Tandy Sensation. (Tandy's 1994 Sensation multimedia personal computer) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Tim Victor
It's an unfortunate fact of life with multimedia PCs: You have to do some of the trickiest operations when you know the least about the system. With boards to install, programs to set up, and device drivers to configure, setting up a system can be a rude introduction to the world of CD-ROMs and multimedia computing.
That's what's so cool about Tandy's 1994 Sensation. With the equivalent of a premium multimedia upgrade kit inside and over 100 megabytes of preloaded software, the Sensation requires you only ot unpack the major units and hook up a few cables; then you're ready to get to work, or to play.
With a 33-MHz 486SX CPU, 4MB of RAM, and a 210MB hard disk, the Sensation carries a retail price of $1,799 ($1,999 with a 14-inch color monitor). Bare systems with this level of specifications have been spotted lately at prices near $1,000, but they lack the Sensation's double-speed Panasonic CD-ROM drive, 16-bit Creative Labs sound card, and fax/data modem card with voice-mail capability.
They also lack the software bonanza that comes with the Sensation. There's Microsoft Works for word-processing, spreadsheet, communications, and database operations; Quicken for managing personal finances; and Lotus Organizer, a personal information manager. Macromedia Action SE and Lenel Multimedia Works help in creating multimedia presentations, and a clip art library from Micrografx provides source material for graphics projects. Two custom Sensation CD-ROMs are also included, containing backup copies of preloaded software along with some smaller CD-based programs. The only true multimedia CD-ROM included is the 1993 version of Microsoft Bookshelf; this is a fine reference title, but the Sensation would be a lot more fun with one or two exciting entertainment discs.
For the sake of beginning users, Tandy installs its Win-Mate Desktop program. Windows starts up with this simplified interface instead of the standard Program Manager, but the normal Windows tools are just a couple of clicks away, and it's easy enough to reconfigure Windows for normal operation. WinMate also includes a suite of several dozen simple applications, each making a single task as easy as possible. For common projects like travel planning, keeping a grade book, and creating greeting cards and name tags, the WinMate programs are basic enough to let adult beginners and kids become productive in a hurry.
Preinstalled multimedia hardware and a huge bundle of software make it easy to get started with the Sensation, but the top-quality components inside the case make it easy to keep going. Despite having no external cache for its 486SX CPU, the Sensation is quite snappy at CPU-intensive tasks, and the Western Digital Caviar hard disk is also an excellent performer. For fine DOS and Windows graphics performance, the highly integrated motherboard includes a Cirrus Logic accelerated video chip for SVGA graphics.
Hardware upgrades are an inevitable part of computing, and the Sensation has plenty of upgrade potential. An empty ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) socket will accept a 486DX, 486DX2, or Overdrive processor if more computing power is needed, and there are three empty 72-pin SIMM slots for RAM expansion. Three ISA-bus slots are open for add-on cards, and an empty drive bay can hold a tape backup unit, a second internal hard drive, or a 5 1/4-inch floppy drive.
With the 1994 Sensation, Tandy has come up with a design for the entire life cycle of the home computer. A complete, preconfigured hardware and software package makes the early days less stressful; premium components provide the power to tackle more sophisticated jobs; and plenty of upgrade options should keep the Sensation from becoming obsolete before its time.