In 1986 the Acorn Business Computer range was long gone, and Olivetti -
Acorn's new owners, having been forced to increase their stake from 49
to 80 per cent of the firm - were concentrating on making Acorn more
profitable. The case for the 65C816-based Communicator was retained and
given a basic box, housing a PSU and disk drive, to make a standard-looking 3-box computer system based around the BBC Master architecture.
Also marketed in Europe as the Olivetti Prodest PC 128 S (S for Sistema), the Master compact differed from other computers in a number of annoying ways. Most confusing was the decision to keep the computer in the keyboard, with suitable reductions in available interfaces and features such as the real-time clock - making the Master Compact rather like a grown up Electron (however, home marketing would unfortunately not be attempted - it would have been considerably more successful). The 'CPU' was connected via a large ribbon cable and a jack plug. The monitor connected to the 'keyboard'. It was, to be blunt, a mess.
However, the system did introduce the 3.5" drive as a standard to the 8-bit BBC range and featured all the usual Master enhancements plus a mouse/joystick port. As a school computer - the traditional market - it differed just enough to make it relatively unpopular, lacking the user and 1MHz bus ports used by many educational devices, and being (by nature of its smaller case) somewhat easier to steal and damage. The Compact was discontinued very early on, the introduction of the A305 Archimedes offering a similar 'format' of machine, but with all the benefits associated with Acorn - expandability, speed, and reliability. The original one-box Master 128 continued to sell until 1993...
Olivetti were to get their own back for the Compact - Acorn sold a
branded version of the Olivetti M19 'PC Compatible', a rather dated 8088-based machine.
The Olivetti Prodest 128 can be seen in the kid's film 'Treasure Island in Space' - an Italian production, most likely. The computer is recognizable by its blue and white display.
Info, texts and picture by Richard Kilpatrick
BBC Master Compact
BUILT IN LANGUAGE
Full-stroke QWERTY keyboard, 10 function keys, arrow keys, numeric keypad
64 Kb + Sideways expansion
80 x 32/25 (2 colors) / 40 x 32/25 (2 or 4 colors) / 20 x 32 (16 colors) / 40 x 25 (Teletext display)
640 x 256 (2 colors) / 320 x 256 (4 colors) / 160 x 256 (16 colors)
16 (8 colors + flashing option)
3 channels, 7 octaves
BNC video out, RGB video out, RS232 (optional), Econet port (optional), Printer port (36-pin Centronics), Disk-drive connector (Centronics), expansion edge connector
PSU Built in to base.
Expansion units were produced, apparently. Came with 3.5'' 600K disk drive as standard.