Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 67 / DECEMBER 1985 / PAGE 86

NEC PC-8401A Portable Computer

Gregg Keizer, Assistant Book Editor

Lap-sized portable computers are everywhere. You see them under the arms of business people, students, journalists, lawyers, and writers. It's almost impossible to board a jetliner without seeing one or hearing the clack of its keys. No wonder, for a lap portable lets you take your work virtually anywhere. And with the internal modems built into most lap portables, it's simple to communicate with other computers thousands of miles away.

The NEC PC-8401A portable computer is no exception to all of this. With four programs permanently stored in Read Only Memory (ROM), the NEC offers word processing, personal filing, spreadsheet analysis, and telecommunications—anywhere, anytime.

Like most lap portables, the NEC contains internal nickel-cadmium batteries which continuously trickle current to the Random Access Memory (RAM) chips, thus maintaining your data even when the power switch is turned off. The NiCad batteries, in turn, are continuously recharged by either four C batteries or an optional AC adapter. A low battery indicator warns when you're down to your last 30 to 60 minutes of power. The C batteries last three to eight hours, depending on their type. Even if the batteries fail and an external power supply isn't connected, the NEC retains saved files for up to five days.

The NEC has a full-stroke keyboard and a larger screen than most lap portables—80 columns by 16 lines. It has a total of 64K RAM and 96K ROM, plus a built-in operating system, CP/M (Control Program/Microcomputers). The package includes a phone cable for the modem and a cassette recorder cable for storing files on tape.

Onboard Software

Wordstar-to-Go, the word processing program, is a truncated version of the popular Wordstar. If you already know Wordstar, moving to the NEC's smaller version is a snap. Most of the commands are retained, and the ones that aren't, such as soft hyphenation and on-screen file directories, aren't really missed. Writing on the NEC is a pleasure. The keyboard has a solid feel and the screen is fast enough to keep pace with your typing.

Calc-to-Go is the NEC's spread­sheet program. You can create up to 64 columns and 256 rows, though the window on your screen is only 80 characters wide by 14 rows (a status line takes up the other two rows). The program has most standard spreadsheet features, such as entering data and formulas, arithmetic and logical functions, and editing or deleting data, rows, and columns.

Personal Filer lets you design cards and files which contain information such as addresses, phone numbers, and client notes. You can search and sort these cards, even use them to automatically dial phone numbers. Modifying, viewing, and entering new cards is fairly simple.

The fourth program included in the NEC is a telecommunications package called Telecom. Using the internal 300 bits-per-second modem (an external 1200 bps modem is optional), you can access information services, electronic bulletin boards, and almost any other computer connected to a modem. Telecom can upload and download files, dial numbers, and automatically log on to services. You can set up directory files and build log-on sequences. Both no protocol and Modem 7 protocol are supported, and Wordstar-to-Go files can be converted to straight ASCII for up­loading to other computers.

Documentation for these programs is extensive. Three manuals plus a general User's Guide come with the computer. Examples are easy to follow, for the most part, and cover almost all commands and features.

NEC offers a wide range of accessories, including an external 31/2-inch disk drive (320K), a battery-powered 32K RAM cartridge, and cables for parallel printers, monochrome monitors, and RGB color monitors.

For the price, the NEC has much to offer. Word processing, spreadsheet management, filing, and telecommunications—all at your fingertips.

NEC PC-8401A
NEC Home Electronics (USA) Inc.
1401 Estes Avenue
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007