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IBM PCjr and Tandy 1000

On January 29, 1984, two computers hit the market. One was Apple’s Macintosh. It needs no introduction. The other was the IBM PCjr. It was a little less successful. We’ll talk about what this has to do with the Tandy 1000 in a minute.

The PCjr is one of the biggest flops in computing history. Few people know much more about it than that. It ended up being an important computer, but it certainly didn’t meet IBM’s expectations.Read More »IBM PCjr and Tandy 1000

How the IBM PC became the de facto standard for desktop computers

I saw a question on a vintage computing forum this week: How did the IBM PC become the de facto standard for PCs, and the only desktop computer architecture from the 1980s to survive until today?

It’s a very good question, and I think there were several reasons for it. I also think without all of the reasons, the IBM PC wouldn’t have necessarily won. In some regards, of course, it was a hollow victory. IBM has been out of the PC business for a decade now. Its partners Intel and Microsoft, however, reaped the benefits time and again.

Read More »How the IBM PC became the de facto standard for desktop computers

Dinosaur hunting

Today I slipped over to Laclede Computer Trading Company for the first time in many years. I was in search of an ISA parallel card. They’re not easy to find these days, mostly because they aren’t particularly useful to most people these days, but I figured if anyone would have one, it would be them.

No dice. But man, what memories.

Read More »Dinosaur hunting

The rise and fall of Shack, and how to fix it

Wired has a nostalgic piece on the not-quite-late, not-quite-great Radio Shack. I think it’s a good article, but it glosses over part of the reason for the store’s decline.

It blames computers.But blaming computers ignores Tandy’s long and successful run in that industry. Most Apple fanatics and other revisionist historians conveniently overlook this, but when Apple launched the Apple II in 1977, Tandy and Commodore were right there with competing offerings. I don’t know about Apple, but Tandy and Commodore were selling their machines faster than they could make them.

Read More »The rise and fall of Shack, and how to fix it

Why I generally buy AMD

I was talking to a new coworker today and of course the topic of our first PCs came up. It was Cyrix-based. I didn’t mention my first PC (it seems I’m about four years older–it was an Am486SX2/66).

With only a couple of exceptions, I’ve always bought non-Intel PCs. Most of the Intel PCs I have bought have been used. One boss once went so far as to call me anti-corporate.

I’m not so much anti-corporate as I am pro-competition.

Read More »Why I generally buy AMD

04/08/2001

How far we’ve come… While I was hunting down tax paperwork yesterday (found it!), I ran across a stash of ancient computer magazines. For grins, I pulled out the May 1992 issue of Compute, which celebrated the release of Windows 3.1. I would have received this magazine nine years ago this month.

Some tidbits I liked:

“Windows 3.0… entered a hostile world. OS/2 loomed on the horizon like a dragon ready to devour us, and MS-DOS, stuck in version 4.0, had lost its momentum. It looked as if Digital Research…was the only company trying to make DOS better.” –Clifton Karnes, pg 4

That’s what happens when there’s no strong competition. I don’t get the OS/2 and dragon metaphor though. What, people didn’t want a computer that worked right? I didn’t get it at the time. I had an Amiga, which at the time offered OS/2 features and a good software library.

“Some people even started talking about Unix.” Ibid.

Some things never change.

“The masses are happy, and nobody talks about Unix much anymore.” Ibid.

That certainly changed.

“You can now buy a 200 MB drive for just $500.” –Mark Minasi, pg 58

That now-laughable line was from a Mark Minasi column that talked about strategies for getting drives larger than 512 MB working. Strangely, that problem still rears its ugly head more often than it should, and its descendant problem, getting a drive bigger than 8 gigs working, is even more common.

“A 286-based notebook is a very capable machine; with a decent-size hard disk and a portable mouse, you could even run Windows applications on one (except for those requiring enhanced mode performance such as Excel).” –Peter Scisco, pg 72

Don’t let any of the end users I support read that line. That’s funny. Later in the same article, Scisco discusses the problem of battery life, a struggle we still live with.

“The last dozen modems I’ve installed here at Compute have been compact models. It’s almost like the manufacturers are trying to get better mileage by leaving out parts and making the cards smaller. These modems don’t reject line noise very well.” –Richard Leinecker, pg. 106

Now there’s a problem that only got worse with time.

An ad from Computer Direct on page 53 offered a 16 MHz 386SX with a meg of RAM and dual floppy drives (no hard drive) for $399. Your $399 gets you a lot more these days, but that price got a second look for sure. A complete system with a 14-inch VGA monitor and 40-meg HD ran $939. The same vendor offered an external CD-ROM drive (everything was a 1X in these days) for $399.

An ad on page 63 proclaimed the availability of the epic game Civilization, for “IBM-PC/Tandy/Compatibles.” Yes, these were the days when you could still buy a PC at Radio Shack and expect to be taken seriously.

The AT’s coming out of retirement

Scary thoughts. UPS dropped off a pair of Soyo AT socket 370 motherboards while I was at work yesterday. So I’ll be picking those up from the apartment office after it opens this morning. That only means one thing. My PC/AT is about to come out of retirement.

Let’s think about that for a minute. When this ancient thing was built, Ronald Reagan was just starting his second term. The Soviet Union still existed, and the Evil Empire loomed large. The most popular game console wasn’t the Sony Playstation–it was the Atari 2600. Some popular rock’n’roll bands of the day: The Police and Duran Duran. U2 was on the map and rock critics knew them, but to the majority of people, the name conjured up images of a spyplane if it meant anything at all. The minivan as we know it today was just coming onto the market.

Dell Computer Corp. existed only as an operation out of a dorm room at the University of Texas at Austin, and it was known as PCs Limited. Gateway 2000 didn’t yet exist. The #2 maker of IBM-compatible PCs was Tandy.

Popular movies included Romancing the Stone, The Terminator, and Sixteen Candles.

U.S. airlines that were still in business: TWA, Eastern, and Pan Am. The most troubled airline at the time was Branniff Airways, which was in a long bankruptcy proceeding (it would later make a comeback, then die again).

Anyway… I pulled the PC/AT case out of storage, dug out some drive rails, found some Phillips screws that fit it (IBM insisted on using old-style slotted screws for some insane reason–I hate those), and I even dug out a vintage YE Data 1.2 MB 5.25″ floppy drive like IBM used. Then, noticing the 17 years’ worth of accumulated grime, I gave the case a bath. Now it looks two years old instead of 17. Actually, it looks pretty darn good. They don’t build ’em like that anymore. Of course, for what that case would cost to build today, an OEM can probably build an entire PC.

I’ve also accumulated other components: a junky Trident-based AGP video card is also about to come out of retirement, as is my old Media Vision Pro Audio Spectrum card with SCSI interface. That CD-ROM drive died long ago, but I’ve got an NEC 2-speed SCSI drive that looks great in the case. (This system’s all about retro looks; if I need speed, I’ll use a CD-ROM drive off my network.) To accomodate that, I’ve got a D-Link 10/100 PCI NIC.

Just one thing’s holding up this project: Computer Surplus Outlet just shipped my Celeron processors. I ordered the boards and chips the same day. That’s annoying.