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M > MERLIN > Tonto     


Merlin
Tonto

The Tonto was the same model as the ICL OPD and the Telcom ComputerPhone which was intended for Australian market. Like the ICL version, the Tonto was sold only in the U.K. It was born thanks to a collaborative venture between British Telecom, ICL and Sinclair Research. The designers idea was to build a centralized desktop information system able to access online services, mainframes and other similar systems through the British Telecom network.

It was essentially a Sinclair QL at heart, featuring the same 68008 processor. Applications software were stored in plug-in ROM cartridges or Microdrive tapes. Sadly, both of them were not compatible with QL interfaces and microdrives format and the specific Tonto O.S. couldn't run ordinary software made for the QL, even in BASIC language.

However, the most interesting aspect of the Tonto was its telephony integration. Its internal modem (300 an 1200/75 baud) could manage two telephone lines, and the Tonto, could be used as an intelligent answering machine thanks to its synthesised voice response (but no record capabilities), a Prestel terminal for Videotext services as well as a specialized peripheral and multi-protocols terminal for mainframes. Several interconnected Tonto's also could automatically exchange files and information between them.

Below are prices for the Tonto at is launch, taken from a BT promotional video for the Tonto, dated 29-4-1985.

£1245 Basic Mono Machine
£1375 Basic Mono Machine with Xchange
£1675 Colour Machine
£1805 Colour Machine with Xchange
These are all Excluding VAT.

So these are the final prices.
£1462 Basic Mono Machine
£1615 Basic Mono Machine with Xchange
£1968 Colour Machine
£2120 Colour Machine with Xchange

Then you had an optional printer and many optional ROM packs. This was quite an expensive piece of desk accessory in its day.

_______________________

Contributors: Pete (UK)

Additional information from Ray Axford:
Apart from the black and white screen that came with the standard one, you could also get larger 14" colour monitor. You could also attach by ribbon cable an additional plug-in double external 3.5" floppy drive. I used to maintain these for British Telecom and have the technical manual.
I used it for many years, extracting info from Prestel network. Lovely machine - nothing to match even today, with the built in handset on the keyboard. You could also use it hands free, with loudspeaker.


About the "T" logo, Stan Lee specifies:
I recently noticed the rather bizarre T on the Merlin Logo. I knew I recognized it somewhere-- Then it hit me. That T is the 2nd half of an old BT logo... that's probably why there's a phone attached, I suppose.

Tim Jenner adds:
The Tonto was pretty unreliable - powered up all the time, the PSU's eventually died. The microdrives were less than perfect too.
You could get expanded rom packs including more memory, but most common was the Exchange rompack which included the Psion Exchange office suite. Quill was excellent!


Bill Perry reports:
These were sold through BT local area sales as well as into bigger projects through BT Field Services. The bigger projects included Customs & Excise at ports and the Home Office Prison Services (HOPS) project. The tape drives were unreliable!

We need more info about this computer ! If you designed, used, or have more info about this system, please send us pictures or anything you might find useful.
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I remember these - saw one in a telecom museum some years ago.
It was a rebadged Tonto obviously for Australian Telecom and had two phone plugs - one for a voice line and one for data AFAIK - if you got a crossed line it would spit out garbage on screen or $ the connection (randomly between the two)
you needed two phone lines to use one - so you had to be pretty rich.

          
Sunday 11th September 2011
Erik N (Australia)

Hello all,

I have recently acquired a BT promotional video for the Tonto, dated 29-4-1985.
This gives the prices for the Tonto at is launch.

£1245 Basic Mono Machine
£1375 Basic Mono Machine with Xchange
£1675 Colour Machine
£1805 Colour Machine with Xchange
These are all Excluding VAT.

So these are the final prices.
£1462 Basic Mono Machine
£1615 Basic Mono Machine with Xchange
£1968 Colour Machine
£2120 Colour Machine with Xchange

Then you had an optional printer and many optional ROM packs.
This was quite an expensive piece of desk accessory in its day.

Regards,
Pete

          
Monday 15th December 2008
Pete (UK)

I worked in BT Datacomms support in the late 80's and early 90's and we all had Tonto's until BT started rebadging Zenith PC's. Although they were quite compact and pretty for the time (!) they sufferred from odd software glitches.

An ex-colleague Bob Calvert (hi Bob!) was a veritable expert on these machines an maintains it was one of the earliest tru multitasking cheap computers and he wrote several programs for it. The rompacks were great, Quill I found OK but the tapes were the weak point.

The Tonto bettered the QL in having a built in V21/V23 modem so you could use it to connect to Prestel and other online services. I can't remember the phone application well but I think it was actually quite good when it worked but again suffered glitches due (?) to multitasking.

          
Friday 21st March 2008
Peter Hurst (UK)

 

NAME  Tonto
MANUFACTURER  Merlin
TYPE  Professional Computer
ORIGIN  United Kingdom
YEAR  1985
END OF PRODUCTION  maintained up to 1993
BUILT IN LANGUAGE  None
KEYBOARD  Full stroke 73-key with numeric keypad
CPU  68008
SPEED  7.5 MHz
CO-PROCESSOR  Sinclair ULA custom chip
RAM  128 KB, up to 256 KB + 2 KB of battery-backed RAM
VRAM  32 KB (from the main RAM)
ROM  128 KB, up to 320 KB using ROM packs
TEXT MODES  42 or 64 or 84 chars. x 24 lines
GRAPHIC MODES  256 x 256 (8 colors) / 512 x 256 (4 colors)
COLOrsc  256
SOUND  TI TMP5220C speech synthesiser / built-in loudspeaker
SIZE / WEIGHT  44 (W) x 26.5 (D) x 6.8 (H)
I/O PORTS  Custom connectors for ROM pack and Telephony module, Serial printer, RGB Monitor
BUILT IN MEDIA  2 x 100 KB microdrives
OS  Tonto OS
POWER SUPPLY  Power is supplied by the monitor
PRICE  £1,500 at start. Sold to British Telecom staff for £100 complete when BT stopped to maintain them.





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