AT&T 6300; clash of the titans: round one. (evaluation) Russ Lockwood.
For better or worse, the breakup of Ma Bell has forced giant AT&T to crawl out from under the monopolistic blanket of protection and into the competitive high-technology arena. AT&T has taken its size, household name, budget, and reputation for quality into the computer marketplace with the 6300, an imported Olivetti-made IBM PC compatible.
For its first foray, AT&T has done a commendable job. The 6300 is a solid IBM PC compatible. Like other desktop computers, the 6300 consists of three components: a display, detachable keyboard, and system unit housing the cpu, disk drives, and electronic innards of the system.
The Olivetti-made 6300 sports a smaller footprint than the IBM PC, which gives you a little more desktop space. Lifting off the system unit cover reveals an 8086 microprocessor running at 8 MHz. The benchmark results in Table 1 will give you an idea of the faster speed of the 6300 compared to the IBM PC. (For a detailed description of the benchmark test, see the July 1984 issue of Creative Computing.)
The AT&T 6300 supports an 8087 numeric co-processor, runs MS-DOS, and comes with 128K RAM (expandable to 640K), a serial port and a parallel port, and two 5.25' 360K floppy disk drives. An optional 10Mb Winchester hard disk drive can replace one of the floppy drives.
The 6300 system unit includes seven expansion slots. Note that the hard disk version uses one of the slots for the drive controller board, leaving you six expansion slots. Five of the seven slots accept the standard eight-bit expansion boards made by the host of third-party manufacturers. The other two slots are designed to accept the newer and faster 16-bit boards.
However, these 16-bit slots are not compatible with the scheme used in the IBM PC AT, which partially explains the dearth of third-party boards made specifically for the 6300. In fact, although the 6300 has been available for over a year, Thesys is one of the few companies that offers a board (see sidebar) specifically for the AT&T computer. AST Research has agreed to make communications boards and may offer additional boards in the future.
The display adapter drives both a monochrome and color monitor. Graphics resolution is 640 X 200 pixels (black and white) or 320 X 200 pixels (four-color), and text resolution is 25 lines of 80 characters. On our greenscreen monochrome monitor, different colors are displayed as different shades of green. The monitor sits on a handy tilt/swivel pedestal.
AT&T also offers a graphics board that generates 16 colors (or shades of green) with a resolution of 640 X 400 pixels. It uses one of the 16-bit expansion slots. AT&T also offers a color monitor.
The detachable, slant-adjustable keyboard mimics the IBM PC keyboard with two exceptions: the Caps Lock and Num Lock keys are equipped with LEDs and raised bumps appear on the J and F keys. The tactile and aural feedback rate good to excellent.
AT&T includes an excellent set of three-ring, looseleaf manuals with the system.
As is to be expected, the AT&T 6300 is a true IBM PC compatible and runs most off-the-shelf IBM PC software. To make a long story short, the computer runs Lotus 1-2-3 version 1A, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Ashton-Tate dBase III and Framework, Borland Turbo Pascal and Sidekick, Hayes Smartcom II, and a variety of other business, education, and entertainment software.
However, we must repeat our standard caveat regarding IBM PC compatibles: try the package you want to use before you buy the computer.
The base model AT&T 6300, with 128K RAM, two 360K floppy drives, one serial port, one parallel port, and monochrome monitor costs $2495. The hard disk version, with 256K RAM, one floppy drive, one 10Mb hard disk drive, and a monochrome monitor costs $4420. The color monitor retails for $795.
Released in June 1984, the 6300 has seen several enhancements in 1985. The Communications Manager expansion board plugs into the 6300 and the IBM PC and features a built-in 1200/300 baud modem, simultaneous voice and data transmission, one-button dialing from a directory of up to 200 phone numbers, and AT&T 4410 and DEC VT-100 terminal emulation. The board retails for $599.
The 6300 can now compare with the IBM PC AT with the addition of a 20Mb, internal, half-height Winchester hard disk drive and a 512K RAM upgrade kit for $5620. AT&T also offers the 8087-2 numeric co-processor for $295. A two-button mouse, compatible with Microsoft Word, DR Draw and DR Graph, Lotus 1-2-3, MultiPlan, and SuperCalc 3, is available for $150.
On the software side, AT&T has released the $395 Xenix 3.0 operating system along with a $450 software development package a $150 text processing package. Other software packages include File It!, a $295 interactive file manager; Informix, a $795 relational database management system; and a $100 AT&T 513 terminal emulation program.
Software announced but not released includes the MS-DOS 3.1 operating system and a business accounting series with general ledger, accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll, and inventory modules.
Starlan Networking Power
The AT&T Starlan local area network links computers, workstations, terminals, and peripherals through ordinary telephone wiring. It connects MS-DOS machine to MS-DOS machine, Unix machine to Unix machine, and MS-DOS machine to Unix machine. Starlan handles up to 1200 physical connections. Interfaces will become available to connect Starlan to other networks, including AT&T Information Systems Network, IBM Systems Network Architecture, and Ethernet.
However, before you rush off to buy a Starlan network, note that major parts will not become available until the fourth quarter 1985 or the first quarter 1986. AT&T quotes a price of approximately $800 per connection for an eightworkstation configuration. In contrast, the IBM local area network is scheduled for release during the second quarter 1985.
The Last Die Roll
You have probably seen the big bucks TV advertising campaign by AT&T. In one commercial, AT&T announced it has entered the "personal computer game.' The commercial describes a few features of the computer and then ends with an AT&T representative sitting back and saying "It's your move.' Frankly, the marketing folks should have their collective heads examined. With billions of dollars at stake, the computer industry is anything but a game. Letting other companies make their move effectively relinquishes the initiative.
According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T sold only 28,500 6300s in 1984. Compare that to the estimated 1.5 million IBM Personal Computers and you can see that AT&T has a long way to go to challenge Big Blue seriously. However, James D. Edwards, president of Computer Systems for AT&T Information Systems, recently announced that the company has sold more 6300s in January and February of 1985 than all of last year. Perhaps AT&T has learned that vying for business in the competitive market is quite different from "competing' in a protected market.
IBM has already made their move with the PC AT (see December 1984 for full review) and Kaypro and Tomcat have released AT compatibles. AT&T has responded with the Unix PC (see sidebar), originally codenamed the 7300. Another machine, the 9300, is rumored to be on the drawing boards. With one new machine out and another in the offing, AT&T shows it possesses the will to compete in the personal computer market, and with 1983 sales of $64 billion (compared to $39 billion for IBM), AT&T certainly has the resources to go head-to-head with IBM. The result could be a clash of the Titans.
The 6300 is a good first effort for AT&T, although it is entering an already crowded filed. It features excellent IBM PC compatibility, competitive price, and a number of enhancements to keep it even, if not one step ahead of most of the competition. AT&T is a major corporation, and its impressive record of telephone service and support should carry over to the computer side.
Name: AT&T 6300 Type: Business computer
CPU: 16-bit 8086, 8 MHz RAM: 128K (expandable to 640K)
Keyboard: Detachable, 84 keys, slant adjustable
Display: 80 X 25 characters; normal graphics, 320 X 200 pixels (four colors); enhanced graphics, 640 X 400 pixels (16 colors)
Disk drives: Two 360K 5.25 floppy drives or one floppy and one 10Mb hard disk drive
Ports: One RS-232C serial and one parallel
Dimensions: System unit: 16.5 X 15 X 6 ; Keyboard: 18.2 X 8 X 1.3 ; Display: 16.7 X 13.7 X 15.2
Operating System: MS-DOS Documentation: Locseleaf user's guide
Summary: Slow-selling but fast processing Olivetti-made IBM PC compatible
Price: 128K, graphics board, and two floppy drives $2499
Manufacturer: AT&T informations Systems 111 Westwood Pl. Brentwood, TN 37027 247-1212
Table: 1. Ahl's Simple Benchmark Test.
Products: AT and T 6300 (computer)