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Apricot Xen

NeXT

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Was not expecting to tick two Apricot systems off the list with a few months in between. This is a machine I have been chasing for a long, long time.
I have not seen a Xen since 1994 or 1995. They were the workhorses at my father's previous engineering firm and by the mid-90's they were upgrading to then newer 486 and Pentium machines and I never saw another one in the wild. I have over the years seen them appear on ebay in various condition and completeness (and all with really bad prices) but when popped up two weeks ago for 55 quid I pulled the trigger and spent almost $300cad in shipping alone to get this thing to my door.












A Xen xi with an internal 5.25" floppy drive, a hard disk, the keyboard with the Microscreen LCD and the trackball mouse. The only thing that was missing was the page white display with the matching enclosure. The green monochrome screen was an option. There is also two batteries in the machine (a pair of 1.5v AA's and one 3.6v rechargeable Ni-CD) however neither had leaked seriously enough to cause any real damage. The only maintenance aside from a heavy cleaning was the power supply needed a recap. IT worked and it would POST but several of the larger 2200mfd caps on the secondary side had either begun to bulge or were leaking.
Actual product information is pretty sparse, seemingly referring either to the original Xen model or later models which used significantly different board layouts, ROM versions and PC compatibility. Likewise for a 286 system it predates the availability of Windows 2 and Windows/286 so it ships with Windows 1.03. While I did not receive any documentation with the machine or software, disk images to setup the machine and hard drive, plus factory restore the disk are available from ACTapricot's disk archive.

Still, there's mysteries afoot. Nobody really knows or can remember what the VOICE indicator was for. The Xentel telephone option didn't use it (that I've found yet). The computer could only dial numbers for you as part of the package. Curiously though the back of the keyboard is a 2.5mm TR jack. Inside the keyboard that routes through an LM251 op-amp and then disappears into the keyboard's PCB. Hanging around keyboard port on the machine there's a MIC jack which routes a wire three inches away to another part of the board with a MIC OUT header. You can see it on the motherboard photo above. It's well known that the Portable supported speech recognition but did they for some reason include it in the Xen? Never seen that in any of the sales literature.

I am by the way still hunting down more parts for these machines. There's a thread over here. Really if you have anything Apricot related I'm interested at this point due to rarity.
 
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NeXT

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Okay, now that my OCD is in overdrive I was able to figure out where the brochure was for the XEN-i system and not just the original Xen which is not a PC compatible.

https://www.1000bit.it/js/web/viewer.html?file=/ad/bro/apricot/apricotxeni.pdf#zoom=page-fit

So the Xen-i ships standard with an internal 1.2mb 5.25" floppy drive and an optional external 5.25" floppy as well. For some reason they stopped using 3.5" during this period, then went back to it. A 20mb had drive was standard and PC compatibility is made up of a Phoenix 286 BIOS and not software emulation like it was previously. Modem functionality seems to of been an internal board and an ISA to Apricot PX bridge. Details on how that worked with the Xen-Tel package is still not fully known. Likewise the brochure doesn't indicate the existence of the 2.5mm jack, so that's all still a mystery.
 

NeXT

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It seems like a weird choice though to not offer any 3.5" drives as an option as it alienates all their previous products and software which used 3.5".
 

falter

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Nice... I just scored an F2 over here.. unfortunately no keyboard so probably will not be able to do anything with it.. but it looks cool! As do these!
 

cverrier

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I can help a little here, as I worked at an Apricot reseller in the 80's and 90's. The Xen-xi was a 'budget' version of the Xen-i with the integrated Ethernet removed.(the blank space on the rear under the power switch is where other models had a 10BASE-T connector). The Voice light was related to the option for a voice recognition system (mainly used for dictation applications).

The small plastic button the left of the F1 key was removable (on earlier machines) to reveal a mounting socket for the stick microphone, but this feature never really took off and the keyboard plastics were altered so that this was no longer removable. The LED on the fascia of the computer remained simply because it was cheaper to leave the case moulding unchanged.

As I recall, the Xentel was a pretty basic phone - the only level of integration was that you could plug it into the internal modem card to allow for software dialling of numbers from a contacts database.

The 5.25" drive was introduced with the Xen-i to improve interoperability with other IBM clones - It was not a popular decision with dealers, who had put a lot of effort into convincing customers that 3.5" was the way to go. I suspect Apricot felt forced to offer the option as a part of their move to 100% IBM compatibility. I was at the dealer briefing that announced the Xen-i, and there were quite a few annoyed dealers there!
 

NeXT

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Thank you very much for signing up to add that in!
That really answers a bunch of questions I still had about the unpopulated and seemingly impossible to use (on later models with the internal PSU at least) mount point for ethernet and the voice recognition but never would I of expected the chunk of plastic on the keyboard was what remains of a microphone stand!
Yeah I can see how upset dealers would of been about the switch from 3.5" back to 5.25". Moreso since in a few years the PS/2 would really push 3.5" mainstream and they would have to revert back again. At least the Xen seems to provision for an external floppy drive.
The Xentel also just being a phone with a modem working the role of dial assistant also sounds about right. I'm assuming it would of been something Hayes compatible and not much else.
 
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