The IBM 7496 Executive Workstation is a rare IBM computer from the late 1980s. It gained some measure of fame in the early 2020s, when vintage technology Youtubers got their hands on them and rebuilt them. Their success, or lack thereof in one case, helped elevate this machine in enthusiasts’ minds.
The IBM 7496 Executive Workstation is some kind of a purpose built PC, derived from the PS/2 Model 30. About a dozen examples turned up in the inventory of Computer Reset, a now legendary Dallas-based warehouse of computers dating back to the 1980s that was liquidated from 2019-2022.
In a notorious 2020 video, Youtuber David Murray, aka The 8-Bit Guy, attempted a repair on an IBM 7496 Executive Workstation from Computer Reset. The video provided the first glimpse many of us saw of the IBM 7496. And let’s just say he was unable to get the machine working and damaged it in the process.
If the goal was to bring attention to the machine, and to the Computer Reset liquidation, it succeeded. Turning some of the surviving examples into functioning computers again ended up being a problem some others with more experience working on IBM equipment, such as Youtubers Epictronics and IBM Museum, solved.
And in the process of getting the machines to boot and display, they uncovered a few clues about their origins, and how they ended up at Computer Reset, a used computer dealer in Dallas.
What Computer Reset was
Computer Reset was a large used computer dealer in Dallas, founded in 1984. It closed in early 2019. Its owner, Richard Byron, would buy used and surplus computers from, it seems, pretty much anywhere, perform any necessary repairs and resell them.
Computer Reset had its own newsletter/catalog it sent to customers on a periodic basis. And of course it had a website, when the Web became mainstream. Computer Reset did have a storefront in front of its 38,000 square foot warehouse, but a lot of its business occurred via mail order.
There was little rhyme or reason to some of Computer Reset’s inventory. That’s the nature of the surplus business. Some of it clearly came from large businesses selling their obsolete computers in bulk.
Computer Reset ended up with a lot of IBM surplus. It was the go-to place for IBM PCjr stuff after IBM orphaned it.
While some of the surplus did indeed come from IBM, it could come from anywhere. Some may have come from IBM authorized dealers who needed to liquidate slow-selling inventory. Some undoubtedly came from the field. My first IT job was salvaging and sorting obsolete desktop computers. After salvaging what we could still use, we sold what remained to someone. Someone like Computer Reset.
The shipping labels on the boxes indicate the IBM 7496 Executive Workstation inventory came direct from IBM.
Richard Byron operated Computer Reset into his mid 70s. He died in September 2019 at the age of 75. The liquidation of Computer Reset became a story of its own.
What the IBM 7496 Executive Workstation was
The IBM 7496 Executive Workstation was a PS/2-like compact desktop computer. It had an 8086 CPU, a 3.5-inch floppy drive, and an attached 9-inch Sony MCGA-compatible monitor on a swivel stand, running at 15 KHz. It didn’t look anything like a PS/2 Model 25, but conceptually it was very similar. There has been some speculation it was a proof of concept for what became the Model 25, but there is also evidence that the Model 25 predates the 7496. Such as the existence of an IBM Clinical Workstation, based on the Model 25 planar paired with an LCD screen.
The production Model 25 more closely resembled a compact Mac or a Compaq Presario 425 than the 7496. The Model 25 was smaller and had an integrated non-swivel monitor. The motherboard (or planar) on the 7496 is the same as a production PS/2 Model 30. The Model 25’s planar is not the same as the Model 30.
The 7496s may be some kind of proof of concept or prototype, or they may also be custom manufactured, possibly by another company, using IBM parts. The labels on the boxes indicated they had been shipped to IBM from Dorez Corporation, an electronics distributor in Florida. But what role Dorez played is unclear. Maybe they assembled them. Maybe they were a distributor. Or maybe they evaluated some units.
The boxes had a second shipping label on them, with an IBM return address, along with Computer Reset’s name and address, shipped ATTN: Richard Byron. So Computer Reset acquired these machines from IBM themselves.
Most likely, Richard Byron heard the story when he acquired the machines, and repeated some of what he knew in the Computer Reset catalogs. There wasn’t room for the whole story, but he called them a special version of the Model 30.
How many exist?
About 12 of them turned up in Computer Reset’s inventory when its liquidation started circa 2019. Some Computer Reset catalogs from the 1993 timeframe survive, advertising them at $495 in monochrome and $575 in color. So we know some of the machines came with integrated monochrome displays. The inventory of color units lasted longer, and the price came down as time wore on and demand for XT-class machines waned. In a surviving 1995 catalog, Computer Reset offered them for sale at a price of $199.
How many sold in the 1990s is probably lost to history. The website listed two for sale in 2011. Seven were listed as available in 2001, so there is evidence that five units sold over that 10-year period.
The remaining 12 units from the liquidation had various problems. There has been some speculation regarding whether they went bad due to age. But since some of the existing units had defective gate arrays on the motherboard that also existed in the Model 25 and Model 30, those 12 units may have been bad all along. Potentially, Computer Reset staff evaluated the machines as they sold and performed any necessary repairs before shipment.
We do know 12 units exist. Some of the units that Computer Reset sold prior may have also survived, but of course there is little way to know.
A comment on one of the Youtube videos stated that a large health care organization, possibly Spectrum Health, evaluated 1,000 units around 1988 or 1989. Another comment stated that IBM produced these units in small quantities, around 100 units each, to have corporate customers evaluate them.
Why did IBM sell its prototypes?
Fans of other brands of computers may be surprised IBM would sell prototype or pre-production units. For those familiar with the IBM PC backstory, it sounds out of character even for IBM. But by the late 1980s, things were a bit different. The university where I started my IT career had several pre-production PS/2 Model 80s in its possession. We found out about it in the early 90s, when we had the machines serviced and the technician noted the serial numbers on them didn’t look right.
IBM donated a lot of machines to the university over the years, and those PS/2s had been among them.
So while it’s hard to imagine a stash of Apple prototypes turning up languishing in a warehouse somewhere, and Commodore let go of its prototypes under financial duress, by the early 90s, IBM was a bit looser. If there was a financial advantage to turning prototypes loose rather than destroying them, IBM would do so. At least in two instances that I am personally aware of.