The International Business Machines Corp. recently introduced two updated and more powerful versions of its PS/1 personal computer. Unlike the original PS/1's, which were almost outdated before they were introduced last year, the two new PS/1 models appear designed to meet a broad range of computing needs now and in the future.
"They're pretty darned attractive for home offices and for small businesses, for that matter," said Raymond L. Boggs, director of small business and home office research for BIS Strategic Decisions of Norwell, Mass.
In particular, Mr. Boggs cited the PS/1 386 SX Model B82, a $2,199 machine built around the 16-megahertz Intel 386SX microprocessor. At retail, it could be as low as $1,800.
The Model B82 comes with an 80-megabyte hard drive, two megabytes of system memory, two internal expansion slots, a 3.5-inch diskette drive, a 2,400-baud modem, a mouse and an assortment of software including Microsoft Works and Microsoft Windows 3.0.
The other new model, the C42, is also a 386SX machine, but it has a 40-megabyte hard disk and the two expansion slots are optional. It costs $1,699. In some stores, it has been advertised for $1,399.
Both of the new models can be upgraded more easily than the older ones, to as much as 16 megabytes of system memory and a 129-megabyte hard drive.
"That's really what the home office is looking for," Mr. Boggs said.
Ease of use is another thing that home office workers look for, and IBM asserts that these new models are "incredibly easy to set up and use."
"It can be out of the box and up and running in minutes," the PS/1 advertisement reads.
Mindful that I was able to set up my last Brand X computer in just minutes -- 153 of them, to be exact, counting the time needed to format the hard drive and load my software -- I reached for the stopwatch.
12:04 p.m.: Box containing the PS/1 Model B82, the most powerful of the new PS/1 models with an Intel 386SX microprocessor and an 80-megabyte hard-disk drive, is dragged to the least cluttered part of the office.
12:08 p.m.: A box opener is found and used. Immediately inside the box is a "Start Here" booklet and a "Welcome" letter. They are perused. The top "shelf" of the box contains manuals and reference materials, the Prodigy online information service, Microsoft Works and other stuff. Like many computer users, I ignore the manuals.
12:10 p.m.: The computer and the monitor are stacked on the desk. There must be a cable diagram, but I'm too lazy to look for it. Besides, there is only one possible connection for each of two cables, plus the power cord. I pause to pick off flecks of plastic foam stuck to the computer.
12:14 p.m.: Power on. The screen clicks off two megabytes of memory. Earlier PS/1 models were equipped with either 512 kilobytes or one megabyte of system memory, along with a 10-megahertz version of Intel's 80286 processor, the computer equivalent of a go-cart engine. The 16-megahertz 386SX in the new PS/1 doesn't exactly require seat belts, but it is a more powerful chip. The 386SX is capable of running Windows software at a respectable speed.
For more demanding computer users, the 386SX-16 may not be enough. "IBM is still very much out to lunch on a choice of processor," said Roger C. Lanctot, research director for Personal Technology Research of Waltham, Mass. He did say that the chip was "more than adequate for word processing and other basic chores. "It's not for the real savvy consumer."
12:15 p.m.: Surprise! The screen fills up with Microsoft's Windows 3.0 Program Manager, not the four-paneled PS/1 Main Menu that I was expecting. Users unfamiliar with Windows would be stumped at this point and would be forced to dig back into the box for a Windows manual.
12:20 p.m.: Distracted by the annoying whine of the computer's fan, I glance at the box and see a letter inviting new users to send an electronic message to the "PS/1 Club," an electronic support service on the Prodigy network.
The only way to send such a message is with a modem and a telephone, and a subscription to Prodigy. I think, "If IBM is really interested in making this thing easy to use, it will have included the wire in the box." Sure enough, there it is, along with a phone jack adapter.
12:22 p.m.: Prodigy software is preloaded on the hard disk, so all it takes to connect to the PS/1 Club is a couple of mouse clicks. Well, almost all. It winds up taking nearly 15 minutes to connect to Prodigy, or more than twice as long as it took to go from cardboard to Windows. But the electronic letter was sent without having to resort to the manual, and that is a pretty good measure of how easy this computer is to operate.