IBM Personal Computing
Donald B. Trivette
What To Do About Junior
Recently I've been getting a lot of mail about PCjrs. There are all kinds of schemes and plans for adding memory, second disk drives, and hard disks. Some may work, while others sound dubious at best. One California Junior owner said that he has added 512K, a second disk drive, and software to simulate a DMA channel. His PCjr now runs two or three times faster, and he obviously enjoys tinkering with his computer as much as using it.
On the other hand, a woman from Mississippi wrote that she had spent many hundreds of dollars to add features to her PCjr, but that she still couldn't run some of the programs at home that she used at the office. She wondered if she could add a hard disk.
A Canadian wrote that he heard he could increase Jr.'s memory by removing the old memory sockets and installing new ones to hold 256K chips. This is not a do-it-yourself project—a technician wanted several hundred dollars to perform the conversion. No guarantees. He wanted to know, would it work?
The point, it seems to me, isn't whether it's technically possible to enhance the IBM PCjr, rather whether it's economical. As almost everyone must know by now, IBM announced a new line of personal computers—the Series/2—and replaced Charlie Chaplin with the gang from "M * A * S * H" as spokespersons. It also dropped the price of many products, including the PC. If the new Series/2 machines prove popular and cost effective, as it appears they are, the price of PC compatibles is bound to drop sharply in the coming months. That, along with people wanting to sell old PCs, is sure to make for some real bargains.
Instead of spending three or four hundred dollars on your PCjr, it might be better to put that money toward a used computer. Look for a basic 128K second-hand IBM PC in the $500–$600 range. Then you can add memory, clock/calendar, and hard-disk with the confidence that the money is being well spent. The IBM PC is going to be the Model T of personal computers; and if you know your automotive history, you know that it will be useful and serviceable a decade from now.
The question is where to look for used machines. I've not heard of any dealers that take old computers as trade-ins, nor do I know of any second-hand dealers. Newspaper ads and computer clubs are two leading sources for used machines, and if you live near a Fortune 500 company, call the director of information services and ask how he or she disposes of old hardware (but chances are employees get first crack).
Although there's no reason a used computer shouldn't be just as good as a new one—chips don't wear out like transmissions and water pumps—the same can't be said of mechanical devices. Avoid buying used printers. But do try to get a written warranty on the computer. As anyone who's ever seen "The People's Court" knows, written is the key word. Baring that, take the computer on approval for two or three days.
There's nothing you can do to insure that the power supply won't fail in a week or a memory chip won't go out tomorrow. Things like that happen—even with brand new machines—and there's no way to predict them in advance. But you should try to obtain some guarantee that the machine functions normally when you get it. Most problems will show up when the system is first turned on, or after many hours of operation. Heat builds up when a machine runs and may cause weak components to fail. When you bring the computer home, leave it on for a 48- or 72-hour burn-in. (This is a good test for new computers, too.)
Keep It For Fun
Maybe you'll want to sell the PCjr, or better yet, keep it for running entertainment software. If you keep Junior for games, you'll want joysticks if you don't already have them. Several years ago I paid around $60 for the official IBM PCjr Joystick—now you can get one for $14.50 from a company that specializes in surplus electronic items. It's new, original equipment, with the IBM logo and instruction booklet, but the connector is the PCjr type, so it won't fit the serial plug on the PC. (For the PCjr joystick, order item TM24K205 from the H & R Corporation, 401 E. Erie Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19134; phone 215-426-1708.)
Once you have the joysticks, you'll want to try them out, and there's no better program for that than One-on-One, an action basketball game that pits Julius Erving against Larry Bird. This game has been around for several years, so the price has dropped to a very affordable $15. It's still fun to play, and the graphics on the PCjr are probably why you bought the PCjr in the first place. (One-on-One is published by Electronic Arts, 2755 Campus Dr., San Mateo, CA 94403.)