IBM PCjr

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The IBM PCjr was a relatively inexpensive home computer of the 1980s, and it was IBM's first attempt to enter the educational and home computer markets.

Contents

Features

Announced November 1, 1983 and first shipped in March 1984, the PCjr came in two models: The Model 4860-004, with 64K of memory, priced at $669 US, and the 4860-067, with 128K of memory and a 360K 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, priced at $1269 US. In addition to promising a high degree of compatibility with the IBM PC, already a popular business computer, the PCjr offered built-in color graphics and sound comparable or superior to other popular home computers of the day. In addition, its 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 CPU was faster than anything else then on the home market, and its detached wireless infrared keyboard promised a degree of convenience none of its competitors had.

The popular 1980s adventure game series King's Quest debuted on the PCjr. Later ported to other platforms, its release changed the way games were developed.

Failure in the marketplace

The PCjr was expected to change the market in a similar way that the IBM PC changed the business market, but it was never well received. At $669, its price wasn't competitive. It cost more than twice as much as the Commodore 64 and the Atari 8-bit family; its price was close to that of the Coleco Adam, but for the price, the Adam included two tape drives, a printer, and software. With the exception of the Apple II, it was possible to purchase a complete system (computer, disk drive, printer, and monitor) from almost any of IBM's competitors for less than the PCjr's entry price.

Although its technical capabilities may have justified its higher price tag — it was a 16-bit machine competing in an 8-bit world, offered better memory expansion, had a built-in 80 column display, and was faster than any of its competition — reviewers of home computers at the time cared much less about raw power and more about price, available software, and the quality of the keyboard. In addition, many people compared it to the IBM PC rather than to the machines it was competing directly against.

The PCjr was more difficult to expand than many of the machines it was intended to compete with. It wasn't designed to add a second floppy drive, a hard drive, or memory beyond 256K, which made it difficult to deliver on the promise of running business software for the IBM PC. Add-ons to provide a second floppy drive or a 20-megabyte hard drive were only available from third parties, and weren't available right away.

However, the target of most of the criticism was the unit's keyboard. The original rubber chiclet keyboard, similar to that of a pocket calculator, was widely criticized as feeling cheap and being difficult to type on; it was later recalled and replaced with a conventional keyboard. With 62 keys, it lacked the numeric keypad and separate function keys of the IBM PC and its keyboard layout was more awkward than that of most of its competitors. In addition, the wireless keyboard didn't work as well as expected; in practice you could only be two or three feet away from the machine when you typed, and in wireless mode, the keyboard drained batteries quickly.

Unable to compete with the C64 and Apple IIe and IIc, let alone the forthcoming Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, IBM withdrew the PCjr from the marketplace in mid-1985.

The PCjr legacy

Tandy produced a clone of the PCjr, the Tandy 1000. Since it was released two weeks after the PCjr was discontinued, Tandy had to hastily change its marketing strategy. However, the machine ultimately proved much more enduring than the PCjr itself, partly because it was sold in ubiquitous Radio Shack stores and partly because it was less costly and easier to expand.

IBM returned to the home market in 1990 with its much more successful IBM PS/1 line. The words "IBM compatible" carried much more marketing weight in 1990 than they did in 1984.

Technical specifications

  • CPU: Intel 8088, 4.77 MHz
  • Memory: 64K, expandable to 256K (later to 720K with third-party add-ons)
  • Operating system: IBM PC-DOS 2.10, (Booted to BASIC without cartridge or DOS)
  • Input/Output: cassette port, joystick port, RGB monitor port, composite video port, audio port, wired keyboard port, infrared keyboard sensor, serial port, two cartridge slots
  • Expandability: 3 internal slots, dedicated to memory, modem, and floppy controller cards. External sidecar connector capable of daisy-chaining 3 sidecars.
  • Video: Motorola 6845, "CGA Plus."
    • Text modes: 40x25, 80x25, 16 colors.
    • Graphics modes: 320x200x4, 640x480x2, 160x100x16, 160x200x16, 320x200x16, 640x200x4
  • Sound: Texas Instruments SN76496, three voices, 16 independent volume levels per channel, white noise
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