) and a (more downmarket) MO line of computers, all based on the Motorola 6809 CPU (in fact, all of their models used a 6809 at 1 Mhz). Thomson was a very popular computer manufacturer in France (partly because most schools used their devices), but did not see a huge success in other countries (they also exported some models to Germany, Spain, and Switzerland). The most distinctive feature of Thomson computers was the light pen. It was delivered with each of their first models and available as an option for the later models.

In contrast to its predecessor, the TO9, the TO9+ had

  • Basic 512 as oposed to Basic 128
  • 512 kB RAM instead of 192 kB
  • a double sided floppy disk drive (640 kB) instead of a single sided one (320 kB)
  • an integrated modem
  • more programs delivered with it
  • the mouse port in the base, not the keyboard
  • two ports for mice or joysticks compared to a single mouse port

There was also an export version of the TO9+ that had a QWERTY keyboard, a serial port instead of the built-in model, and a PAL (antenna?) output instead of a SCART one.

I started this article by saying something about a videotext version of a previously introduced family of computer models. You see, in 1986 there was no widespread use of the Internet outside Universities and a few companies. At that time the nerd in the know would use mailboxes to connect to the world (the start of the web is still 7 years away, and the widespread use even longer). The only thing that was available for electronic communication on a more widespread national (not even international) level was videotext (or Minitel, or Peritel, or BTX as it was called in different countries). This system used a terminal at the users and a central server infrastructure that made everything work. The terminals were non-general-purpose computers of some complexity, to be connected to TVs. The terminal hardware required an officially authorized 1200/75 bps Modem and some graphics capabilities that were not easy to fulfill by 1983s home computers. Therefore, a few computer manufacturers (especially in France where Minitel, the French variant of videotext, was very popular) decided to bring out versions of existing computers that included a suited modem, fulfilled the graphics requirements, and that also had the videotext terminal software on board. For the Exelvision company, this were the Exeltel VS/VX models, for Oric this was the Telestrat, and for Thomson this was the TO9+.

The TO9+ was delivered with four programs on floppy disks:

  • Paragraphe (text processsing)
  • Fiches et dossiers (database)
  • Microsoft Multiplan (spreadsheet)
  • A communication program
    In contrast to the TO9+, the programs the TO9 was delivered with were contained in ROM. This was a problem as some of the programs on the TO9 had bugs and their bug fixes could not be integrated in the delivered machines easily. You can find a version of the programs the TO9+ was delivered with on the website “dcmoto” in the references.

The TO9+ was basically the top-of-the-line model of Thomson’s homecomputer lineup. However, due to the late introduction year (1986) and the high price (7500FF), this model was rarely sold. In that year you could already buy an Amstrad CPC 6128 for much less, and an Commodore Amiga or Atari ST (10000FF) for not so much more given that they had a performance that was much higher. After the TO9+ Thomson also introduced a PC compatible model and then ceased producing microcomputers in 1989.

TO9+ were always rare due to their price and their competition in 1986. Therefore, there are very hard to come by today.

Technical Data

Manufacturer: Thomson
Model: TO9+
CPU: Motorola 6809E @ 1 Mhz
RAM: 512 kB
ROM: 80 kB
FDD: 3.5″ disk-drive
Text: 40×24 / 80×24
Graphics: from 160×200 to 640×200
Colors: from 2 to 16 among 4096
Audio: 3 channels, 7 octaves
Basic: Microsoft Basic 1.0 and Basic 512
Interfaces: Light Pen, 2 * Joystick or Mouse, Keyboard, Centronics, FDD, SCART, Cartridge, Cassette, Audio, Bus slots (2), Telephone
Dimensions: 105 × 440 × 300 mm
Introduced in: 1986
Initial price: 7490 FF, about 1925 € in 2016

References