Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 11, NO. 5 / MAY 1985 / PAGE 42

ISM Express; sharp RGB color to go. (evaluation) Russ Lockwood.

In the microcomputer market, desktop computers have a distinct advantage over transportable computers: color. Somehow, graphs, charts, and diagrams look better in color. Monochrome graphics, although better than no graphics at all, pale before the power of color.

Most transportable computer manufacturers are farsighted enough to pick a graphics board that allows you to attach a color monitor. Yet when you gain color, you lose transportability.

International Systems Marketing (ISM) offers the Express, a computer that bridges the gap between color and transportability. It packs a 9" RGB monitor and IBM PC compatibility into one near unit.

Electronic Frankenstein

The ISM sales representative likes to draw a parallel between ISM and IBM. He notes that when IBM sells you a computer, it is really a collection of components from several manufacturers.

When you buy an ISM Express, you are buying Shugart disk drives, a Faraday motherboard with an Intel microprocessor, a Plantronics graphics board, Key Tronic keyboard, and a Sony color monitor. All of these components are solid and dependable and manufactured by name companies in the industry. In a sense, ISM combines top-of-the-line OEM products under one cover.

ISM uses the standard 4.77 MHz 8088 microprocessor, gives you 256K RAM expandable to 640K, and includes five expansion slots for IBM PC compatible expansion boards. Two of the slots are occupied by a color graphics display adapter and a drive controller board. Two half-height floppy drives, or one floppy drive and a hard disk drive (10Mb and 20Mb versions available) provide storage. Room is available to install a third device--floppy, Winchester, or tape backup. Two RS-232 serial ports and one parallel port provide connections to the outside world.

The 9" RGB color monitor in our evaluation unit is actually manufactured by Panasonic. As you might guess, the resolution is very sharp. Take a look at the screen display to see what we mean. Text resolution is 25 lines of 80 characters, and graphics resolution is 320 x 200 pixels in four colors. The optional Plantronics graphics board supplied with our evaluation unit provides 16 colors, making the monitor look even better.

However, ISM is switching monitor manufacturers and will install Sony monitors with an even sharper resolution. Most RGB monitors have a dot pitch of 0.31mm to 0.43mm (see the Buyer's Guide to RGB Monitors in our February 1984 issue for a full explanation of the finer points of RGB monitors). The dot pitch on the Sony monitor is a super sharp 0.25mm.

ISM thoughtfully places the on/off switch on the front of the machine and includes a handy reset switch. The Key Tronic keyboard plugs into the side of the unit rather than the back, increasing keyboard mobility and user comfort.

They Key Tronic keyboard (Model KB5150) corrects several of the short-comings of the IBM PC keyboard. It features reversed Shift and Backslash keys; English labels instead of arrows on the Backspace, Return, Tab, and Shift keys; raised bumps on the J, F, and 5 keys; LEDs on the Num Lock and Caps Lock keys; a horizontal Return key; and a separate Return key on the numeric keypad. The tactile feedback is good, and the keystrokes are very quiet, eliminating the pronounced clicks of the IBM PC keyboard.

We ran Ahl's Simple Benchmark (see July 1984 issue for a complete explanation) on the Express. The results are shown in Table 1.


In the tradition of IBM PC compatible computer manufacturers, ISM claims the Express is highly compatible with the IBM PC and runs most of-the-shelf PC software. To make a long boast short, ISM is correct.

The de facto standards of IBM PC compatibility are Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Flight Simulator. The Express ran both without a problem. Next, we tried several other packages, from business to education to entertainment. Even the tough, copy protected programs ran perfectly. Give ISM credit; the Express acts like an IBM PC.

Advanced Basic was the only IBM product we could not load and run. Evidently, the Express only accepts GW Basic, the standard Basic bundled with IBM PC compatibles. Some Basic programs written specifically for Advanced Basic may not run using GW Basic.

Thus, we offer our now-standard line regarding compatibles: try the software before you buy the hardware. Based on the Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Flight Simulator tests, we feel confident that the Express will run most software.


ISM offers three configurations of the Express. All models include 256K RAM, color monitor, graphics board, built-in serial and parallel ports, and MS-DOS 2.0.

The Express PC, with two 360K double sided, double desnity floppy drives, retails for $3195. The Express XT-10, with one floppy drive and one 10Mb hard disk drive, sells for $4695. The Express XT-20, with one floppy drive and one 20Mb hard disk drive, retails for $4995.

To Go or To Stay?

ISM manufacturers an excellent IBM PC compatible. The Express combines terrific IBM PC compatibility, a sharp RGB color monitor, and several extras like a reset button and an extra serial port in one transportable unit.

Of course, what we have not mentioned yet is the weight. At 35 pounds, the Express is likely to beef up your biceps--if you do not separate your shoulders first. We think the hand strap needs a thicker padding--we like circulation to our fingers as we carry the computer.

All things considered, however, we are enthusiastic about the ISM Express. ISM is too. They are opening a new manufacturing plant (perhaps we should call it an assembly line) to increase production and erase the backlog of orders. If you are an executive or professional looking for transportability, PC compatibility, and the glory of color, take a look at the ISM Express. The color and resolution are sure to impress you.

Products: ISM Express (computer)