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1980s Computers Explanation of terms
Notes


The Torch


Torch

Manufacturer

Torch Computers (UK)
(Formed by the Climar group with input from Acorn Computers.)

Model

Torch (CF500)

Date Launched

Early 1983

Price

£2795 with two floppy drives.
£4995 with one floppy and 10MB hard disk.
Software was extra, e.g. Wordstar wordprocessor cost £275.
In 1984 the Torch sold for £3390 bundled with Perfect Writer (wordprocessor), Perfect Speller (spell checker), Perfect Calc (spreadsheet), Torchmail Plus (email), Torch Mars (financial modelling and business graphics), Torchtel (to access Viewdata) and operating system Torchnet.

Microprocessor type

Zilog Z80A @ 6 MHz plus
MOSTEK 6502 @ 2 MHz.
A Motorola 68000 processor was available later.

ROM size

32 kilobytes for BASIC and operating system plus 4KB for loader.

Standard RAM

64 kilobytes for Z80 system plus 32 kilobytes for 6502 processor.

Maximum RAM

64KB + 32KB ?
1 megabyte with 68000 processor

Keyboard type

Separate keyboard with a wordprocessor editing pad on the left and a numeric pad on the right, plus function keys.

Supplied language

BBC BASIC in ROM.
Operating system CPN (compatible with CP/M) was also in ROM.
Other languages, Fortran, Pascal, COBOL, Lisp... could be loaded from disk.
When the 68000 processor upgrade arrived it could run multitasking Unix.

Text resolution

20, 40 or 80 columns by 25 or 32 lines.
A Teletext format display was provided.

Graphics resolution

160 x 256, 320 x 256 or 640 x 256 pixels

Colours available

2 at maximum resolution, 2 or 4 at medium res, 4 or (8 steady + 8 flashing) at low resolution.

Sound

Three channels plus noise through internal 3½ inch speaker.

Cassette load speed

300 or 1200 baud.
The Torch was supplied with either two 5¼ inch floppy disk drives of 400 kilobytes capacity, or one floppy and a 10 or 21 megabyte hard disk drive, in addition to the cassette interface.

Dimensions (mm)
Weight (grams)

560 x 400 x 280 approx. (main unit)
About 13500

Special features

The 6502 processor board was the same as that used in the Acorn BBC computer, making the Torch almost fully compatible with the BBC.
Built-in four channel 12-bit analogue to digital converter.
Contained a speech synthesizer.
Internal modem allowed access to the Prestel telephone based information service, and communication with other computers.

Good points

High quality of construction.
A 12 inch colour monitor was included in the main unit.
Having the operating system in ROM made the Torch quicker and easier to use than other CP/M or MS-DOS computers where the operating system had to be loaded from disk.

Bad points

Expensive.
The welded sheet metal case may have been robust but it was not the prettiest microcomputer around.
BBC BASIC programs could only be saved to cassette, not disk.
Even though the Torch relied very much on the Acorn BBC board for its operation, it was not supplied with a BBC computer manual, making it difficult for those not familiar with Acorn's machine to program the Torch.

How successful?

Seems to have sold steadily for a few years but not in large numbers.
Given its price the Torch was obviously intended for the business market, but by 1983 CP/M was becoming outdated and business computing was moving to the new 16-bit processors, particularly the 8086 family as used in the IBM PC which had been available for over a year.
By the standards of Z80 machines, almost £3000 for the base model was expensive even for a business computer. However Torch were certainly not the only company who failed to anticipate the move to 16-bit hardware.

Comments

The Torch was a somewhat odd design in that it was effectively two computers in one. The Z80A microprocessor and 64KB of RAM comprised a fairly standard CP/M computer, but it also contained the 6502-based circuit board from a BBC model B computer which provided high resolution colour graphics, a good version of BASIC, and extensions to the operating system.
The Torch could run CP/M business software (providing it was available on Torch-format disks) but whereas CP/M was essentially a text-based system, the Torch could also display colour and graphics, e.g. for charts. However to use these facilities would require specially modified versions of CP/M programs.

The Torch company also sold Z80 processor boards and disk drive units for the BBC computer.
Strangely, although Torch avoided making an IBM PC-compatible version of their desktop computer, they did sell the Graduate containing an Intel 8088 processor, 256KB of RAM and running MS-DOS, as a (£1000) upgrade to the BBC micro.



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