IBM PS/1. (microcomputer) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Autumn Miller
IBM designed the PS/1 as therapy for the computerphobic. Two years later, PS/1 purchasers talk like computer scientists on Prodigy's PS/1 User's Club bulletin boards. With their increased knowledge, many are venturing into areas the PS/1 wasn't designed to handle.
Many want faster speeds and more memory. So IBM introduced a new PS/1: a 386SX 16 MHz (up from a 286 10 MHz) with 2MB RAM expandable to 6MB or 16MB with an additional adapter unit (up from 1MB expandable to 2.5MB or 7MB) and a 40MB or 80MB hard disk, depending on your style number, expandable to more than 200MB (up from 30MB with no room to grow). Other original PS/1 features remain the same.
A muscular child could probably set up the compact system faster than he could build a Lego house, with about as much instruction required.
The colorful Startup System menu shows off one of the machine's best features--its crisp, bright video screen. Beneath the system menu sits an introductory world of computing: preloaded software programs, including Microsoft Works (word-processing, spreadsheet, database, and communications software all in one), DOS 4.1 (5.0 with some machines), the Prodigy and Promenade online networks, and, with my model B82, Windows 3.0.
The DOS Shell program, while less frightening than the C prompt, is very cumbersome and limited. Unfortunately, the PS/1 doesn't come with a DOS manual, making it even more difficult to do anything outside of the shell if you don't know the commands or even the options you have.
In fact, my biggest complaint about the machine is its lack of documentation. At first, you may not want to wade through technical mumbo jumbo. But after you know the basics, it's hard to go further.
Apparently, the slightly sluggish mouse can't have settings changed to better operate games and applications, because there's no mention of it anywhere.
The modem section of the technical reference guide (only 138 pages for the entire system, software and adding hardware!) took up barely five pages. That makes it difficult to fully use the modem with any other communication software or to connect to anything other than IBM's prepackaged Prodigy or Promenade.
The tightness of the keyboard makes you feel like you're doing something, but the Caps Lock key sits dangerously close to the left Shift key. With my long fingernails, I typed in all caps half the time and muttered about time wasted retyping the other half of the time.
The new basic 2MB RAM gives enough room for most home and small business programs, as well as Windows applications. Once your needs exceed the machine's initial capabilities, it's best to graduate to a build-your-own system, because while the PS/1 is expandable to a certain degree, it has its limitations. After all, it's meant to be that way.
All in all, IBM delivers what it promises: a small package with enough power and room for moderate expansion. Sure, there are other things I would've liked, but it's a starter machine. Think of it as a mother teaching her youngsters the ways of the world: She'll let them try out new things, but not too much too soon.
If you outgrow the PS/1, you'll know enough to venture out into the cold computer world and put together your own package. Pass the PS/1 experience on to a younger sibling, instead of trying to make it fit. As Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again." IBM PS/1 386SX C42: 386SX-16 Mhz, 2MB RAM, 3 1/2-inch 1.44MB disk drive, 40MB (21-ms) hard disk, 12-inch VGA IBM Photo Graphic Display, IBM mouse (two-button), 2400-bps modem, preloaded software including DOS and Microsoft Works--$1,699 PS/1 386SX B82: all of the above plus 80MB hard disk, Microsoft Windows 3.0, and Productivity Pack for Windows--$2,199 IBM 1133 Westchester Ave. White Plains, NY 10604 (800) IBM-2468 Circle Reader Service Number 357