By PETER A. McWILLIAMS
and may all your buying decisions be bright
THE MOST intricate and exciting computer game around is Buying a Computer. It's fraught with mystery, danger, intrigue and close calls. As in any adventure game, the primary players- whether they're searching for the Lost Ark, the Maltese Falcon or the Right Computer-wonder, Whom can I trust? It's a question worth pondering.
First, don't trust anyone who claims you need a personal computer right away. Computer fanatics have adopted some of the zeal-and some of the slogans-of religious enthusiasts. "Compute! The end is near!"
In fact, there's no hurry. You've lived a long time without a computer, and you'll do fine a while longer. In purchasing a personal computer, one of the first rules is, Take your time. There is no need to buy a computer this week or by Christmas or before 1984.
Purchasing a personal computer requires no small degree of patience, persistence and time. If you're planning to give a computer for Christmas, consider in- stead a few introductory computer books and a gift certificate. Not only will the input be valuable to the recipient but the computer emporiums will be less crowded in January than they are in December.
Don't trust computer ads. Advertising passed from unintentional self-parody in the Seventies to surrealism in the Eighties. One current tampon ad uses the slogan "Out of sight means out of mind." Saturday Night Live would have had trouble doing that a few years ago.
It's not just the ads that cannot be trusted. Some computer magazines are becoming more like hi-fi magazines every day. Have you ever read a bad review of a major stereo producer (read: advertiser) in a hi-fi magazine? The reviews are so bland and so careful that they're useless.
Like hi-fi magazines, computer magazines depend upon the advertising revenue of the very products they must review. If they're too honest too often, goodbye, advertisers; and, eventually, goodbye, magazine. Popular Computing refused to publish a piece of mine on why the Apple lIe was a bad value. The reason? According to the managing editor, "I happen to like the Apple Computer Corporation." I think it's permissible to speculate that he's also fond of the many pages of full-color advertising from Apple each month.
So whom can you trust?
Friends who have computers? Not necessarily. Individuals tend to become addicted to the brand of whatever computer they own. They don't think, My personal computer is doing all this good stuff. They think, My Apple (or Kaypro or IBM or whatever) is doing it. Besides, after spending a not inconsiderable amount of money on a computer, few people say, "I made a mistake. I should have gotten something else." More people swear by their Chevrolets than at them.
And while we're on the subject of cars:
You can trust computer salespeople about as much as you can trust used-car sales-people. I sometimes think that all the out-of-work car salesmen applied for and immediately received employment at computer stores from coast to coast.
There are a few good computer sales-people. They know as well as I do that the majority is giving the minority a bad name. In all fairness, there's too much happening too soon for anyone person to keep up. I certainly can't keep up, and I don't have to wait on customers eight hours a day.
So, for heaven's sake, don't take my word for anything. I'm just a voice crying in the wilderness (Los Angeles). The thoughts expressed in this article are nothing more than my subjective, biased, highly personal opinions.
So whom do you trust? If you want the right computer at the right price, the answer to that question is, trust yourself. Dive in, learn as much as you can, look at as much as you can, talk with as many people as possible and, eventually, what is hype filled will become distinct from what is helpful.
What follows is a brief look at 40 or so personal computers, starting with the least expensive and going on into the personal- computer stratosphere. So here they are- and please keep in mind, all this is but one man's opinion.
TIMEX SINCLAIR 1000
The Timex Sinclair is known as the world's first disposable computer. You buy one for about $49.95, take it home, use it a few days and decide that (A) you like computers and want to get a better one or (B) you don't like computers and want nothing more to do with them. In either case, you get rid of the Timex Sinclair with about as much ceremony as emptying a mousetrap. (Certainly, you have one nephew or niece who doesn't have his or her own computer.)
The VIC-20 and the Commodore 64 represent an exceptional value in low-cost personal computers. At less than $100, the VIC-20 makes a much better disposable computer than the Timex Sinclair. At about $200, the Commodore 64 has nearly all the hardware features of the $1395 Apple lIe. In the under-$500 home-computer range, the Commodore 64 is the clear winner.
TEXAS INSTRUMENTS 99/4A
Where did they ever get a name like 99/4A? It looks as though even Bill Cosby was unable to save this machine. Texas Instruments sold it at a loss earlier this year, hoping to make up the difference in software cartridge sales. The plan didn't work. A large quarterly loss was reported. The stock dropped. Not many computer watchers were surprised. Texas Instruments has strongly discouraged anyone else from making software for the 99j4A. That is as smart as discouraging Standard Oil from making gas for your car. If T.!. does not change that policy, and quickly, it will not be in the home-computer market much longer.
All over Atariland, people are walking about with glassy-eyed stares, mumbling, "What happened?" For a while, it looked as though Atari had the home-computer market sewn up. It cost less than Apple. It had Pac-Man, It had a catchy jingle ("Have you played Atari today?"). What happened? Competition happened. Coleco offered better games; Commodore offered a cheaper computer. Many are saying that if Atari doesn't pull something magical out of its corporate hat, and soon, it may wind up on the lengthening list of California's endangered species.
Fortunately, this is not the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Yawn.
The Apple computer has not been a good value for at least two years. Both the Apple II and the Apple III have' been overpriced, in comparison with similarly featured (continued on page 264) computers, since 1980. The Apple IIe (Apple says the e stands for enhanced. I say it stands for expensive) added a few keys, lower-case letters, a bit more memo- ry and a printer port; reduced the number of chips (the reduction has no value to the consumer but makes the computer less expensive to produce) and raised the price (from $1330 to $1395). Even I, who have little faith in Apple, had thought it was going to offer more and charge less.
Keep in mind that that price does not include a screen or a disk drive or a single piece of software.
The main reason people buy Apple IIes is the software and the peripherals produced by other manufacturers. Most of that comes from the late Seventies, when the Apple II was the only color computer on the block.
But Apple is losing that advantage. Several fine computers that will run the Apple software are available. With a special expansion card, even the IBM will run it. The worthwhile Apple programs, from a business standpoint, have already been rewritten for the IBM Personal Computer.
The fact is, if you look at the telephone- directory-sized listing of 16,000 programs available for the Apple, the vast majority of them are worthless. They look like entries in a high school program-writing contest. ("You will have three hours to write a computer program. Go.")
When you compare, hardware feature for hardware feature, the Apple lIe ($1395) with the Commodore 64 (about $200 and falling), you'll see that Apple can obviously afford to sell the lIe for a lot less.
FRANKLIN ACE 1000 AND 1200
If, for some reason, you feel you must buy an Apple lIe, you may want to investigate the Franklin ACE 1000 or 1200. The basic ACE 1000 costs less than the Apple lIe but includes a better keyboard (though, like the Apple's, it is not detach- able) and a numeric keypad. All of the plug-in cards, programs and peripherals made for the Apple will work with the Franklin ACEs.
The ACE 1200 is both Apple compatible and CP/M compatible. The 1200 has an 80-column display, a Z-80 (CP 1M) processor, 128K of memory and both serial and parallel printer ports. The 1200 and the 1000 have color capability.
ZENITH Z.100/lIEATH H·I00
For a machine that Zenith and Heath hope to use to conquer the vistas of computerdom, the Z-1 00 is surprisingly prim- itive. The screen display is not very good. The keyboard is nondetachable. It is an eight-bit and 16-bit machine, but the amount of software that will run on the machine seems limited.
It has some good points. It uses an S-100 bus, for example. The S-1 00 bus is a standard for which hundreds of plug-in expansion boards are available. It pro- vides great flexibility, but I'm afraid it requires a tinkerer's mentality. This ma- chine, then, is right up a Heathkit-lover's avenue. I'm not sure how well it will fare in business, where nontinkerers abound.
It's not cheap, either: $3599 for 128K of memory, two 320K drives, a monochrome screen and the Z-DOS operating system (don't ask).
KAY PRO 10
The Kaypro 10 is very much like the Kaypro 4 (what happened to the five in between?) except that the Kaypro 10 has only one floppy-disk drive and a built-in ten-megabyte hard disk. Kaypro continues to astound with the price: $2795.
The machine is wonderful, a superb value and all that, but I have one major concern: the hard disk. In the world of personal computers, hard disks are considered delicate beasties. They must be treated gently and with the respect that's due anything that can destroy, on whim, 5000 typewritten pages of information.
When a hard disk is put into a portable computer, considering the knocks and bangs to which portable any things are subjected, I become worried. The Kaypro people assure me that the disk drive is of a new design and double shock mounted and on and on. I still keep thinking about 5000 typewritten pages' being wiped out by one careless porter.
This computer is heaven-sent for people with tens of thousands of things to file. The inventory of entire libraries or auto-parts companies or baseball-card collections can be put on this computer.
Ten megabytes is a lot. It's very power- ful but very dangerous. Please, with this or any other hard-disk computer, back up your irreplaceable information regularly. Backup information is like a seat belt: If it's used only once in ten years, it's worth the effort.
KAYPRO 11 AND 4
The Kaypro II has a nine-inch green- phosphor screen that allows for a full 24 lines with 80 characters per line. Its detachable keyboard is excellent. It has a good feci, a numeric keypad and separate cursor-movement keys. The two built-in disk drives each hold 191 K of information; 64K of memory is standard. Cost: $1595.
The Kaypro II offers a small soft- ware store free with purchase: CP 1M, M-BASIC, Profit Plan, Perfect Writer, Perfect Filer, WordS tar, Perfect Calc, Perfect Speller, The WORD Plus, Uniform and games. If you want Mail Merge, it's $49.95 extra.
Yes, .the Kaypro II represents a re- markable value. With an inexpensive let- ter-quality printer, it gives you a great word processor for less than $2500.
The Kaypro 4 is the same as the Kay- pro II except that it has double-density, double-sided drives holding 394K each. The Kaypro 4 is $1995 and includes a different package of software: WordStar, The WORD Plus, Microplan, M-BAS- IC, S-BASIC, C-BASIC and CP 1M.
HEATH H.R9/ZENITH Z·89
This vintage computer comes as a build-it-yourself kit (the H-89) or assembled (the
Z-89). The machine is the same. Heath is a hobbyist company, well established in
the do-it-yourself tradition, and its catalog reflects that. To figure out the number
of possible optional configurations of the H-89 would require, well, an H-89. If
you want this, you must also order that; and if you buy two thats, you get a special
discount on one of these. However, if you buy one of these, you don't need this,
because this is included in these. And if you buy two of those, you can get one of
them at half price. All in all, if you can put together an H-89 system using the
catalog, you should have no trouble putting together the H-89 itself. The price-$1429
The Epson includes a full keyboard, a 20-character four-line screen and a built- in 20-column dot-matrix printer. It's about the size of the Radio Shack 100. The price is $795.
Text is stored on microcassettes, mak- ing the Epson a better traveling com- panion than the 100. The batteries of the HX-20 are rechargeable and last a remarkable 50 hours.
Radio Shack was one of the first companies (Commodore and Apple were the others) to offer preas sembled personal computers. After a dull few years in which it seemed that Radio Shack, like Apple, was resting on its laurels (Apple's no longer resting-it's homesteading), it has come out with a few good computers-and one very good one.
The Model 4 is the least expensive. Two disk drives, attached keyboard, $1999. Nothing great; but, for the price, it does the job.
The Radio Shack Model 12 is a bit bland, a bit big and a bit overpriced (Radio Shack is the Chevrolet of computers), but Radio Shack is everywhere and service and availability are as important to computers as they are to cars. You can do worse for word processing or general office computing than the Model 12. (You can do worse without leaving Radio Shack.) It has a detachable keyboard, two disk drives (eight-inch) that hold a most generous 1200K per drive, a 12-inch green screen, and it retails for $3999.
The Model 16, at $4999, is overpriced.
The good news at Radio Shack is the Model 100. You wouldn't want to run your office with it, but you might want to throw one into your briefcase. The 100 is light (about four pounds), compact (smaller than a three-ring binder) and highly portable. The full-sized keyboard has a great feel. The screen is liquid crystal (like a pocket calculator's) and displays eight 40-character lines. It's not what you'd call a word processor-more a word recorder. Whatever you store in the 100 can be transferred to another computer for later editing and revision. Documents are stored in a kind of RAM that never forgets. After files are transferred to another medium or are printed, the memory can be erased for future computing.
The 8K machine costs $799, the 24K machine $999 and the 32K $1120, plus installation. I'd recommend the 24K as a minimum.
MORROW MICRO DECISION
This is a fine computer and an excellent value. The standard Morrow Micro Decision computer comes with two disk drives (186K formatted capacity); a 12-inch green-phosphor screen (24 80-character lines); a Z-80A microprocessor; 64K of RAM; a detachable keyboard with a numeric keypad, separate cursor-movement keys and seven function keys.
And that's not all: Morrow is a member III good standing of the great software- purchase, CP 1M, Microsoft BASIC (M-BASIC), WordStar, Correct-It (a spell-check program) and Personal Pearl.
All that for $1599. With double-density drives (384K per drive), the price is $1899. Remarkable.
The screen display is sharp, clear and legible. The keyboard is solid, with a good feel. My only complaint is the noise the disk drives make. Sometimes they sound like a subway train braking. At other times, they sound like Darth Vader breathing. But not everyone is as sensitive about the sound of disk drives as I am.
In all, the Morrow Micro Decision is a great computer at a great price and well worth your consideration.
One gets two disk drives, each with 380K of memory; a five-inch monitor that displays, sharply and clearly, 24 80-column lines; a green-phosphor screen capa- ble of graphics; and lots of software:
CP/M, WordStar Plus, Valet, Charton II, Multiplan and Disk Manager. All this in a package weighing only 18 pounds for $2995.
The Teleram is the most portable full- function computer available. It weighs about nine pounds, has a full-function keyboard and four 80-character lines of wouldn't want to write a magnum opus on a four-line screen, but it's usable.
The Teleram stores information on a bubble memory. Bubble memory, like RAM, is user changeable, but it keeps the information indefinitely, the way ROM does, even when the power is turned off. It's great combination of the two but, at the moment, fairly expensive. The $2495 price includes 128K of bubble memory. An additional 128K is $500.
The Toshiba personal computer in- cludes a full-function keyboard, a mono- chrome (green) screen, Z-80 processor, 64K of memory, two 280K five-and-a- quarter-inch disk drives and CP 1M. All that for $1695. Not bad. The weak link in the system is the video display. The letters look broken and spotty. A positive aspect of the video display is that, with the simple addition of a color monitor, the TlOO is capable of full-color graphic display.
The Cromemco offers a keyboard, monochrome (green) video screen, Z-80A processor, 64K of memory, two 390K five-and-a-quarter-inch disk drives, a CP 1M-like operating system, a word- processing program, a spread-sheet pro- gram and a structured BASIC program. All that will cost you $2380. The _________ does not include a numeric keypad. The programs are Cromemco's own.
A nondetachable keyboard is about as limiting as a car seat that cannot be adjusted. If you're an "average" driver, you may never notice its inflexibility. If you're shorter or taller than the norm, you will find operating the machinery a study in discomfort.
Another keyboard oddity-one the Advantage shares with the IBM Personal Computer-is that the cursor-movement keys and the numeric-keypad keys are the same. One can use the numeric keypad to either record numbers or move the cursor about the document. A cursor-lock key must be depressed to change from one mode to another. That can be inconvenient if you want to work with numbers and move the cursor at the same time. The Advantage is, however, rugged and reliable.
The NEC people, who make the finest letter-quality printer around, make several small computers marketed by at least two divisions. The one that seems to be getting the most attention is the APC, which stands for Advanced Personal Computer. As fond as I am of the NEC printers, I must admit that I am not very fond of the APC.
The keyboard is solid and the screen display is clear-but then so are the key- board and screen display of computers costing half as much. The drives are eight- inch only. They are also the noisiest drives I have heard on a small computer.
It comes with CP /M-S6, WordStar, SpellStar, MailMerge, dBase II, Super- Calc II and the Millionaire package. All that for $344S. If the machine were $1500 cheaper, it might be a breakthrough. As it is, it's not a great value. Its strength seems to be in the addition of a color monitor. If sharp, full-color graphics are required in your business, you should certainly have a look at the APC. And if you're someone who must do word processing in color, this is a machine to investigate. (The color monitor adds about $1000 to the price.)
To build a personal computer, Tele- Video began with the best: its own 950 terminal. TeleVideo has been manufacturing high-quality, low-cost video terminals for years. The 950 is near the top of a line of a dozen or so models. It has a detachable keyboard, 24 SO-column lines, numeric keypad, 22 programmable function keys, etc.
Starting with an excellent keyboard and video screen, TeleVideo added a Z-SOA microprocessor, 64K of user-program- mable memory, a CP/M operating system and two five-and-a-quarter-inch disk drives, each holding 340K of information. The TeleVideo S02 is $3495. A hard-disk version of the S02, the S02H, is available. I used to recommend the TeleVideo S02 as a good value until the even better value below came along.
If this computer does not win some design award somewhere, there is no justice. Aesthetics aside, the TSS03 is a pow If this computer does not win some design award somewhere, there is no justice. Aesthetics aside, the TSS03 is a powerfulul, full-featured computer at a great price ($2495). The two disk drives each hold 340K of information.
The screen is green phosphor and measures not 12 but 14 inches. (Does this mark the beginning of a size war among manufacturers?) The screen tilts up and down. The keyboard has every key imaginable, plus 16 special-function keys, labeled word-processing keys and a numeric keypad. TeleVideo has made some of my favorite. keyboards, and this one is no exception. The keyboard is detachable, of course, and has a long cord.
There is no fan, so the unit is quiet-silent, in fact. For those deep thinkers who prefer creation without the whir of white noise, this machine is certainly worth listening to.
The Xerox S20-11 is the revised version of the Xerox S20. It has a detachable keyboard with numeric keypad and separate cursor keys, black-and-white video display (24 SO-character lines), two 322K disk drives (five-and-a-quarter-inch), 64K of RAM and a Z-SOA microprocessor. It costs $2995. CP/M is included.
There is lots of good news and one piece of bad news about the Eagle lIE computer. First, the good news:
It has a good keyboard, a fine screen, Z-SO processor, 64K of memory, two 390K five-and-a-quarter-inch disk drives and costs but $1995. More good news:
The $1995 price also includes CP/M, C-BASIC, Ultra Calc spread sheet and the Spellbinder word-processing program.
A good buy, that. Now for the bad news: It does not have a detachable keyboard. To quote Charlie Brown, "Arghhhh!"
The processor of the QX-1O is an eight-bit Z-SO, and the machine has a generous 256K
of RAM. It has two five-and-a-quarter-inch disk drives, each holding 3S0K of storage.
The screen is green, exceptionally sharp and easy to read. It has 25 SO-column lines.
The screen is also capable of high-resolution graphics. The keyboard is, precisely,
State of the Art. It
is where keyboard design has been headed all along and will probably be the most imitated keyboard in a very imitative business. It has a great touch and is a pleasure to work with. It is, of course, detachable. The over-all design (that is, the way the QX-IO looks) is delightful.
The QX-1O comes with an easy-to- learn word-processing program called
rifs-thicks and thins in the design of letter. The result looks more like ling than like a computer display. keyboard is, of course, detachable.
he disk drives are five-and-a-quarter- and hold a massive 612K each; 128K
luser-programmable memory is stand- i. The price is $3495.
While the Victor 9000 does excellent nochrome graphics, it will not do color phics. It is also not likely to get the port that the IBM will be (and is) get- ~ from the manufacturers of peripher- and software.
Editor's Note: As we go to press, the .ld is waiting for the arrival of Coleco's im and IBM's Peanut. Both are ex- led to be breakthroughs in the under- 100 catego~y. Adam is a pol~ idea-an .-memory computer, with word-proc- ng software and a letter-quality print- ncluded in the basic package. All for ut $700. The storage system is a newly Igned tape drive that's supposed to be iparable in speed to the slower disk res out there. All software will have to iew or rewritten specifically for Adam. It could be a serious limitation, but eeo has shown impressive marketing ed and resourcefulness in the past. At y press showings, there were enthusi- c reports about Adam's feel and func- , but we couldn't get McWilliams' bing fingers on one, so we'll have to .rve judgment.
The IBM Peanut will most likely be a : baby brother to the PC. Same 64K, percent compatibility so it will run the llions of programs written for the PC . . hout a disk drive (in other words, use- ), it is supposed to cost about $700; lone drive, just over $1000. If it 'ks, it's going to be hard to resist; and ne shakeout many people expect in this iness, the Peanut will be rocking the . IBM is not openmouthed about this anything else) and there have been tys. So the guesswork will go on awhile ~er·l
PRINTERS, PERIPHERALS, PROGRAMS
ID THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT
'0 do a complete review of all the iters (40, at least), peripherals (there it be more than 4000) and programs imates range from 40,000 to 80,000) personal computers would fill not just month's issue O[PLAYBOY but also next ith's Gala 30th Anniversary Issue and rt issues of 1984.
Instead, let me give you some starting ItS. Each industry has its standards, nd names that are, for one reason or ther, more popular than others. I've -d a few of those de facto standards for sonal computers below. They are not recommendations of the best, just a point of reference from which to make your comparisons.
The recognized leader in modems is the Hayes Smartmodem. A close second: Novation's Smart-Cat.
The leader in letter-quality printers is the NEC. The leader in dot matrix is Epson.
Word Processing. The most popular word-processing program is WordS tar. The best spell-check program is The WORD Plus. (Please see The Word Proc- essing Book or 10rd Processing on the IBM for a full~ description of word- processing progr. ms and 'letter-quality printers.)
Accounting. The most popular accounting packages are from Peachtree. The Champion series seems easiest to learn.
Electronic spread sheeting. VisiCalc, the program that started it all, is certainly popular. The best seller these days is 1-2-3, a program designed with the IBM in mind that some people say gives the IBM PC power beyond the dreams of mainframe computer designers of five years ago.
Data bases. The most popular data- base-management system is dBase II. For subjective data bases (that is, information that must be classified by assigned key words), the best is Super File.
Communications programs. No clear popular favorites here. I've found LYNC to be very good.
And so it goes. The good news and the bad news about the world of personal computers is that it's changing quickly. No one can keep up, but have I got a deal for you. I publish occasional "Updates" for my computer books (The Word Proc- essing Book, The Personal Computer Book and others). Readers of my books are invited to write in for the "Updates," and now that you've taken this short course, you are as well. Please ask for "Update C" -it's such a fast world that A and B have already been incorporated into this article. The service is free, but please send a self-addressed, stamped (37 cents) enve- lope. I'd appreciate your including i dol- lar or two to help pay for printing, though it's not required. Send everything to Peter A. McWilliams, "Update C," Box 6969B, Los Angeles, California 90069.
Now you get some time off to go out and touch the merchandise. I'll be back in a couple of months with part four of this three-part series, and we'll explore what to do once you get your computer home. See you then.