Tandy 4825 SX, Tandy 4850 EP. (microcomputers) (Evaluation)
by Peter Scisco
What if I told you that you could get the performance of a 486 computer, service from a local computer retailer, and state-of-the-art video and hard disk performance--all for about $2,000? If you're in the market to upgrade your computer to a high-end business system for graphics processing, you'd probably ask for a telephone number. And what if I told you that the system I just described is a Tandy? You'd probably say, "The folks who brought us the RL 1000?"
That's right. The company that wants to put a computer in every kitchen also wants to put a 486 screamer on your desktop. And with the price and performance of its new 486-based series, Tandy just might do it.
Starting with the 4825 SX, computer users in small businesses who need leading-edge performance from their computers are finally within reach of that kind of power. An Intel 486SX processor supplies true 32-bit performance. If you've been working with a 386SX-based computer, the difference in performance is absolutely radical, especially with Windows applications.
The 4825 SX compares favorably to a 33-MHz 386 system, and it has one special feature: It's completely upgradable to a 50-MHz 486 system. Now you're talking power. But what does this performance mean in real terms? For most home offices, 486 power is overkill But the biannual question posed by Intel continues: With prices this good, what are you waiting for?
In my own home office, I use an Insight 386SX running at 16 MHz, with 4MB of RAM and 1MB of video memory. Not state-of-the-art, but so far it's been good to me. In my evaluation of these two new Tandy systems, I did some testing and came up with some numbers that made my pride and joy look like a mere rookie at Darlington Motor Speedway.
With character-based applications such as spreadsheets, word processors, and databases, the results are predictable. Compared to my 386SX, the 4825 SX and the 4850 EP crunched numbers about 312 percent and 335 percent faster, respectively. In word processing, the improvements rang up 297 percent and 316 percent. And when it came to database performance, the 4825 SX outperformed my home machine by 298 percent, while its bigger cousin boasted an improvement of 300 percent. The Overall Norton Performance Index placed the 4825 SX at 64.3 and the 4850 EP at 93.3. By comparison, my 386SX rates a 7.2. Whoa! Eat my silicon!
The numbers weren't quite as impressive when it came to Windows performance, but the Tandy machines still ran circles around my home computer. For graphical computing, you can expect performance improvements from 100 percent (4825 SX) to 180 percent (4850 EP) over a 16-MHz 386SX system. This just goes to show that real improvements to graphical computing can be had by adding a video accelerator card to your existing system--that's much less expensive than scrapping an entire system for a faster CPU.
>From the lightweight plastic outside casing to the compact interior engineering, the Tandy 4825 SX and the 4850 EP showcase capable design. The 4MB of RAM (standard on each, with potential upgrades to 32MB), 512K of video memory (standard on each, with a potential upgrade to 1MB for 1024 x 768 resolution in 256 colors), and disk drive controllers are located on the main board. Four empty SIMM sockets can be used to increase the system memory to 5MB, 8MB, 20MB, or 32MB, depending on the type of SIMM used in the upgrade (256K, 1MB, or 4MB chips rated at 80 ns).
Video memory is also easily enhanced by adding four video memory chips that mount directly into sockets on the main board. As it ships, the video controller is capable of 640 x 480 resolution in 256 colors. If you're planning to turn one of these systems into a dedicated graphics workstation, you may want to upgrade to Super VGA (SVGA). Tandy doesn't sell the video memory chips, although a Radio Shack dealer can order them for you from another vendor.
This much power demands equal amounts of storage space, and Tandy delivers with a 120MB IDE hard disk governed by an internal controller that can support a maximum of two drives. A single 1.44MB floppy drive also comes standard with either unit. There's room for another 5-1/4-inch drive device, which can be a floppy drive, a second hard disk, or a CD-ROM drive.
Outside, both systems use a high-profile 101-key keyboard that provides ample tactile feedback and comfort. Both systems also ship with a Tandy two-button mouse that plugs into a PS/2-style connector in the back of the system unit. The mouse is the most disappointing element in the entire system--if I spend more than $2,000 on a computer (monitor not included), I want something more than a $10 mouse. Many clone manufacturers offer a Logitech or Microsoft mouse with their systems; Tandy should, too.
I reviewed these systems with a Tandy VGM-440 VGA monitor, which is capable of 1024 x 768 resolution in 256 colors (SVGA), provided you upgrade the video memory to 1MB. Other less expensive Tandy VGA monitors are available, but they don't support the Super VGA mode. Alternatively, you could use a non-Tandy VGA monitor.
According to Intel, the customer can perform the processor upgrade from the 4825 SX to the 4850 EP, which is fine for large businesses with a dedicated MIS staff. But for small businesses and home offices, Tandy recommends taking the system into a Radio Shack store and having a dealer perform the upgrade, which involves removing the 486SX chip and replacing it with a 50-MHz chip--no other modifications are required.
Overall, these are very capable systems at competitive retail prices. You can probably do better with mail-order shopping, perhaps saving enough to buy a monitor or finding a 25-MHz 486SX system that includes a monitor for around $2,000. Even so, risking capital on mystery components isn't always the best solution for home office entrepreneurs and small businesses. When compared to those of mainline direct sellers like Dell and ZEOS, the Tandy systems aren't that much more expensive. And with the upgrade path to full 50-MHz performance, these machines aren't likely to be obsolete for years to come.
But isn't that what they said about the 386?