Monday, March 25, 2013

IBM PC & PCjr. vs. Tandy 1000 : Price Wars

I recently opined that the Tandy 1000 shared the benefits of the IBM PC and PCjr. while being cheaper than either of them.  I wanted to find out how true that was.  The IBM PC Model 5150 was released in August, 1981, the PCjr. in January, 1984 and the Tandy 1000 in November, 1984.  (I know the Jr. was available for sale in November, 1983, but users actually did not get the machine until January, if they were lucky).

The comparison between the IBM PC and the Tandy 1000 is easy enough.  For the prices I am using "A Guide to IBM Personal Computers", January 1985 Edition and the Tandy Radio Shack 1985 Catalog.  For the PCjr. prices, I am using the IBM PCjr. Order Form, November 1983 and Compute! Issue 53, October 1984 Article : "IBM's New & Improved PCjr." by Tom R. Halfhill.  I know that there could be deals to be had with either system, and you weren't always required to buy the maker's hardware but I am interested in the base price were you to talk into IBM's Business Center or a Radio Shack store.

Lets compare the base system units:

IBM 5150 System Unit Model 176
CPU - Intel 8088 @ 4.77MHz
NPU - Option
RAM - 256K Parity
83-Key Keyboard
5.25" Diskette Drive Adapter
2 x 5.25" Diskette Drives (Full Height)
5 x ISA slots

Base 1985 Price - $2,295.00

Tandy 1000 25-1000
CPU - Intel 8088 @ 4.77MHz
NPU - No Option (until the Tandy 1000A)
RAM - 128K Non-Parity
90-Key Keyboard
1 x 5.25" Diskette Drive
3 x ISA slots
Also has the following built-in :
Tandy Graphics Adapter (PCjr compatible.)
Tandy Sound (ditto)
Printer Adapter (card-edge)
Game Ports (Tandy joysticks only)
Diskette Drive Adapter (two internal floppies max)

Base 1985 Price - $1,199.00

For almost $1,100 less than what IBM would want, you get virtually all the functionality of the PC and some very nice extras.  Parity memory and math co-processor support may have been important to the business world, but was not much of a value for home users.  And while 5 ISA slots beats 3 ISA slots, IBM took up two with the floppy controller and any display adapter.  

Still, even with this you still need some stuff.  Here is the rough equivalent IBM and Tandy upgrade paths and the cost of them :

IBM Prices
Color/Graphics Adapter


Tandy Prices
Tandy 1000 Disk Drive Kit

Printer Adapter 75
Game Control Adapter 45
5153 Color Display 680
CM-2 Color Monitor 549.95
PC-DOS 2.1 65
256K Memory Expansion Option 489
256K Memory Expansion Board 299.95

128K RAM Upgrade 149.95

512K Memory Expansion Board 249.95

5152 Graphics Printer 449
DMP-120 499.95

IBM curiously would be happy to sell you a computer that was unusable for any practical purpose by omitting the display adapter, DOS and in some configurations, floppy drives.  I chose IBM's CGA adapter over IBM's recently released Enhanced Graphics Adapter, which while it would provide graphics parity with the Tandy Graphics Adapter, nothing supported it yet.  The EGA would set you back an additional $280.  Both 14/13" color monitors were suitable for high resolution 640x200 graphics, although the 5153 would have the nicer dot pitch.  (.31 vs. .43).  

IBM sold either a 64/256K Memory Expansion Option or a 256K Memory Expansion Option.  At IBM's prices, a fully stacked 64/256K Memory Expansion Option would cost $565, so I saved money here.  However, this adapter uses up slot 3, the Printer Adapter slot 4 and the Game Control Adapter slot 5.  No more slots, so there is no room for a second memory expansion or a Asychronous Communications Adapter (Serial) unless you added the 5161 Expansion Unit for the low, low price of $2,585.  

Tandy required a memory expansion adapter to upgrade the RAM above 128K.  The first ISA adapter came with 128K, supported 128K more and added the very important DMA compatibility.  The second ISA adapter also came with 128K but no DMA chip, and 128K more could be added for the maximum 640K.  Even though Tandy later released a board that consolidated these two expansions into one, you still had one slot for a serial card or a hard disk controller.

Tandy did not offer a two-floppy system until the SX, but it did include Tandy MS-DOS 2.11 (and GW-BASIC).  IBM hit you for extra for DOS.  In the 1980s no one could purchase a computer without a printer.  The IBM 5152 Graphics Printer was a solid, reliable unit, and I chose the nearest dot-matrix printer from Tandy's Catalog for a comparison.  Tandy's printer offerings could get very expensive.  

Total IBM PC 1985 Cost : $4,342.00.  
Total Tandy 1000 1985 Cost : $3,248.70.  

The home user clearly got better value here.  IBM had no adapter card that could replicate the PCjr./Tandy Graphics and Sound and no one else did.  More and more games were starting to take advantage of them.  

But what about the PCjr.?  The Enhanced Model was $1,269 at launch but $999 by August 1984.  Here is what that would get you :

IBM PCjr. 4863 Model 067
CPU - Intel 8088 @ 4.77MHz

NPU - No Option
RAM - 128K Non-Parity
62-Key Wireless Infrared Keyboard
1 x 5.25" Diskette Drive
Diskette Drive Adapter
Sidecar Expansion
2 Cartridge Slots
Also has the following built-in :
PCjr. Graphics Adapter
PCjr. Sound
Game Ports
Serial Adapter

Here is what you need to build an roughly equivalent system :

IBM PCjr. Prices
PC-DOS 2.1


Tandy Prices
RS-232C Option Board

Cartridge BASIC 75

Parallel Printer Attachment 99

BASIC was important in the 1980s, and to fully use BASIC on the PCjr., you needed Cartridge BASIC.  PC-DOS's BASIC and BASICA required it.  Tandy's DOS included GW-BASIC, which incorporated the functions of Cartridge BASIC.  

Although I do not know how much IBM charged for the 4863 PCjr. Display, I would assume it was roughly equivalent to the price of the CM-2.  If you wanted a cord for the keyboard, that would be an extra $20, payable to IBM.  Before the July 31, 1984 price cuts, the IBM and Tandy costs are as follows :

Total IBM PCjr. 1984 Cost : $1,508.00.
Total Tandy 1000 1984 Cost : $1,298.95.

IBM's 128K Memory Expansion Sidecar would cost $325, but the PCjr. needed a device driver to recognize more than 128K.  It was more expensive than the Tandy card and did not add DMA capability, which turned the Tandy 1000 into a truly functional machine.

While IBM's price cut and deals would eventually make the system as cheap as the new Tandy 1000 by Christmas 1984, it was scant consolation to those people who bought the PCjr. at full market price, suffered from the chicklet keyboard and found out that someone else bought virtually the exact same system and more expandable to boot only a few months later for more than $200 less.  Tandy also had a good Christmas 1984 deal, $999 could get you the 1000 and a Color Monitor (the cheap CM-4).  For a realistic user in 1985, the discounts on the PCjr. were not worth it because it was essentially a dead-end system.  A well-informed computer buyer, having read magazine articles detailing the troubles with the PCjr. and every conscientious salesperson who did not work for IBM trying to steer customers away from the Peanut should have made scared away potential buyers in droves.  All of a sudden, IBM's name no longer held the marquee value it had in the business world, and home computers from Tandy, Commodore and Apple should have looked a lot more attractive.

After March of 1985, when IBM discontinued the PCjr., the system could be had at steep discounts, but there was no future for the machine.  Game support quickly disappeared for the PCjr., but for the Tandy 1000 it increased dramatically.  Third-party options to add disk and hard drives were very expensive.  Tandy could stick it to the customer with prices for its upgrades, and compatibility with PC upgrades could be a little hit-or-miss, but at least there were first and third party options available. 

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