Professional Standards

TIProfessional001

Philippe Michiels delivers the verdict on the latest Texas micro.

Increasing concern about industry-wide standards has meant that big manufacturers – including IBM and Digital – have begun producing hardware running on systems like MS-DOS and CP/M-86. Texas Instruments has now joined the drive for standardised software with the TI Professional.

Texas Instruments selected the Intel 8088 processor in favour of its own 9900 for this very reason, and the result is the Professional – a hardware package that will run much of the industry’s bestselling software.

Documentation

The unit is supplied with all the necessary hardware and documentation, right down to the plug, but since it is capable of running more than one operating system, the latter is not included in the basic price. This leaves users with the choice of running their favourite software.

The operating instructions are well laid out in five sections, with a particularly clear guide to setting up the system.

Adequate information is provided for adjusting the display and positioning the separate units for comfortable use.

Diskette handling instructions are well explained, and the use of each key on the keyboard is well documented.

Once the system is set up the diagnostic diskette (which is supplied as standard) runs a comprehensive diagnostic test right down to testing each key.

Construction

The Professional itself comes in three parts – the system unit. the keyboard and the monitor. The system unit is large for a desk-top, measuring 48 x 43 x 14.5cm. It is metal-cased, and feels heavy and solid.

There is a large illuminated power switch at the side of the case, but there are no other controls, and there is no external fuse or reset switch.

The unit is fan-cooled, but the fan is excessively noisy.

TIProfessional003

Inside the Professional: the huge PSU dwarfs the disk drives at the top. On the right are the expansion slots.

Removing the top cover – by means of two screws – reveals a sealed power supply, two 5.25in disk drives and the motherboard. The motherboard has a video controller card installed in one of the expansion slots. The review machine also had an expansion RAM card installed. The construction was of a high standard, and all interconnecting cables were neatly tucked away. All connections are made at the rear.

The motherboard contains the Intel 8088 microprocessor running at 5MHz the floppy disk controller, capable of controlling four drives; 64K of single bit parity checked memory; the keyboard
interface; a parallel Centronics printer interface and the expansion interface.

Expansion

TIProfessional004

To the rear – on the right are blanked off slots for interface cables/ Video output is the only one present here.

Although there are six expansion slots on the motherboard only five may be used for peripheral expansion. The sixth slot may only be used for RAM expansion.

The review machine was installed with a 192K card, but a 512K card is planned.

One of the expansion slots is required for the video interface card, and this is available in a number of configurations. The minimum configuration is a text card and contains no graphics capability. This card may be expanded to full colour graphics by means of a ‘piggyback’ card.

The review machine also had the full colour graphics option and with this in place the TI Professional still has room for four expansion cards.

Our machine Screen also had a National Panasonic colour monitor. When the monitor was placed on top of the system unit, which is the most desirable position, the display was unsteady. When it was placed away from the system it gave a perfectly acceptable display.

Texas Instruments says this was because it was a US monitor, and that production units certainly will not suffer from this problem.

Controls are provided for brightness and horizontal centring and the screen had good anti-glare properties.

The graphics resolution is 720 pixels horizontally and 300 vertically, with a maximum of eight colours, or eight grey levels on a black and white monitor.

Keyboard

TIProfessional002

The keyboard is connected at the rear of the system unit by a rather thick coiled cable. It has a tilt adjustment but when used on smooth surfaces tended to slip.

The keys themselves have a positive action and are pleasant to use, although I thought their travel was too great. The keys are switchless and should provide trouble-free operation for a long time.

The machine has a low-profile sculptured keyboard, well laid out with 12 programmable function keys, and separate numeric and cursor control cluster.

Software

The MS-Basic supplied with the review machine had some interesting features. When Basic is started the function keys are loaded with reserved words allowing single key program entry. The ALT key allowed single-key reserved word entry.

Program editing was relatively easy since Basic allows you to place the cursor on any visible portion of text for rapid re-entry using the ENTER key.

The function keys INSERT and DELETE may also be used to edit text lines. The Basic has powerful inbuilt graphic commands. PALETTE allows any of the eight colours to be instantly redefined.

The commands CIRCLE and LINE allow circles, lines and blocks to be drawn by one command. Circle drawing is not as fast as one would expect from an 8088, but pie-charts can be drawn at acceptable speeds.

The commands GET and PUT allow the program to fetch a graphics object from the screen memory and then redisplay it at any other location on the screen.

The command PAINT is used to fill in graphic objects with a particular colour.

Basic allows the keyboard to be redefined using the KEY function and can be used to program the function keys with user information.

MS-DOS, CP/M-86, Concurrent CP/M-86 and UCSD P-system all run on the TI Professional. Hardware options include CP/M-80, additional floppy disk drives and the TI Winchester drive offering up to five megabytes of storage space. A speech input/output card will be available later.

Overview

The TI Professional is a good looking, albeit slightly bulky, desktop machine with impressive colour graphics at a reasonable price. The choice of two of the most popular operating systems means that many software packages will be available for it, and it already has Easy Writer and MultiPlan implemented for MS-DOS.

The documentation for the system and software is well presented and the inclusion of section tabs and clear indexing makes it easy to use.

Overall, I would say this robust machine is well worth the price.

Specification

  • Price: £2,075
  • Processor: 8088, 5MHz
  • RAM memory: 64-256K
  • ROM memory: 8-16K
  • Text screen: 80 x 25
  • Graphics screen: 720 x 300
  • Keyboard: full travel, 97 keys, 16 function keys
  • Interfaces: Centronics, others optional
  • Storage: 320K double-density. double-sided disks
  • OS/Language: MS-DOS and MS-Basic
  • Others: Cobol, Fortran, Pascal
  • Distributor: Texas Instruments
  • Software supplied: none (user selected)

First published in Personal Computer News, 1st April 1983

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Data General Portable PC

DataGen002

By Corey Sandler

Is the Data General/One the crowning achievement of the IBM-compatible laptop portable race? Or, is it yet another triumph of nascent technology over real-world utility?

Well, it all depends on how you see it.

The DG/One is an MS-DOS compatible, full-keyboard, battery-powered microcomputer that can be equipped with a pair of built-in disk drives and 300 baud internal modem. It is possessed of the first commercially applied full-screen (80 characters by 25 lines) liquid crystal display (LCD). And, though at 11 or so pounds for the standard configuration it is not quite the weight or size of a three-ring binder, it does honestly qualify for the title of “portable.”

Prices start at a hefty $2895 for a 128K, one disk drive machine. A second internal disk drive lists for $599, and each block of additional 128K of RAM is listed at $599. The internal modem lists for $250, an external 5.25″ disk drive for $795, and a portable thermal printer for $499. A battery pack and recharger and a carrying case for the whole system each list for $99.

Under the hood beats an 80C88 microprocessor heart, the low-power CMOS equivalent of the 8088 chip used in the IBM PC and compatible machines. The DG/One comes equipped with at least 128K of RAM, expandable in blocks of 128K to as much as 512K. However, the video display circuitry of the machine does not have its own memory, and therefore you must lop off the first 48K of RAM for the screen. If the program you intend to use requires 256K of RAM, you will actually have to move up a notch to a 384K machine.

And, unlike many other laptop portables, the RAM is not kept under power when the computer is shut off; like a standard microcomputer, the RAM is volatile and information in it disappears when the power is shut off or the batteries run down. You must be certain that the contents of RAM are copied to permanent storage on disk.

The computer has several disk storage options, beginning with one or two built-in 3.5” disk drives. These drives, based on the Sony technology also used by Apple in its Macintosh machine, can store as much as 720K of data each – twice the capacity of the IBM PC floppy disk drives and two-thirds of the way to the high-density storage of IBM’s 1.2 megabyte drives in the PC-AT machine. The disks are formatted at 512 bytes per sector, with eight or nine sectors per track, and 40 or 80 tracks per side, yielding the 720K top end.

Safe and Sound Disks

The disks themselves are nicely protected inside plastic carriers, with a sliding metal door protecting the medium from fingerprints, dirt, and paper clips. However, because the size and design of the drives are different from the 5.25” floppy system found on the IBM PC, using a program written for the IBM requires a few extra steps – you must either buy special 3.5” disk versions of software or download programs from a 5.25” drive or a telecommunications source. Data General sells an external 5.25” drive with connector to the DG/One to allow direct exchange of magnetic media with an IBM PC or compatible.

Be aware, though, that you will not be able to transfer copy-protected software to the smaller disk format, and that the software use license for a particular program may legally limit use of a program to a single computer. The seller may object to a user making copies for use on a PC at the office and a DG/One for the road.

Another issue involves software that is tied directly to hardware rather than to the MS-DOS operating system. Data General appears to have done a good job of ensuring near-total compatibility through careful design of its BIOS system which is present as part of its adapted MS-DOS system. Data General provided downloaded 3.5” disk versions of standard WordStar and ThinkTank for this review. The system also booted up IBM DOS 1.1 on one disk I tried.

Data General has announced that it will make available soon an expansion unit for the portable that will include five IBM-compatible hardware slots and hold an external 5.25” floppy disk drive or another storage option. The box – the size of a small desktop computer – will allow use of an IBM or compatible display card and other devices. The price had not been set at the time this article was prepared.

The MS-DOS package from Data General includes Microsoft’s GW-Basic, which is a functional equivalent of IBM’s BasicA. (Here is a free inside tip: If an applications program on any PC-compatible absolutely insists on finding a program called BASICA.COM before it will execute, you may be able to save the day by renaming GW-Basic as BasicA.)

The LCD: Good News and Bad News

It is the LCD display that is both the boon and the bane of the machine. By opting for the full-sized screen, Data General (and its Japanese manufacturing and design arm Nippon Data General) has dealt nicely with one of the most damning criticisms aimed by many at the rest of the crop of laptop computers.

Pioneering devices like Radio Shack’s Model 100 display only 8 lines of 40 characters. Other newer machines like Epson’s PX-8 have pushed the frontier to 8 lines of 80, while Hewlett Packard’s Portable goes one step beyond to 16 by 80. And in November, Texas Instruments announced its entrance into the fray with a device called the Pro-Lite, which includes an LCD with the same display abilities as those of the Data General/One.

Data General’s machine mimics the full IBM PC display. It will show a full page of text from a word processor, or it can show a full-sized Lotus 1-2-3 screen. And, if you are so inclined, you could check up on the pilot by running the standard (monochrome) screen of Flight Simulator on your lap as your jet lines up on final approach to O’Hare.

The inherent nature of the LCD screen is that it works with the aid of reflected light rather than as a light source itself like a cathode ray tube (CRT) or other luminescent technologies (see “Hi-Res and Color Liquid Crystal Displays” in this issue). And, it seems that the larger the screen and the smaller the pixels (and therefore the more information displayed) the more difficult it is to find just the right amount and angle of light for viewing.

The reason the LCD screen has been adopted by nearly every manufacturer of battery-powered portable computers is that it draws very little current, thereby allowing the use of relatively small and lightweight batteries. Other technologies, such as electroluminescent screens, plasma displays, and low-power CRTs for battery-operated machines, are still in the labs.

Impressed though I was by the technological achievement of the full screen, I found it a bit of a strain to read in most situations. The best lighting I found was from a strong but indirect source over my shoulder- I’m not certain that an airliner’s overhead spotlight would save me from a headache. The contrast of the DG screen can be adjusted through commands from the keyboard, but the angle of the screen cannot be changed – it is either open or shut. And, the characters on the review model I used did not seem as sharp as those displayed by the smaller and more limited Radio Shack and Epson machines I have used.

The Vital Statistics

DataGen001

The device itself is also larger than the “typical” laptop computer, measuring 13.7″ by 11.7″ by 2.8″. Its starting weight is 9 pounds, with a single disk drive and without the optional rechargeable battery pack. With a second drive and batteries, the system crosses the 11-pound threshold. I was quite surprised to discover that the unit did not include a built-in carrying handle; a separate case or briefcase is necessary.

The batteries are supposed to be good for at least eight hours of typical use – disk drive and modem operation consume more power than do screen display and computation. Recharging the batteries requires use of a small transformer cube and power cord; operating the computer directly from an AC outlet requires a different transformer cube and power cord.

The microprocessor runs at a clock speed of 4MHz, almost 20% slower than the IBM standard of 4.77MHz. The difference was noticeable in computation intensive operations like screen updates. Data General included with my review package a copy of a PacMan-like game, and fighting boredom I was able to rack up record scores by outrunning the slightly slower ghosts.

Users familiar with the forgiving nature of the entrance slots of most 5.25″ disk drives will find the DG units to be slightly more demanding: the plastic case must be inserted exactly right or it will not drop into place for reading and writing operations. The disks include a small movable notch to write-protect contents – an improvement over the silver tape method used for floppies. By the way, the prices of the 3.5″ disks have settled thus far in a range of about twice the price of a 5.25″ floppy. Byte-for-byte, that makes the media identically priced.

The optional 5.25″ disk drive is called device C by the operating system, but the DG ROM BIOS has been told to boot from drive C if there are no disks in the first two internal drives. This should allow programs with their own operating systems to load from the external drive.

Making Your Own Disks

Copying from a 5.25″ disk to a 3.5″ disk is a straightforward procedure using the copy or diskcopy command. (Using diskcopy, though, will format the smaller but more capacious disk as a standard 320K or 360K disk, depending upon the formatting of the original.)

Going the other way, from the small internal disks to the external floppy requires the copy command, and you must consider the halved capacity of the floppy – it could take two floppies to store all of the data recorded on a single 3.5″ disk.

One other storage option for DG users is a RAM disk (also called an “electronic disk” or a “virtual disk”). This is a program that fools the operating system into thinking of a portion of RAM as a disk. Programs and data can be copied into and out of the RAM disk at a significant increase in speed over the physically limited real disk drive. You must take care to observe two cautions, though: first, any data in the electronic disk must be stored to a permanent disk before power is shut off, and second, you must leave sufficient RAM available for the needs of an application program. For example, WordStar requires at least 128K. Together with 48K for the screen display memory, the first 176K must be left untouched in such an application. DG’s supplied VDISK.COM program creates a CONFIG.SYS add-on to DOS, calling the RAM disk drive D.

The DG/One keyboard is a competent device, about half an inch narrower than a standard typewriter or computer board. The 79 keys have a sure, dicky feel to them, slightly softer than the IBM PC model but should prove quite comfortable for most users. Across the top of the board are ten downsized function keys, plus Ins, Del, Num, Lock, Scroll Lock, and PrtSc buttons. A carrier just above the function row holds a plastic cheat sheet card that can be used to remember specialized assignments given the keys.

In addition to the standard Shift, Ctrl, and Alt keys, DG has added a Cmd key, a Spcl key, and a blank and thus far unassigned key along the right side of the board. A set of four cursor control keys resides along the bottom right – the horizontal placement of up, left, right and down are not my favorite arrangement. The small board understandably does not include a separate cursor key pad. Instead the UIO/JKL/M keys can be toggled into roles as the bottom half of a keypad for number entry.

A Choice of Video Options

The DG/One equivalent of a video display adapter can be set to emulate the IBM special monochrome adapter and screen or the IBM Color/Graphics adapter. Commands from the DOS prompt can also set the display to 40 characters. At the Comdex show last November, I saw the DG/One with a prototype of the expansion box with a standard IBM Color/Graphics board driving an RGB monitor.

One of the more common uses for a portable computer is as a link to a main office computer for electronic mail, database inquiry, or transfer of files. Other users tie into public networks like MCI, the Source, and CompuServe for various purposes. The DG/One accommodates these uses through an optional 300 baud direct connect modem, or through an RS-232C serial port that can be wired to an external modem. Data General will offer a 1200 baud device, but the price had not been set at the time of this review.

The DG internal modem follows Hayes protocols, including auto-answer. The device comes with a T-connector allowing a telephone to be plugged into the same line to allow you to switch back and forth between voice and data communications. Also available is a set of acoustic cups to be used with nonmodular telephones.

I tried the modem with MCI mail and had no trouble using that system’s commands. I did not have a full-function telecommunications program to test uploading and downloading. One word of warning: the communications chip set used in the CMOS system of the Data General is not the same as that used by the IBM PC and most compatibles, and as such it is a good bet that many off-the-shelf communications programs will not work on the machine. You’ll probably have to use an altered version.

I also successfully linked the DG/One directly to my IBM PC using a null modem cable, the system I use to download data from my personal portable. The two computers, both under control of my IBM, swapped files at a gratifying 9600 baud.

The Built-In Programs

The DG/One includes four small scale utility programs on a ROM chip inside the unit, including a terminal program that allows configuration of the portable as a standard terminal or as an emulation of a Data General Dasher terminal. Options include use of an internal or external modem, output flow control, and several other protocol elements – but no way I could discover to save files to disk or retrieve from disk or RAM.

Another of the ROM programs is Notebook, a simple text processor that can be used in conjunction with the modem for sending and receiving files, or as a quick memo pad. The program will hold as many as 500 lines of 80-column text in RAM. The other two options are a Setup configuration program (the settings are retained in a small portion of RAM that is powered by a separate lithium battery that also runs an internal clock/calendar) and a set of extended diagnostic routines to check memory chip-by-chip and test the various available disk drives.

There is also a built-in self-diagnosis program that is invoked when the computer is first turned on. The test reports net available memory (48K of RAM is taken by the operating system) and then a numeric code indicating any tests failed by the computer. The routines check the microprocessor, RAM, ROM, DMA controller, LCD controller, keyboard and speaker interfaces, various interrupts, power supply, output ports, and the internal memory if installed.

DG also sells a portable 27-pin thermal matrix printer that connects to its own serial output port on the computer. Powered either by its own set of rechargeable batteries or from an AC outlet, the device can work with regular bond paper using a special thermal transfer ribbon, or with specially coated thermal paper. According to Data General, the printer emulates an Epson MX-80 with Graftrax or its close cousin the IBM PC Graphics Printer, running at 40cps for draft quality and 20cps for “letter-quality” printing.

What’s New?

The DG/One pushes LCD technology to its present commercial frontier. In addition to obtaining sufficient supplies of the new large screens (Epson is reported to be one of the OEMs), engineers also found a way to deal with the “ghosting” problem often associated with LCDs. In effect, the large DG/One screen is treated by the computer as if it were several smaller screens with an individual driver for each portion of the display.

Another interesting design choice was the use of 8K by 8-bit RAM chips instead of the more common 64K. by 1-bit chips. Both devices will store a total of 64K bits, and therefore in a bank of eight will store 64K bytes. However, the IBM PC design stores each bit of an 8-bit byte in a separate chip, while the DG stores all eight bits in a single chip, saving another smidgen of power.

The construction of the machine seems solid, although the plastic shell does have the appearance of a device selling for less than $3000. A hinged cover at the back of the unit slides into place to cover the panel of connectors at the back and also serves as a prop to adjust the angle of the machine; it popped out of its grooved track every time I used it. DG does not endorse users taking the covers off to install add-ons. If the machine does make a significant dent in the marketplace, though, third-party manufacturers may seek to tie into the planned expansion chassis or attach to one of the ports.

Who should consider buying a device like the DG/One? Well, I spoke recently with a book editor who said his company’s sales staff was lugging one of those 40-pound “transportable” PC-compatible machines around the country for use in order entry and communication with the home office – the DG/One would be a quite worthy, back-saving replacement. It would also make a worthy companion for traveling heavy users of electronic spreadsheets.

You should have noticed by now that the only significant knock against this machine – assuming you can afford the price of admission – is based on a completely subjective decision about the LCD screen. A long word processing session did not appeal to my tired eyes. But, if you are considering the purchase of a portable, go and see for yourself.

Data General’s achievement with its portable computer is in a way comparable to IBM’s with its original PC model. The technology – with the exception of the LCD screen – is proven, off-the-shelf provisioning. What DG has done is make up a package combining a very high degree of PC compatibility, several disk storage options, a capable keyboard, and perhaps most important, added into the mix an established and respected name. You might say that the company immortalized in “The Soul of a New Machine” has brought a little of that soul from the minicomputer to your lap.

Hardware Profile

  • Name: Data General/One
  • Type: Portable PC-compatible computer
  • CPU: 80C88 at 4Mhz
  • RAM: 128K standard, can be increased to 512K in blocks of 128K
  • ROM: 32K
  • Operating system: MS-DOS 2.11. Can also use CP/M-86
  • Keyboard: 79 keys, with 10 function keys
  • Display resolution: LCD display of 640 by 200 pixels, or 25 lines of 80 characters.
  • Ports: Two serial ports built in. Expansion chassis that will accept IBM compatible hardware cards announced.
  • Dimensions/wt: 13.7” x 11.7” x 2.8”. Approximately 11Ibs. With two disk drives:
  • Documentation: Instruction manual
  • Summary: The first commercially available full-screen LCD portable computer with a high degree of PC compatibility.
  • Price: $2895 for unit with 128K RAM, one internal disk drive.
  • Manufacturer: Data General, 4400 Computer Dr. Westboro, MA 01580

First published in Creative Computing, February 1985

Amstrad PC1512-The Clone of Contention

PC1512-001

The new Amstrad machine, says John Lettice, is up and running.

Amstrad has traditionally made larger and larger piles of money not by stating the obvious so much as by doing it. Obviously, there was big money to be made in the home computer market, so the CPC464 was launched. Obviously serious users wanted a complete system that they could use rather than puzzle over, hence the PCW8256 and 8512

The latest move, the launch of the PC1512 series, is probably the most obvious of the lot IBM has dominated the business market for the last five years and has sold stacks and stacks of its PCs simply by virtue of the fact that it is IBM. Other business manufacturers have followed the IBM standard, and until recently, when a lot of small companies decided they could put together IBM clones, sell them for half the price of an IBM PC, and still make a profit, the bigger companies were all doing very well for themselves.

Now the obvious bit here is that it needn’t actually cost any more to produce a business machine than it does to make any other machine, and that if a company were to produce a PC clone in volume it could sell it at a price low enough to make the business manufacturers lose interest in the PC standard fairly rapidly. That’s what Amstrad has done with its PC, and the initial intention is to carve out a large slice of the world market. On first impressions the new machines might just be neat enough and cheap enough to do it.

The machine is simple in construction. It’s smaller and lighter than the IBM PC, but the need for 5.25inch disc drives and IBM standard expansion slots has kept its desktop footprint up to around 15 x 15 inches.

The entry-level machine has a single drive plus monochrome monitor, and the series goes up to single drive plus 20Mb hard disc and colour monitor. The review machine s twin floppy drives look up the whole of the front plate of the machine, and being substantial metal-sheathed beasts extended back across half of the machine’s base unit.

I/O ports are on the left-hand side and around the back. On the left beside the volume control (zero to horrible racket) is the keyboard plug and mouse port. I take it the latter’s placing was dictated by circuit board layout, but while I’m happy to meet my first left handed mouse I’m not sure how the majority of users, who are I believe right handed, will take to it.

Parallel and serial ports are at the rear, with video output and power input (like other Amstrad machines the power supply goes through the monitor) just along from them.

On most PC compatibles the expansion slots are accessed by unscrewing the casing, generally a fiddly task on a crowded desk, but the Amstrad PC uses a hatch to the rear of the top of the casing plus one on the side for access to the cards’ interfaces. Both these are easily snapped in and out.

The monitor is again neatly designed, and is mounted on a tilt and swivel stand that fits into a well on the top plate. Unlike standard IBMs the monochrome and colour versions use the same video output, with the mono simply showing shades of grey instead of colour.

IBMs also have severe limitations on the number of colours that can be displayed at once – which is why PC games generally have odd colour combinations – but the Amstrad can handle 16 in 80 column mode. It’s also compatible with two of the modes available on IBM’s EGA (Enhanced Graphics Adaptor), which is more than you can say for most software packages…

Screen quality is quite good, although not superb, and this leads on to a major disadvantage. Because the power supply is in the monitor you can’t fit third party monitors to the machine without fitting a new power supply or running two monitors. You’d also better be sure of the monitor you want when you buy the machine, because if you upgrade from Amstrad mono to Amstrad colour you’ll wind up with a useless mono monitor.

The machine s keyboard is basically IBM format, although there’s a separate Enter key on the numeric keypad (operation being similar to the one on the PCW), and the Alt, Control, Caps lock and PrtSc (print screen) keys have been moved to slightly more sensible locations.

The feel of the keys is fine, although I’ve seen better on machines four or five times the price of the Amstrads. The keyboard also includes a joystick socket, but this apparently emulates the cursor keys rather than being compatible with point here is that the basic mechanics of I/O flatten out performance considerably.

Screen handling is also an impediment to the Amstrad’s speed. As far as text display is concerned it’s faster than the IBM, but seems lower than the Olivetti M24, which also runs an 8086 at 8MHz. Graphic screens are more significantly slower. The test used here, which I hereby patent, involves F15 Strike Eagle software (see last week’s issue for review) and time taken to run out of fuel. With afterburners engaged the Amstrad took just under three minutes, while the Olivetti turned into a brick at just over two.

The Amstrad, however, is probably still faster than the IBM in terms of graphics. The spectacular differences in Basic speeds (over twice the speed of the M24) can incidentally be ascribed in part to Locomotive’s Basic 2, which is very fast indeed It also runs under Gem, and together Gem and Basic 2 suck up over 470K of the machine’s 512K Ram, but that’s another story.

System software

PC1512-002

This is probably the most valuable, and unnerving, area of the whole machine. The standard IBM operating system is Microsoft’s MSDOS. and this is included. It is, however, also possible to use the machine with a second system, Digital Research’s Dos Plus, which is also bundled, and finally it can be run under Gem, DR’s windowing front end for the PC. Gem isn’t strictly an operating system, but has been pre-installed on a third disc which also includes Dos Plus.

Working out which you’ll use is problem enough, but the confusion is heightened by various bits and pieces that squirt out of the discs as you chug along.

Dos Plus allows a measure of multitasking, and the disc includes a couple of little programs, including an alarm and background printing utility, that take advantage of this. These, however, can only be accessed through Dos Plus, not through MSDOS or Gem. Considering DR wrote both Dos Plus and Gem I’m sure there must be a way to put the two together, but initial phone calls didn’t enlighten me.

Dos Plus and Gem in fact, although worthwhile independently, don’t seem to add up to more than the sum of their parts. Exit to Dos from Gem and you can’t get back to Gem Desktop. Instead you’ve got to put the Gem Startup disc back into A, type autoexec or gem (although the latter appears not to work if you’ve run a program in the meantime) then reload the Desktop disc. It seems to me that DR ought to be able to make the two systems a lot more integrated than this.

PC1512-003

Compatibility

The way to make a machine totally compatible is to make it as slow and horrible as the original IBM. Amstrad to its credit hasn’t done this, but the machine is still almost 100 per cent compatible. Lotus 1-2-3, dBase, Flight Simulator and Open Access all run, and I had no trouble with a fairly wide range of other programs, apart from Sargon 3 chess, which seemed reluctant to return to a text screen after going to a graphics display. The latter also, however, gives trouble on the Olivetti, where it crashes whenever it seems to be losing…

Hardware compatibility is more difficult to judge, but the machine is likely to be able to take most IBM expansion cards, with a few exceptions. It won’t take an EGA because it can’t patch out its own graphics, and extra serial and parallel cards may cause problems depending on which areas of memory they use. The advice here is try before you buy.

Verdict

There are a few disadvantages to the Amstrad machines in absolute terms, but as a total package of software and hardware they’re well up in the front runners among PC clones. Take price into account and they have no competition there. Their competition elsewhere really depends on what you want a machine for.

If you want a fast, non-compromise machine at the cutting edge of technology you’d probably look elsewhere, but the Amstrads make no pretence to being this kind of machine. What they are is cheap, relatively fast machines that run more different software packages than any other micro. At the moment this software is mainly business, but as the support market goes crazy it’s inevitable that software of all kinds will be launched for the PC.

So, the message is. if you want it for business it’s a good buy now (although bear in mind you’ll have to buy extra applications software and a printer) while if you are an enthusiast it may be worth your while waiting until the support starts coming through. Either way, at the price it’s hard to go wrong.

  • Machine: Amstrad PC1512
  • Supplier: Amstrad, Brentwood House, 169 King’s Road, Brentwood, Essex, CM14 4EF

Prices

  • 512K machine plus –
    • Single 360K drive and monitor – £469
    • Single drive and colour monitor – £649
    • Twin drives and mono monitor – £587
    • Twin drives and colour monitor – £764
    • Single drive, 10Mb hard disc, mono – £822
    • Single drive, 10Mb hard disc, colour – £999
    • Single drive, 20Mb hard disc, mono – £940
    • Single drive, 20Mb hard disc, colour – £1,116

First published in Popular Computing Weekly, 25th September 1986

Olivetti M19

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The M19 forms part of the Olivetti range of IBM-compatible micros. But, although the machine is guaranteed first-class support, it does have some worrying omissions. Nick Walker looks it over.

In 1984 Olivetti launched a new business microcomputer, the M24, its first IBM-compatible. While it may be a shame that Olivetti had to conform to the standard of one of its major rivals in order to make an impact on the market, the company certainly showed IBM how it should have been done. The M24 was one of the fastest, most compatible, best designed compatibles available, and to this day it still remains one of my favourite choices as the best all round PC-compatible.

Justifiably the M24 sold well throughout Europe and is now making inroads into the US after a couple of false starts. Following in the M24’s tracks, Olivetti has launched not one but three machines, all IBM compatible, to be added to the M24 to make a range of machines covering the whole spectrum of IBM compatibles. These three new machines are the M19 entry level PC compatible, the M22 lap-top/portable model and the M24 PC/AT compatible. As the M19 is the first of the three to make its way to our shores, I decided to take a look at it.

Hardware

At first sight the M19 doesn’t look like an IBM clone at all. Although it conforms to the classic three-box design, the M19 seems far too small and well designed to be in any way related to the monstrous heaps that IBM produces. The main unit is less than the height of an IBM floppy disk drive or, for that matter, the height of an IBM expansion card; the width is half that of the IBM PC and even its depth is less than the IBM’s. To be exact, the main unit measures just 12ins wide by 15ins deep by 3.5ins high, which must surely make it the smallest, desk-top PC-compatible available. Needless to say, it looks very unobtrusive.

Olivetti002

The main PCB is well built and occupies the entire base of the unit.

Like other Olivetti micros the M19 is finished in an office grey plastic and, as you might expect from an Italian company, it looks as though some thought has gone into the overall design. The overall effect is very pleasing, though to my mind the grey plastic is a bit too sombre to do the machine justice.

There is not much room on the front panel for any more than the two 5.25in disk drives which are mounted side by side. The inch of plastic that runs underneath the drives is vented and contains a badge on the left-hand side and a socket for connection of the keyboard to the right. There is no on/off switch on the front panel nor, for that matter, anywhere else on the main unit. The power the whole system comes from the monitor and the on/off switch on the front of the monitor.

Olivetti004

The two, half-height disk drives occupy most of the front panel.

The sides of the machine are equally sparse, though if you look closely you’ll find a reset on the right-hand side. This pleased me immensely, as more and more of the software I use seems to crash in such a manner that the usual software reset of Ctrl/Alt/Del keys pressed together fails to work. (The original IBM PC didn’t have a reset switch and most compatibles have sheepishly followed suit.) Next to the reset switch is a round hole in the casing into which you can screw a second piece of plastic to form a volume control. This, like the reset switch, is a useful little extra which is missing on the PC.

The rear panel houses the usual collection of IBM-compatible sockets. To the left there are three sockets in a row: an RGB socket for the monitor; a serial port; and a Centronics parallel printer port. Above this a multi-way power plug provides the power to the main unit – on the review machine this proved a little awkward to connect and looked as though it might be easily damaged.  The RGB socket will drive both monochrome and colour Olivetti monitors or a standard RGB monitor, although additional hardware is needed to give power to the main system if no Olivetti monitor is used. A switch next to the RGB socket lets you select between monochrome and colour.

Olivetti005

The rear panel houses the usual collection of IBM-compatible sockets.

To the right of the ports there are covers for three expansion ports, but these are far too small to be suitable for standard IBM-compatible expansion cards. Unlike the majority of PC clones there is no fan to be found anywhere on the system. This is a sign of good engineering design from Olivetti, as the M19’s closely packed compact design doesn’t even get warm. Thankfully, the absence of a fan also means that the unit is silent in operation.

Getting inside the M19 is very straightforward providing you don’t follow the manual: a total of five, not four, screws need to be removed; two at the rear and three at the front. After removing the screws, the cover slides forward an inch and is removed by lifting it at the rear. The first thing that struck me was the total absence of a power supply – usually the most dominant component of a PC clone. All the power conversion is done within the monitor, so the power wires from the monitor lead directly to the PCB and disk drives.

With no power supply, the most dominant components by far are the two half-height disk drives which occupy over half of the casing towards the front of the machine. The review machine was supplied with two 5.25in, 360k IBM-compatible drives which were raised an inch above the main PCB by the metal chassis. Interestingly, the controller PCB mounted above the disk drives was the smallest I’ve ever seen on a PC-compatible. In operation the disk drives performed very well and could hardly be described as noisy; however, they are noisier than those on the M24 which, at least on earlier machines, were whisper quiet. The M19 is also available with a single 360k drive or with a 10Mbyte hard disk and one 360k floppy. However, with a hard disk installed, a fan is needed to keep the unit cool.

The main PCB occupies the entire base of the main system unit, although over half of it is obscured by the two disk drives. Even though it is as big as the machine itself, the PCB is still significantly smaller than that on the IBM PC, although it boasts an RS232 port, a Centronics port and colour display support.

The main processor on the M19 is a standard 8088 which is just a 16-bit processor with an 8-bit data bus. The processor is driven at the mundane speed of 4.77MHz. I was very disappointed at Olivetti’s choice of processor and clock speed, as most modern PC-compatibles have followed the lead set by Olivetti with the M24 and used a full-blown, 16-bit 8086 running at 6 or even 8MHz. Olivetti’s decision to use exactly the same processor and clock speed as the IBM PC only marginally help compatibility (once again, Olivetti’s M24 shows you can be very compatible at higher clock speeds), but it does make the M19 slow when compared with the competition. Surely, with all the research Olivetti did to make the M24 run at 8 and now 10MHz, it wouldn’t have cost too much to give the M19 an 8MHz 8086 as standard. A go-faster option of 8088 driven at 8MHz will be available at extra cost, but at the time of writing the UK launch date isn’t known. Certain chips were socketed rather than soldered directly to the board, presumably for this upgrade.

The main PCB looked well built and considerably less cluttered than I expected, due to the use of a large custom gate array which encompasses several functions including that of a colour card. Although the review machine was a late prototype, there was little evidence on the PCB of it being an unfinished product, except for one small area of TTL logic which was covered in patch wires. A 16k ROM containing the boot-up sequence, ROM BIOS and diagnostics is just visible underneath the disk drives alongside a bank of 256k RAM made up of 256k by one-bit dynamic RAM chips. There is sufficient room onboard to expand the system to a full 640k with parity (the basic system has no parity chips in place, just an empty socket). The single floppy disk model comes with only 128k of RAM.

With three blanking plates on the rear of the case you would expect to find three expansion slots inside; not so, the main PCB contains only two. Odd, and more than a little deceptive. What is worse is that these two slots are totally unable to take standard expansion cards as the space available could accommodate a card with half-card length and a third of the standard height. A dear price to pay for the dinky little compact system box. I don’t have enough room with five cards, although I do appreciate that there is no need for my colour card or 80 per cent of my multi-function card.

Olivetti, of course, has cards available in this miniature format, and there is no reason why some of the current cards couldn’t be converted as the physical socket is identical to that on the IBM. Don’t expect any third-party cards, however, unless the machine sells incredibly well.

There are four cards currently available from Olivetti; a second RS232C port; a synchronous communications interface; an Olivetti proprietary local area network card (called Olinet) and, best of all, an SCSI hard-disk controller which will allow you to hang a whole host of third-party mass storage devices on the system.

If you’re desperate to use a standard IBM type expansion card, there is one way to do this. At extra cost you could purchase an external expansion box with one slot for a normal expansion card – this box can also be configured to supply power to the main unit, should you wish to use a standard RGB monitor.

The monitor supplied with the M19 was monochrome and was also said to be a prototype and suffering from a contrast problem. Like the main system the monitor is finished in grey plastic, and along the front there are controls for contrast, brightness and the power switch. To my mind the on/off switch is too easy to hit accidentally considering that it’s the power switch for the whole system. Also, it’s not possible to just switch off the monitor to save the screen, while keeping the computer on – a lesson I learnt the hard way as I lost a few hundred words of text in a moment of forgetfulness.

Olivetti006

The monitor has controls for contrast, brightness and the power switch.

I also found many operational faults with the monitor, among them a severe ghosting, a crooked display and a most worrying fault which occurred twice, whereby the monitor let out a loud crack and shot a splodge of brightness to part of the screen. I can only add that I hope all this was due to it being a prototype. Interestingly, I found no fault in the contrast; both text clarity and shading to simulate colour graphics were excellent. Olivetti also offers a very high-quality RGB monitor complete with power supply for the main unit.

The keyboard unit on the M19 connects to the main unit via a fairly short length of coiled cable and a DIN plug. This is one area where there seems to be no loss of quality in a effort to keep costs down. The keyboard quality on the M19 rivals the excellence of the IBM keyboard. The keyboard unit is higher at the back than it is at the front, which means it is angled slightly forward to give a good typing stance. This angle can be increased to any one of three settings by means of flip-down legs at the rear of the unit. A recess at the top right of the unit will accommodate the Olivetti mouse. Although this doesn’t conform to any industry standard, both Microsoft and Digital Research, the major mouse-driven software producers, support it. And if this isn’t enough, Olivetti will sell you software that emulates the Microsoft mouse – the most successful industry standard.

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The classy looking keyboard is similar to the PC/XT’s

The keys are laid out in three logical groups and roughly modelled on the keyboard found on the PC/XT. The centre section is occupied by the main qwerty typing section which is a slight improvement on the PC/XT’s. In particular the ‘/’ key has been moved from its awkward position between the ‘Z’ and Shift keys; the ‘Return’ key has been enlarged to a decent size and the ‘Shift’ keys have been placed in their proper position either side of the space bar.

To the left of the keyboard there are 10 programmable function keys á la IBM PC or AT. To the right of the qwerty section, there is the combined numeric keypad and curser key cluster. Above this are the ‘Num Lock’, ‘Scroll Lock’ and ‘Caps Lock’ keys, each with their own LED to indicate whether or not they are engaged. Also in this row is the ‘Sys’ key used on some networks and a key labelled ‘PC/WP’ which switches the keyboard configuration to one suitable for a proprietary Olivetti word processing system.

I liked the general feel of the M19’s keyboard; the keys themselves were nicely sprung and had a very positive action suitable for touch-typing. Also, the blue on grey colour scheme with amber LEDs makes it one of the classiest looking keyboards I’ve ever seen – the overall effect is only spoiled by a cheap looking marbled strip running across the top of the unit.

System software

In order to be compatible, all IBM PC-clones run some version of the MS-DOS operating system, usually version 2.11. The Olivetti M19 sticks strictly to this tradition by including a ‘no frills’ version of MS-DOS 2.11. This is all very well but it does make it very difficult to think of anything substantial to say, without repeating what has already been said and written many times before.

Seriously though, compared to machines with a similar specification, the M19 isn’t cheap and I would have expected a company with the corporate power of Olivetti to sign up one of the ‘friendly front ends’ – such as GEM or Windows – to be bundled-in with the machine, something which small, cheap clone manufacturers don’t have the power to do.

Applications software

Being IBM PC-compatible, the M19 is open to the widest range of application programs ever to be made available on a single machine architecture although some people believe there is still a greater number of packages available for the CP/M operating systems. Even if this were true, IBM PC packages are far more modern and better supported, so, whatever application you want, from spreadsheet to golf-handicapping system or word processor to bakery control program, if it’s not on the IBM PC the chances are it’s not available.

Olivetti’s previous PC clone, the M24, set a reputation as one of the most compatible machines available and included a different and faster processor to the IBM PC. One would expect the M19, with the same processor as the IBM PC driven at the same speed, to be even more compatible. I tried a wide range of programs on the M19 from the office collection, and everything ran perfectly, including the classic texts of compatibility such as Microsoft’s Flight Simulator and Lotus’ 1-2-3 (though all the clone manufacturers now ensure that their machines run these).  In general, the Olivetti is one of the most compatible machines on the market today.

Incidentally, when I ran the PCW Benchmarks, I initially tried to use the PC-DOS from my machine and IBM’s BasicA. The M19 happily ran PC-DOS but, like all compatibles, failed to run BasicA as this uses Basic ROM routines which are strictly copyright IBM.

A quick search through the disks supplied with the M19 turned up a copy of GWBasic which is the only application supplied with the M19. Curiously, the Benchmarks are slightly faster than those for the PC, which must mean GWBasic is a faster Basic than BasicA.

Documentation

The review machine was supplied with one manual called the M19 Starter Kit which also contained three disks. This was spiral-bound, typeset and made heavy use of diagrams throughout. However, it really isn’t enough for the absolute beginner and would be more useful as a simple setting-up guide and sales brochure for Olivetti’s peripherals.

The three disks consisted of a Tutorial/Introduction to the M19 – which made up somewhat for the lack of this information in the manual – a system disk and a diagnostics disk.

Prices

As is so often the case, the price of the machine wasn’t fixed at the time of writing. The official line from Olivetti is that the M19 will be approximately 15 per cent cheaper than the equivalent M24 configuration, though ‘don’t be too surprised if it differs from this considerably.’ A twin floppy, 256k RAM M24 presently costs £2122, so the review configuration should cost about £1800, which seems very expensive when compared with the competition. Similarly, no prices were available for the hard disk, expansion cards, peripherals and so on.

In perspective

Cheap IBM PC-compatibles probably represent the most cut-throat competitive sector of the microcomputer business and are currently suffering under a flood of really cheap Taiwanese products. The name Olivetti may mean a lot in terms of support when compared with cheap Taiwan clones, but there are some large, reputable manufacturers which make cheaper machines that are more capable, such as Epson with the Epson PC.

I would recommend a good look round the market before purchasing an M19 as there will almost certainly be a cheaper machine that will meet your needs. For example, one of the markets Olivetti envisages for the machine is the higher end education market, but I doubt that cost conscious educational institutions will buy the M19 when they could have two identically-configured machines for the price of one M19.

Conclusion

The M19 is a very well made, good looking PC clone, but that alone is insufficient to set it apart from the crowd. Having the Olivetti name behind it means the machine will be well supported but I really don’t think that’s enough considering its cost.

Olivetti sees the machine selling to a very distinct section of the market, including the executive who doesn’t require too much computing power but wants a neat, compact unit and a terminal for a network. But even in this market there are better, and cheaper, machines. The omission of standard expansion slots is the machine’s most worrying flaw which seriously effects its capability as a general purpose PC clone.

Overall, the machine is a disappointment, especially coming from Olivetti which had previously produced such a good machine in the M24. If the company had included the fast 8MHz processor and a friendly operating system front-end such as GEM, with no increase in price, this might have compensated for the lack of expansion slots and made it a viable proposition. As it stands the M19 remains a nicely designed clone, but it’s too expensive.

Benchmarks
BM1 1.4
BM2 4.9
BM3 10.4
BM4 10.8
BM5 11.5
BM6 20.8
BM7 32.4
BM8 34.3
Average 15.8
All timings in seconds. For a full listing of the benchmark programs see page 185 January 1985 issue.

Technical specifications

  • Processor: 8088 running at 4.77Mhz
  • ROM: 16k
  • RAM: 256k expandable to 640k on board
  • Mass storage: One or two 360k IBM PC-compatible floppy disks. Optional 10Mbyte hard disk.
  • Keyboard: 85 key, IBM PC/XT style
  • Size: 12ins x 15ins x 3.5ins
  • Weight: 18lbs
  • I/O: RS232C, Centronics and RGB ports. Two non-IBM compatible expansion slots
  • DOS: MS-DOS v2.11

First published in Personal Computer World magazine, May 1986

Tandy M1000 – Change of Style

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The Tandy M1000 is an affordable IBM compatible that offers you not much more for quite a bit less. Geoff Wheelwright gives the Texan company’s first shot at IBMability his vote.

The M1000, launched at the Which, Computer? Show, is part of a concerted effort on Tandy’s part to change its image – even the old, comfortable appellation ‘Model’ has been dropped.

Although it’s getting hard to be excited about the release of yet another IBM compatible, Tandy is hoping that the extra features added to the 1000 – along with the low price – might just make people stand up and take notice; and with its impressive specifications, (under £1,100, colour graphics, printer/joystick interfaces, 90-key keyboard, 128K RAM, good bundled software, three IBM PC compatible expansion slots, PC software compatibility), Tandy has an excellent chance of succeeding.

First impressions

The 1000 covers less desktop than the PC or most of its compatibles, and displays little of the idiosyncratic styling of previous Tandy ranges. The price (£1,099 for the 128K, single-drive model without screen) also makes an attractive first impression, as it beats any other disk-based fully IBM compatible (with the possible exception of the Advance, which costs just under £1,300 for the dual-drive model with a built-in RS232 connector). It also has impressive graphics built into the system – which many cut-price IBMibles don’t include in the base price.

The 1000 has a rugged casing, with none of the thin-skinned feel, criticised in the similarly priced Advance 86b. Perhaps the only weak point in the 1000’s construction is the keyboard, which has a slight ‘plastic’ feel to it and less ‘bounce’ than I’d have liked.

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The keyboard doesn’t wholly toe the IBMible line: the function keys are across the top, rather than down the side.  

The M1000 uses exactly the same keyboard as the Tandy 2000, the larger, faster MS DOS machine the company released last year. The function keys have been moved from the left-hand side of the keyboard to above the numbers along the top line of the keyboard. It also adds two keys, giving you a total of 12 function keys.

This top-side function key layout shortens the keyboard – which I’ve always considered somewhat unwieldy – and reduces the ‘footprint’ of the system. The total of seven keys over those on the standard IBM PC keyboard may cause inconsistencies in the way the 1000 handles some keyboard routines in certain programs, although I couldn’t find any in the time that I used the machine.

Documentation

The system comes with a 140-page tutorial, an 18-page quick reference guide to the bundled Deskmate software, an 80-page tutorial for Deskmate, and a 78-page Basic reference guide. But anyone familiar with the IBM PC won’t need to study them too hard.

In use

The proof of an IBM compatible is in the running of IBM PC programs. With this in mind, I sat myself down with two boxes worth of my favourite IBM programs and booted up.

The first thing I noticed is that the copyright message credited ‘Phoenix Compatibility Corp’ with writing the BIOS (a later discussion with Microsoft in its Seattle offices revealed that Phoenix Software offers a full software service to IBM compatible manufacturers, offering them a money-back guarantee that they will provide a non-litigious IBM compatible BIOS that will run IBM software. If IBM successfully sues any manufacturer using a Phoenix-designed BIOS for ROM infringement, Phoenix will pay the costs).

After booting up good old MSDOS 2.11 and getting the familiar A> prompt, I whipped out my Wordstar disk, and challenged the Model 1000 to run it. The familiar Wordstar menu darted to the screen, and then accepted all the usual commands.

Then on to Lotus 1-2-3 which again did its bit in the way you would expect: a more ambitious test than Wordstar, as Lotus 1-2-3 uses BIOS and ROM calls to accomplish its magic. Although I didn’t have a copy of Symphony, it should run, as it uses much the same kind of calls and protection schemes as 1-2-3.

Memory is expandable up to 640K (256K on the main board, and 384K on an expansion card), and thus the full power of such integrated packages should be accessible. The final software compatibility test was the infamous Microsoft Flight Simulator, which again ran without a hitch.

Tandy promises the machines will hold most standard expansion cards for the PC. In fact, Tandy is expecting PC and other compatible users to be among the customers for the Tandy-built expansion cards the company is planning for the 1000. The one other compatibility issue worth exploring is that of the PCjr. It may not seem too important in the UK – where the IBM has not seen fit to unleash its home computer – but the Tandy 1000 is about as compatible with the PCjr as it was with the PC.

The 1000 will run a large number of the disk-based programs for the PCjr, as it has the same built-in graphics capabilities, joystick and light pen ports. Not only does this expand the potential software base of the 1000, but it also means a number of very good games and entertainment programs will now be made accessible in the UK.

Storage

Storage for the base price 1000 is provided by a 360K 5.25in floppy. A second floppy is available for an additional £249. The disks worked quietly and effectively, and the large, red ‘in use’ lights on the drives make them easier to see than the smaller ones on the PC and some other compatibles.

Expansion

Tandy is offering a hard disk controller for the 1000 for a mere £289, but isn’t saying much it’s going to charge for the hard disk itself. Luckily, the existence of three IBM compatible expansion slots on the machine’s main board means that you should be able to hook up most IBM PC hard disk system to the 1000 (although if you want an internal hard disk, you’ll have to keep in mind that the 1000 uses half-height drives, and a standard size 5.25in hard disk will not necessarily fit).

As you only have three expansion slots on the 1000, you’ll have to plan carefully how you use them. For example, although Tandy offers an RS232 board for £89, it probably isn’t worth getting by itself. Your best bet would be a multi-function card that includes memory expansion, RS232C interface, real-time clock/calendar and RAM disk software.

This would take up only one of your three expansion slots, leaving the other two free for, say, a hard disk interface and a Hercules graphics card (you don’t have to worry about where to put a parallel printer interface, colour graphics interface, joystick interface or light pen interface – they all come standard with the machine).

Software

As mentioned earlier, the BIOS and ROM for the 1000 were written in conjunction with Phoenix software – with all the compatibility guarantee which that approach offers. The operating system, MS DOS 2.11, and the Microsoft Basic included with the machine are, of course, licensed from Microsoft and offer all the regular facilities you have come to expect in both the operating system and the programming language.

I tried some IBM Basic programs and they ran quite happily under the 1000’s Microsoft Basic – so you should even be able to type in IBM listings with no problem.

The applications software is perhaps the most unexpected ‘plus’ in the Tandy 1000 package. It’s called Deskmate, and comprises: Text (a simple word processor much like the one included with the Model 100 portable computer with commands added for pagination, margin settings, headers, footers and a search/replace facility); Worksheet (a 99 x 99 row/column spreadsheet which allows most common formulae and functions, and references the cells by row and column number – R1C1 as opposed to A1 for the top left-hand comer); Filer (a limited database, mainly designed for keeping addresses or small inventory files); Telecom (a fully functioning telecommunications program with all the capabilities of the Model 100 version plus a few more); Calendar (a daily  appointment calendar which automatically uses the time and date information from MS DOS to pull a ‘daybook’ from disk – it also has an ‘alarm’ function to remind you of appointments); and Mail (an electronic mail program for transferring data between linked Tandy 1000s).

All the programs are function key driven, and as far as possible the same function keys do the same thing in each, making them easy to use and to learn; so, as with the Model 100, you can begin to do something useful with the Tandy1000 from the moment you unpack the Deskmate software.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a cheap IBM compatible that will be well-supported and expandable, then the Tandy 1000 has got to figure high in your list of possibles. While it doesn’t have too many hardware advantages over other compatibles, it has about the most immediately useful bundled software you’re likely to see on an IBMible. Deskmate gives the 1000 an edge over machines such as the Advance, the Sanyo and even the lower-priced entry-level ACT Apricot machines.

The PCjr compatibility gives the machine an added curiosity-value, as it’s the first machine released this side of the Atlantic to run a large number of disk-based programs written for IBM’s ‘home computer’. The only compatibility stumbling block may be the keyboard – with its seven extra keys – but that should be circumnavigated easily with a small configuration routine on programs where its important.

Specifications:

  • System: Tandy 1000
  • Price: £1,099
  • Processor: 8088 running at 4.77 MHz
  • RAM: 128K (expandable to 640K)
  • Screen: 80 column x 25 line
  • Keyboard: 90 keys including 12 function
  • Interface: Parallel printer port, three PC-compatible expansion slots, joystick port, light pen interface, audio output jack, monochrome and colour monitor interfaces.
  • Operating system: MS DOS 2.11
  • Software: Deskmate suite, MSDOS and Microsoft GW Basic.
  • Distributor: Tandy Corporation, Bridge Street, Walsall, West Midlands, WS1 1LA

First published in Personal Computer News magazine, 16th February 1985