Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 79 / DECEMBER 1986 / PAGE 93


Sheldon Leemon

It looks like Tandy may have jumped the gun on its announcement of two new Model 1000 computers. Tandy went ahead with a big product rollout without waiting for the results of FCC tests for radio frequency interference (RFI). Apparently, those tests weren't the mere formality Tandy thought them to be, because when it came time to sell the new computers, the FCC said no. Making the best of a bad situation, Tandy dealers continued to show the machines and take deposits for waiting lists, but even that was too much for the FCC. They forbade Tandy dealers to so much as turn the offending machines on, even for display purposes. Tandy management could react only by determining to do whatever necessary to bring the machines into compliance (hopefully in time to salvage holiday-season sales).


Tandy isn't the only computer manufacturer to face rejection by the FCC. In an industry where new products are routinely announced long before they're ready for sale, the FCC approval process has become one of the landmarks by which insiders can judge when a piece of hardware will appear on store shelves. Even the computing public follows the proceedings. Amiga owners waiting for peripherals like the Genlock interface and Sidecar listen closely for rumors about approval (last word: Genlock, yes; Sidecar, not yet).

Sometimes, though, the FCC is used as a convenient scapegoat for slipped production schedules. It isn't hard to meet federal RFI standards as long as you design the product correctly and don't cut too many corners. But getting a product tested can take longer than the manufacturer might like, especially when timing is critical. The FCC is a government agency whose limited staff is unlikely to get any bigger in the face of budget reductions. To add to the problem, they moved earlier this year to stop the importation and sale of IBM compatibles that were not FCC approved. As a result, the clones from every offshore manufacturer all went to the FCC for clearance at the same time, causing some delays.

What does the FCC, whose mandate is to regulate the broadcast media, have to do with computers, anyway? The fact that computers can cause TV interference is only a partial answer, since hair dryers also disrupt the picture. It's the way that computers interfere that's important. Appliances with motors create interference at a low frequency that affects only TVs plugged into the same circuit, but computers generate much higher radio frequencies, acting like little transmitters. In fact, someone sitting in a van outside your home or office could probably pick up the image on your monitor using inexpensive equipment. That's not so reassuring to a company that stores sensitive financial material on personal computers, and it has caused the government to issue stringent shielding specifications for computers used in classified areas.


Apple's introduction of the IIGS, an impressive 16-bit machine that competes with the Atari ST and Amiga while maintaining compatibility with current Apple software, may give new meaning to the "Apple II forever" slogan. But the pricing of the Apple line raises some interesting questions. The new IIGS, a 256K computer with eight expansion slots, is selling for $999 without a monitor or disk drive. The IIc, a 128K computer with no slots and a built-in 5 1/4-inch drive sells for $939, also without a monitor. The 128K IIe (with slots) sells for $829 without a drive or monitor.

It would appear that Apple has the $830-$ 1,000 price range covered rather thoroughly. But when you add a 31/2-inch drive for the GS ($400) and an analog RGB monitor ($500), the price of the system comes to $1,900, about the same as the Macintosh 512 Enhanced. The GS can use a low-cost monitor, but it can't work with the inexpensive 51/4-inch drives available for the older Apple II computers (you can get a $300 51/4-inch drive from Apple).

While there are some price differences in the Apple line, the IIGS is close enough to both the He and 512K Mac to erode sales of both machines. The prospects of the IIc, in particular, don't appear bright, despite Apple's claim that they expect it to remain the mainstay of the line. Apple had to fight hard to win acceptance for the IIc in the first place because it lacked expandability, and the announcement of a $500 upgrade of the IIe to a GS may make IIc owners feel a bit abandoned. With a price difference of $60 plus the cost of a disk drive, it's hard to believe that consumers will pick the IIc over a machine with twice the functionality, three times the speed, a nice detached keyboard, and eight expansion slots.

[Editor's Note: On September 16, the following news item was released by Tandy.]"The Tandy 1000 EX and Tandy 1000 SX have now been certified by the Federal Communications Commission. Shipments of these high performance PC-compatible computers will begin this week.

"While the delay in obtaining certification of these products has inconvenienced many, we fully support the FCC's efforts to maintain a satisfactory electromagnetic environment for all products."