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Apricot Computers

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Apricot Computers Ltd.
IndustryComputer hardware
Founded1965 (as Applied Computer Techniques Ltd.)
DefunctJune 2005

Apricot Computers was a British electronic company that produced desktop personal computers in the mid-1980s.


Apricot Computers was a British manufacturer of business PCs, originally founded in 1965 as "Applied Computer Techniques" (ACT),[1][2][3] later changing its name to Apricot Computers, Ltd. It remained a wholly owned UK company until its acquisition by the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation in the early 1990s. Mitsubishi believed that this acquisition would help them compete against Japanese PC manufacturers, in particular NEC, which commanded over 50% of the Japanese market at the time. Mitsubishi eventually shut down the Apricot brand, with a management buyout which resulted into a new company Network Si UK Ltd being formed. In 2008, a second, independent Apricot company was launched in the UK.

Apricot was an innovative computer hardware company with a research and development center in Birmingham capable of manufacturing nearly every component of a personal computer, except for the integrated circuits (chips) themselves. This included custom BIOS development, system-level programming, silk-screening of motherboards, metal fabrication for internal chassis, and radio-frequency testing of the completed systems.

This manufacturing capability, coupled with a smart and aggressive engineering team, caused Apricot to pioneer several technical innovations, including the first commercial shipment of an all-in-one system with a 3.5-inch floppy drive (ahead of Apple).[4] In the early 1990s, they also manufactured one of the world's most secure x86-based PCs, sold exclusively to the UK government.[4]

Their technical innovation resulted in some developments which were technically advanced but proved to be highly disadvantageous in the marketplace. For example, when IBM abandoned their Micro Channel Architecture (MCA), Apricot was the only other OEM using it, in their Apricot Qi and VX FT ranges of PCs. This left the company at a technical dead-end without the financial or market power which helped IBM survive the failure of MCA.

Apricot continued to experiment with alternative form-factors in a market dominated by standardised 'beige boxes'. They produced a range of high-availability servers (the VX and Shogun ranges) with integrated uninterruptible power supply (UPS), low-profile 'LANStation', PCs specifically designed for use on office networks, and diskless workstations booted over the network.

This long-running pattern of tenaciously investing in technical innovation and complete end-to-end system design and manufacture created technically excellent computers, but meant that Apricot was slow to adapt as the global market grew and changed. By the mid-1990s major PC OEMs such as Compaq and Hewlett-Packard were outsourcing their own complete end-to-end system design and manufacture to Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs) based in Taiwan, and were moving at least some of their manufacturing to cheaper locations overseas. Apricot was comparatively slow in adopting this method of manufacturing, even though a motherboard designed and manufactured in Asia cost as little as a third of the cost of design and testing in Birmingham and manufacture in Scotland.

Apricot eventually began to outsource manufacturing, but it was still unable to compete. MELCO closed the company down, selling off the final assets in 1999. A management buyout resulted in a new company, Network Si UK Ltd being formed.



In 1982 ACT released their first microcomputer, the ACT-800, built by another company but marketed under the ACT brand. In America it was a moderate success. Later in 1982 ACT signed a deal with Victor to distribute the "Victor 9000" as the ACT "Sirius 1" in the UK and Europe. The £2,754 "Sirius 1" ran MS-DOS but was not hardware-compatible with the IBM PC.

The Sirius 1 became the most popular 16-bit business computer in Europe, especially in Britain and Germany, while IBM delayed the release of the PC there. Its success led to the Apricot PC or ACT Apricot[5] in September 1983, based on an Intel 8086 microprocessor running at 4.77 MHz. It ran MS-DOS or CP/M-86 but was not compatible at a hardware level with the IBM PC. It had two floppy disks, and was one of the first systems to use 3.5" disks, rather than the 5.25" disks which were the norm at the time.

The graphics quality was critically acclaimed, with an 800×400 resolution and a keyboard with eight "normal" function keys and six flat programmable ones, associated with a built-in LCD screen (40 characters / 2 lines) which displayed the current function of the keys, or could be configured to echo the current command line in MS-DOS. The keyboard contained an integrated calculator; the result of a calculation could be sent to the computer where it would appear on the command line, or in the current application. Microsoft Word and Multiplan were supplied with the Apricot PC. Lotus 1-2-3 was also available, and took advantage of the machine's high-resolution graphics. A flap covered the floppy drives when not in use. The industrial design of the machine was well conceived. The keyboard could be clipped to the base of the machine, and an integrated handle used for transporting it. The supplied green phosphor monitor had a nylon mesh glare filter.[6]

A model with a built-in 10 MB hard disk (known as the Apricot PC Xi) was made available later in 1984.

Apricot Portable

In 1984 ACT released a home computer, the "Apricot F1". It ran MS-DOS with "Activity", a GUI front end; like the Apricot PC, it was not IBM PC compatible. The machine was only successful in the UK. It was bundled with software for graphics, communication, word processing, a spreadsheet, some games, and system tools. It had one 3.5" floppy disk drive.

The same infrared trackball pointing device used with the Apricot Portable was also available for the F1. Also in 1984, the Apricot Portable was released, with an infrared keyboard, a voice system, 4.77 MHz CPU, 640×200 LCD display for £1965.

In 1985 ACT was renamed "Apricot Computers". By this time, the F1 had become one model in the F Series; other machines in the series were the F1e (a cheaper F1 with less RAM standing at 256 KB); the F2 (with two floppy drives) and the F10 (with a 10 MB Rodime hard drive, 512 KB RAM and a more conventional-looking infrared keyboard). The Activity GUI was replaced by GEM. The F1e contained a 360 KB single sided floppy drive, and the F10 contained a 720 KB double sided drive. Some F1e computers shipped with an expansion card that could also be used in the F10, that would modulate the RGB video signal to RF enabling the computer to be used with a domestic television set. This card also contained a composite video output. The machine was unusual in that it contained the same 36-way Centronics parallel port that appeared on many contemporary printers (and continued to do so until virtually replaced with USB and ethernet). This means that a standard 36-way centronics male to centronics male cable needs to be used to connect a printer – and these were hard to find since IBM had introduced the DB25F connector.

The F-series infrared keyboards contained a real-time clock; during the machine's boot sequence, the BIOS would graphically prompt the user to press the 'DATE/TIME' key. This would transmit the date and time settings from the keyboard to the computer via IR, setting the RTC in the computer. The Infra-Red trackball could also be used as a mouse by tilting the unit forward – the ball protrudes from the top and bottom of the unit and can roll on a surface. The units also shipped with fibre-optic 'Light Pipes' that can channel the IR signals, designed to prevent multiple keyboards and trackballs from interfering with adjacent machines in office environments where multiple F-series computers were (predicted to be) in use.

The F10 shipped with a 'PC Emulator' which provided very limited text-mode support for IBM PC compatible applications, but was unable to run applications that used graphics modes. Microsoft Windows 1.03, little-known and little-used at the time, would not run in this environment.

The last Apricot computer not to be IBM compatible was the XEN (October 1985), a 286-based system intended to compete with the IBM AT and running Microsoft Windows (now known as Windows 1.0). It was superseded in 1986 by the XEN-i, the first in a line of IBM-compatible systems. The Xen-i initially shipped with a 5.25" floppy drive to further improve its IBM-compatibility. The 3.5" drive made a reappearance when IBM themselves switched formats with the release of the PS/2 range.

In 1987, Apricot bought the rights to assemble the Sequent Computer Systems multi-processor 80386 Symmetry Unix system in the UK.[7]

In 1989, a cover story in Byte magazine announced the Apricot VX FT Server as the world's first machine to incorporate the Intel 80486 microprocessor.[8] This machine, designed by Bob Cross, was a fault-tolerant file server based on Micro Channel Architecture, incorporating an external RAM cache and its own UPS. The VX FT line consisted of Series 400 and Series 800, with four different models each. These (and their other systems) were manufactured in their state-of-the-art factory in Glenrothes, Fife, Scotland.

British magazines dedicated to the early Apricots were Apricot User, which had the official approval of Apricot Computers, and the more technically oriented Apricot File.


In January 1990 Apricot acquired Information Technology Limited, a UK-based developer of UNIX systems. Apricot took the opportunity to change its name back to the original, ACT.

In April 1990 ACT's Apricot computer manufacturing business was bought by Mitsubishi,[9] with ACT retaining only the software side.[10] This essentially marked the end of their unique design style. Subsequent products were far more conventional designs.

In 1991, Apricot were the largest partner in a consortium developing a completely new computer-aided dispatch system (LASCAD) for the London Ambulance Service. The IT firm won the contract by significantly underbidding other proposals. Though a later inquiry's examination of the Apricot computer hardware aspect revealed no major problems, the end-to-end solution by the consortium of providers failed disastrously on its first day in full operation,[11] and is often used a case study in the failure of IT project management.

Mitsubishi Electric Apricot models during the 1990s included workstations, LAN terminals and notebooks.[12][13]

In June 1999 the Glenrothes factory stopped production and in October 1999, Apricot-Mitsubishi European operations were closed.[14][15] Apricot's assets were sold.[16] A management buyout resulted in a new company, Network Si UK Ltd.[17] It lasted from 2001 to 2014.[17]


In 2008 a new, independent company was launched in the UK, with its first product coming out in October 2008 – the Apricot Picobook Pro, a VIA NanoBook-based netbook. However, this suffered from poor reviews[18][19] and the new Apricot Computers Limited was dissolved in May 2012.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b APRICOT COMPUTERS LTD, Companies House, retrieved 3 November 2013
  2. ^ Rodgers, Paul (20 July 1996). "The initial development was done in a garage". Independent. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
  3. ^ "Computer pioneer's remarkable career". www.shropshirebiz.com. Shropshire Business. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Apricot Computers Ltd: Apricot Computers Makes its Comeback with Entry into the Ultra-Mobile PC Market; Apricot Returns to UKwith a Sub-Laptop for Mobile Business Professionals and Home Users". tmcnet.com. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  5. ^ Pountain, Dick (November 1984). "A Plethora of Portables". BYTE. p. 413. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
  6. ^ Rodwell, Peter (October 1983). "ACT Apricot". Personal Computer World. pp. 150–157. Retrieved 17 October 2020.
  7. ^ "Apricot buys rights to assemble Sequent's 80386-based Symmetry in the UK". Computer Business Review. 15 December 1987.
  8. ^ Paul Lavin and Michael E. Nadeau: The 486s Are Here!, BYTE September 1989, page 95
  9. ^ Grossman, Wendy. "For Pete's Sake". Personal Computer World. No. January 1993. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
  10. ^ Cope, Nigel (14 February 1995). "Mr Apricot waves goodbye to his baby". Independent. Retrieved 28 June 2017.
  11. ^ Page, Don; William, Paul; Boyd, Dennis (1993). "Report of the Inquiry into the London Ambulance Service" (PDF). South West Thames Regional Health Authority. pp. 19–20. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  12. ^ "Apricot Qi Workstations and LAN Terminals-Computer Museum". museum.ipsj.or.jp. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
  13. ^ "apricot NT386SL-Computer Museum". museum.ipsj.or.jp. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
  14. ^ "1999: a frosty end". Apricot Computers. 28 February 2020. Archived from the original on 5 April 2019. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  15. ^ "Apricot history". ACT/Apricot. 28 February 2020. Archived from the original on 5 July 2019. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  16. ^ "2008: global temperatures are warming up". Apricot Computers. 28 February 2020. Archived from the original on 31 July 2019. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  17. ^ a b "NETWORK SI (UK) LIMITED – Overview (free company information from Companies House)". beta.companieshouse.gov.uk.
  18. ^ "Apricot Picobook Pro review".
  19. ^ "First Look: Apricot PicoBook Pro". 20 October 2008.

Further reading[edit]

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