The IBM PS/Valuepoint was IBM’s attempt to address public objections to the IBM PS/2 series. Introduced in October 1992, they were the most clone-like IBM business desktops since the IBM PC/AT. As the name suggests, they were designed to be price competitive with the higher-end PC clones like a Compaq Deskpro. IBM sold them alongside the PS/1 and PS/2.
IBM PS/Valuepoint vs PS/2
The PS/Valuepoint was a departure from the PS/2 in a number of ways. It marked a return to the industry standard ISA bus, and the higher end models used the VESA local bus as well. Hard drives and CD-ROM drives were industry standard IDE, floppy drives used the standard 34-pin interface, and the motherboards were an industry quasi-standard LPX form factor. LPX was a looser standard than AT or ATX, but calling them proprietary is a misnomer. I’ve put Compaq boards in IBM chassis and vice versa. They fit, but not everyone’s riser cards were interchangeable.
Another one of IBM’s cost saving measures was reducing the number of form factors. IBM offered three form factors.
- a space saving desktop with 3 expansion slots and 3 drive bays,
- a desktop with 5 expansion slots and 5 drive bays, and
- a minitower with 8 expansion slots and 6 drive bays.
IBM sometimes referred to the small desktops as a three-by-three and the standard desktop as a five-by-five.
This allowed a great deal of versatility in the configurations. By mixing and matching various motherboard and CPU combinations with the three cases, IBM could hit a several price points much less expensively than with the PS/2. One problem with the PS/2 was how it varied the case and motherboard design from model to model. Anything from a budget 25 MHz 386 to a high-performance 100 MHz 486DX4 was available in that same small desktop form factor. The large desktop and minitower form factors scaled from a 25 MHz 486SX to a 100 MHz 486DX4 or 60 MHz Pentium.
IBM PS/Valuepoint vs PS/1
While the Valuepoint was a dramatic departure from the PS/2, it was much less a departure from the consumer-oriented PS/1. While the first-generation PS/1s were about as proprietary as the PS/2, 386- and 486-based PS/1s were mainstream PCs. Some Valuepoints even used the same motherboards from the PS/1 line. The case styling was a bit different between the two lines, and they were sold in different stores. IBM sold the Valuepoint direct and through authorized dealers like Computerland. The PS/1 sold in consumer electronics stores like Best Buy and Circuit City. The two machines came with different software packages since they targeted different markets. But the major difference between the two was where you bought it, and what you did with it afterward.
Well, there was one other major difference. The Valuepoint came with a Model M keyboard. The PS/1’s keyboard wasn’t bad by modern standards, but it was no Model M.
End of the line
Although some sources say the Valuepoint replaced the PS/1, they’re wrong. The two machines were available at the same time. I was in the odd position of selling PS/1s and doing desktop support on Valuepoints within months of each other, right at the end of both machines’ lifetimes. IBM discontinued the Valuepoint after about two and a half years, in July 1995.
I wouldn’t call the Valuepoint a failure necessarily. At the University of Missouri, where I started my IT career, we certainly bought a ton of them. It gave IBM a chance against the likes of the Compaq Deskpro that it wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Admittedly, the number of product lines probably was confusing. In the summer of 1995, IBM replaced the PS/1 with the Aptiva, which seems like a more consumer-friendly name and also sounds less PS/2-like. The PS/2 stigma was a big problem for IBM. And the PS/2 and Valuepoint were replaced with the IBM PC 330 and 350. IBM PC. How imaginative. I personally installed several hundred IBM PC 330s and 350s, and, like the PS/1, the major difference was the case styling. The PC 330 was the size of the 3×3 Valuepoint and the 350 was the size of a 5×5 Valuepoint.
Ultimately, the Valuepoint and its successor didn’t save IBM’s PC line. But they lost less money and market share than the PS/2, and for a time at least, helped IBM sell more servers, Thinkpads, and pro services. But they didn’t replicate the success of the PC, XT, and AT and that’s why not a lot of people talk about them today.