IBM PCjr with original "chiclet" keyboard, PCjr color display, and 64 KB memory expansion card
|Manufacturer||Teledyne, Lewisburg, Tennessee|
|Release date||March 1984|
|Introductory price||US$1,269 with 128 KB memory and without monitor|
GBP£800 (today £2525.66) w/o disk drive.
|Operating system||IBM PC DOS 2.10|
|CPU||Intel 8088 @ 4.77 MHz|
|Graphics||Video Gate Array|
|Sound||Texas Instruments SN76489|
|Predecessor||IBM Personal Computer|
The IBM PCjr (read "PC junior") is a home computer that was produced and marketed by IBM from March 1984 to May 1985. The PCjr was positioned as a complement to the very successful IBM Personal Computer (PC), competing with other home computers such as the Apple II series and the Commodore 64. It retains the IBM PC's 8088 CPU and BIOS interface, but provides enhanced graphics and sound capabilities over the original IBM PC, ROM cartridge slots, joystick ports, and an infrared wireless keyboard. The PCjr supports expansion via "sidecar" modules, which are attached to the side of the unit. New software such as King's Quest I showcased its PC gaming capabilities.
Despite widespread anticipation, the PCjr's launch was unsuccessful. IBM's inexperience with the consumer market led to unclear positioning, with analysts believing that IBM was unsuccessful at justifying the PCjr's higher cost in comparison to competitors such as the Commodore 64 and Apple II. It is only partially IBM compatible, so compatibility with existing PC software such as the killer app Lotus 1-2-3 was not guaranteed. The PCjr's chiclet keyboard was widely criticized for its poor quality, with critics stating that it was unsuitable for extended use such as word processing. The PCjr's expandability was also limited, and it was initially offered with up to 128 KB of RAM only, insufficient for many IBM PC programs. The New York Times stated that the PCjr was incapable of "serious business computing".
Consumers were more interested in Apple's IIe and newly-unveiled Macintosh than the PCjr. Apple cut the price of the IIe and introduced the IIc as a direct competitor, with advertising promoting its compatibility with existing Apple II software. In 1984, IBM offered free replacement keyboards with a more traditional design, and a new 512 KB RAM upgrade. A large advertising campaign promoted the PCjr's compatibility with "over 1000" of the most popular IBM PC applications (including a new PCjr port of Lotus 1-2-3), and new discounted pricing and other bundle offers.
By January 1985, when the discounts ended, IBM had sold 250,000 PCjr computers, with 200,000 in the fourth quarter of 1984 alone. Unable to sell the computer without discounts, IBM officially discontinued the PCjr in March 1985, and IBM would not produce a home-oriented computer until the PS/1 in 1990. Time described the PCjr as "one of the biggest flops in the history of computing", with critics comparing it to the Ford Edsel and New Coke. The Tandy Corporation's clone of the PCjr, the Tandy 1000, was a more successful product, due to its cheaper cost, easier expandability, and wider PC compatibility than the PCjr. The graphics and sound specifications of the PCjr became more synonymous with Tandy as a result, leading to computers and software supporting them being referred to as "Tandy compatible".
- 1 Description
- 2 History
- 3 Legacy
- 4 Technical specifications
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Announced November 1, 1983, and first shipped in late January 1984, the PCjr—nicknamed "Peanut" before its debut—came in two models: the 4860-004, with 64 KB of memory, priced at US$669 (equivalent to $1,683 in 2018); and the 4860-067, with 128 KB of memory and a 360 KB 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, priced at US$1,269 (equivalent to $3,192 in 2018). It was manufactured for IBM in Lewisburg, Tennessee by Teledyne. The PCjr promised a high degree of compatibility with the IBM PC, which was already a popular business computer, in addition to offering built-in color graphics and 3 voice sound that was better than the standard PC-speaker sound and color graphics of the standard IBM PC and compatibles of the day. The PCjr is also the first PC compatible machine that was expressly designed to support page flipping for graphics operations. Since the PCjr uses system RAM to store video content, and the location of this storage area can be changed, it can perform flicker-free animation and other effects that are difficult or impossible to produce on contemporary PC clones.
Unlike the standard IBM PC, the PCjr has onboard video hardware. It is an improved subset of the CGA standard. The four CGA video modes (40x25 text, 80x25 text, 320x200x4, and 640x200x2 graphics) are supported in addition to three new graphics modes (160x200x16, 320x200x16, and 640x200x4). The 80x25 text mode, 320x200x16, and 640x200x4 modes are referred to in IBM's documentation as "the high bandwidth modes"; they are not supported on base models with only 64k of memory. The PCjr also has a composite video out and can support artifact colors on a TV or composite monitor much like the CGA cards, although the colors are slightly different. The PCjr also has palette registers which allow the colors to be redefined for any of the available 16--this feature was retained in EGA and VGA cards. When the BIOS is used to set a video mode, it always sets up the PCjr palette table (i.e. the 16 palette registers) to emulate the CGA color palette for that mode. Programs specifically written to use PCjr graphics can subsequently reprogram the palette table to use any colors desired. Palette changes must be made during horizontal or vertical blanking periods of a video frame in order to avoid corrupting the display. However, the provision of a vertical retrace interrupt (on IRQ5) simplifies this and also makes seamless page-flipping much easier. Although standard PC video cards had a flag to indicate that the vertical retrace was in progress, the PCjr added for the first time the ability to generate raster or VBLANK interrupts on IRQ 5. This allowed the use of mixed video modes. The PCjr video subsystem also has a little-known graphics blink feature, which toggles the palette between the first and second groups of eight palette registers at the same rate used for the text blink feature, and a palette bit-masking feature that could be used to switch between palette subsets without reprogramming palette registers, by forcing one or more bits of each pixel value to zero before the value is used to look up the color in the palette table.
Video modes on the PCjr use varying amounts of system memory; 40x25 text mode uses 1k and 320x200x16 and 640x200x4 use 32k. Multiple text or graphics pages can be used as long as there is enough memory for them, thus the two largest modes allow only two graphics pages. The ability to page flip graphics modes answered one of the common criticisms of the CGA card, which had 16k of video memory and could only support multiple pages in text mode. Of the three new modes, 160x200x16 mode has the same layout as CGA graphics modes; the odd and even scanlines are stored in the first and second half of the video buffer, each half being 8k in size, and every four bits represents one pixel. The 320x200x16 and 640x200x4 modes have four blocks of scanlines; every four or two bits respectively represents a pixel.
Since the PCjr uses the main system RAM for the video buffer, less memory is available for software than on a standard PC, which has its video memory in the A000h-BFFFh segments, above conventional memory.
The register mapping of the PCjr's video hardware is different from the standard CGA card, so software that tries to modify or read registers directly will not work--the PCjr has a "gate" register in which the user writes the number of the video register to be accessed, followed by the value to be written into it. Alteration of other CRTC registers cannot be assumed to produce the same results from the PCjr video system as from the CGA (and might damage the monitor). (Programs for the CGA that manipulate the CRTC start address and that rely on address wrap-around above address 0xBC000 may not work correctly on the PCjr, because it always has a 32 KB contiguous block of RAM in the video area from address 0xB8000 through 0xBFFFF.) The PCjr's video memory cannot be moved above 128k if expansion memory is added; some PC software that ran off of self-booting disks (mainly games) would not work on a PCjr if the software required more than 128k.
PC-DOS 2.10 was the minimum version of DOS required for the PCjr; IBM's OEM versions of MS-DOS supported the machine up to DOS 3.30, but memory expansion was required for DOS 3.20 and 3.30.
The PCjr display hardware consists primarily of two chips on the system board: a standard Motorola 6845 CRTC like the one used in the MDA and CGA adapters, and a custom IBM chip called the Video Gate Array (VGA) The 6845 is responsible for the basic raster timing and video data address sequencing, and the Video Gate Array contains all the additional timing logic, the video data demultiplexing and color processing logic, and the programmable palette table logic, as well as the logic for multiplexing RAM access between the 8088 CPU and the video generation circuitry. The 6845 CRTC and the VGA together are completely responsible for refreshing the internal DRAM of the PCjr (64 or 128 KB), and this complicates the process of switching video modes on the PCjr. (Resetting the VGA, which must be done during certain video mode switches, must be done by code not running from the internal RAM, and if the CRTC or the VGA is disabled for too long, the contents of the internal RAM can be lost.) Additional external DRAM, in sidecar expansion modules, is refreshed separately, not by the CRTC and VGA.
The PCjr's sound is provided by a Texas Instruments SN76496 which can produce three square waves of varying amplitude and frequency along with a noise channel powered by a shift register. [This device is sometimes also called a PSG (Programmable Sound Generator), and essentially equivalent devices were also used in the contemporary Sega Master System and the later Sega Mega Drive/Genesis.] The PCjr design also allows for an analog sound source in an expansion-bus "sidecar" module, and software-controlled internal analog switch can select the source for the sound output from among the PC speaker, the SN76489, the cassette port, or the expansion-bus sound source. Only one sound source can be selected at a time; the sources cannot be mixed.
The PCjr's 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 CPU is faster than that of other computers that were aimed at the home market at the time, though the stock PCjr usually does not run at the full rated 4.77 MHz because access to the internal RAM is slowed by wait states added by the Video Gate Array to synchronize shared access to RAM between the CPU and the video hardware. IBM claimed that an average of two wait states are added, but the designers of the Tandy 1000 claimed that six was a more accurate figure. However, this does not apply to programs or data located in ROM, including software on ROM cartridges plugged into the front of the PCjr, or located in additional RAM in a sidecar attachment; it only applies to the first 64 KB or 128 KB of RAM inside the system unit. Therefore, under some circumstances the 8088 in the PCjr actually can run at the rated 4.77 MHz. The most common instances in which this maximum speed would be achieved are when running games or productivity applications from ROM cartridges; this would be a reason for PCjr users to prefer software in cartridges to software on disk media. In fact, because the PCjr video subsystem continuously refreshes the system internal DRAM transparently, without disturbing the CPU, programs running from ROM on the PCjr will actually run slightly faster on the PCjr than on an IBM PC or XT. This is because the PC and XT keep their DRAM refreshed by using a DMA channel to periodically request the bus from the CPU in order to perform a refresh cycle, whereas a program running from ROM on a PCjr will never be suspended for internal DRAM refresh cycles.
The detached wireless infrared keyboard promised a degree of convenience none of its competitors had, eliciting visions of word processing wirelessly from one's couch with the computer connected to a TV set as a display. For infrared wireless operation, it was powered by four common AA cells. A keyboard cord option, that plugged into the keyboard with a modular 4-position telephone plug and into the back of the computer with a 6-pin (2x3) header connected, was also available for increased security and reliability. The cord also eliminated dependence on batteries; the keyboard IR receiver was automatically disabled when the keyboard cord was attached to the computer.
Differences from the IBM PC
With a built-in RF modulator, the PCjr can send video and audio to a television receiver; it also has an audio output jack to connect to an amplifier. The PCjr Color Display sold by IBM included an internal amplified speaker, being the only IBM monitor in the PC line to do so. Cartridge BASIC enhances the standard IBM BASIC with commands to support the new video and audio functionality. Two joystick ports are also evidence of IBM's goal for marketing the PCjr as a home-friendly machine to compete with popular home machines like the Commodore 64, the Atari home computers, and the Apple II line. Other than the Tandy 1000, which was designed as an enhanced PCjr clone to directly compete with the PCjr, and Amstrad IBM PC compatible lines a few years later, the dual built-in joystick ports introduced by the PCjr never became standard on IBM PC compatibles, and have not been seen since. However, the single 15-pin D-subminiature joystick port common on later PCs supports two two-axis, two-button joysticks like those supported by the PCjr, and the 15-pin port can be split out to two separate joystick ports with a passive Y-adapter cable.
Further reinforcing the "home-friendly" goal, the PCjr also introduced two ROM cartridge slots on the front of the unit, meant to load software quickly and easily. The cartridges are plugged in from the front, prompting the computer to automatically reboot and run the software. This is more user-friendly than other home computer systems, which must be powered off when a cartridge was removed or inserted and come with warnings about damage to the computer if this requirement is ignored. Loading and saving data from cartridge software is possible via the floppy drive. The cartridge BASIC for the PCjr, in particular, gives programmers the advantage of a real programming language always ready without taking up system memory, as it was firmware, with its own address space. Being stored in ROM the BASIC loads very quickly, not needing access to the floppy disk or other storage.
Cartridges can also replace the system BIOS and other firmware. A number of patches from various vendors are included on a single "combo-cartridge", licensed and sold by PC Enterprises, to support add-on hardware, bypass certain limitations of design, and keep up with changing OS requirements.
Expansions (such as additional parallel ports, serial ports, memory, etc.) to the PCjr are provided via add-on "sidecars" that attach to the side of the PCjr. Multiple expansions are stacked together, increasing the width of the machine.
The floppy controller on the PCjr had its I/O registers mapped into different ports than on the PC, since the PCjr also did not have DMA, the BIOS routines for handling floppy access were different and more complex than those on the PC. Software that tried to perform direct, low-level disk access (mainly utilities, but also the occasional game such as Dunzhin: Warrior of Ras) would not work unless it was rewritten for the PCjr.
The internal floppy drive on the PCjr was a half-height Qume 5.25" unit; IBM also used these drives in the PC Portable, but the PCjr units were specially equipped with a small fan to prevent overheating since the computer did not have a case fan.
The PCjr's video uses 32 kB of RAM as shared graphics memory, which prevents using additional memory with the built-in 128 KB under DOS. The specific issue is that while additional external RAM can be added directly above the internal RAM, making a flat model, if the display is used, its buffer must reside somewhere within the first 128 KB of RAM (from where it is mirrored at address 0xB8000). Stock MS-DOS is not prepared to work around the video buffer in low RAM, using RAM both below and above it. Two obvious solutions exist: Use the additional memory as a RAM drive, or not use the built-in 128 KB. Another option would be to load a special DOS device driver or TSR, which would claim the RAM selected for use as the video buffer, causing DOS to load other drivers and programs above it. A fourth option would be not to use MS-DOS, or to use a specially modified version of it. For programs running from ROM cartridges, not using DOS was a very viable option, even in the mid-1980s when the PCjr was being marketed.
Differences from other personal computers
The PCjr initially shipped with a wireless chiclet keyboard called the "Freeboard", powered by four AA batteries to provide infrared line-of-sight wireless communication. The keycaps are blank; labels appear between keys to permit overlays. The chiclet keyboard was unpopular, and IBM replaced it with a typewriter-styled model that is otherwise identical. With 62 keys compared to the PC's 83, function keys and others need multiple keystrokes. Certain room lights cause interference with the infrared keyboard sensor, as do multiple nearby keyboards. As mentioned previously, the keyboard can also operate with an optional modular telephone-style cable, eliminating battery usage and IR interference.
The PCjr also has a light pen port. Besides being used for a light pen (a rarely purchased option), this port was used in combination with the serial port to supply voltage to a Mouse Systems optical mouse of the same design as those for Sun workstations.
|“||For my grandmother, and for millions of people like her, IBM and computer are synonymous.||”|
|— InfoWorld, 1982|
IBM in the early 1980s was the world's largest computer company. With 70% of the mainframe market, it had larger revenues than Apple, Compaq, DEC, HP, and TI combined. When it introduced its first personal computer in August 1981, IBM did so to defend itself against Apple and other companies' newly popular microcomputers. Within two years the IBM PC created a large new ecosystem of business computers and software. Surprising even company executives, it became a market leader with 26% of all microcomputers sold in 1983, in second place to the much less expensive Commodore 64 (C64) and three times the Apple II's share.
For a year before the PCjr's announcement the computer industry discussed rumors of a new IBM product, code named "Peanut", that would repeat the PC's success. The rumors described Peanut as a home computer with 64 KB of memory that would be IBM PC compatible, benefit from IBM's service network and, at US$600 to $1,000, less expensive than the Apple IIe. Customers visited stores attempting to buy the product, and rivals' revenue, product plans, and share prices reacted to the officially nonexistent computer in what the press called "Peanut Panic" or "The Great Peanut Roast".
Many expected, or feared, that an IBM home computer would destroy Apple, Commodore, and others, leaving no competitors. While the company repeatedly denied Peanut rumors it estimated that 50 to 70% of PCs sold in retail stores went to the home, a market which CEO John Opel described as "inevitable as the sunrise tomorrow" for IBM. PC Magazine reported that observers believed the company did not "face substantial competition on the home front" from computers that many considered "mere gadgets or expensive toys". The New York Times stated that "One thing that seems certain is that movement will be away from game playing toward more powerful computers with greater capabilities." The success "of the Peanut is as good as established", Ahoy! predicted.
By September 1983, books and magazine articles on Peanut were ready for publishing, with only a few changes needed once the still officially nonexistent computer appeared. Software companies prepared to market products as "Peanut compatible" with the computer that, rumors said, IBM would produce 500,000 units of in the first year. Adweek estimated that IBM would spend $75 million on marketing, including an alleged license of Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters. Smalltalk magazine in August published a detailed article on the computer, stating that it would cost $600 plus $400 for a disk drive, use a color TV as a display, and have a standard typewriter keyboard.
On what Time called "D-Day for the Home Computer", and others described as "the biggest fanfare in the history of computers", IBM announced the PCjr on November 1, 1983, at its New York City headquarters with an enormous amount of advance publicity, including live news-broadcast coverage of the event. Compute! wrote "Never before in the history of personal computing (admittedly a brief history) has a product been so eagerly awaited by so many".
Experts predicted, according to The Washington Post, that the PCjr "will quickly become the standard by which all other home computers are measured". No longer facing a long-running antitrust suit by the United States government, IBM and dealers boasted that "we are going to sell as many of these things as we can possibly make". Observers predicted sales of one million or more in 1984, and expected the PCjr to change the home-computer market in a similar way to how the IBM PC had changed the business-microcomputer market. They predicted that the PCjr would extend IBM's dominance, with customers able to use the company's computers in the home and in the office.
The Wall Street Journal observed that "The PCjr ... has at least three invaluable assets: the letters I, B, and M". Even rival companies like Coleco, Commodore, and Tandy hoped that a home computer from IBM with, as Popular Science wrote, "the three initials on its nameplate, letters that, in the minds of many, represent quality, reliability, and an assurance that the company will be around for as long as the computer is" would stabilize and bring credibility to the chaotic $2 billion home-computer market, which had seen "cutthroat" price wars between Commodore, Atari, and others for 18 months. TI left the market four days before IBM's announcement, after losing US$223 million in nine months against Commodore by selling its 99/4A for as low as $99; such low prices likely damaged the reputation of the industry by making home computers appear to be inferior game machines. (The 99/4A had been such a disaster for TI that the company's stock immediately rose by 25% after the discontinuation.) "IBM is a company that knows how to make money", Coleco CEO Arnold Greenberg said. "What IBM can bring to the home-computer field is something that the field collectively needs, particularly now: A respect for profitability. A capability to earn money".
PaineWebber predicted that the PCjr would open a "price umbrella" under which home-computer companies could safely compete. Observers did not see low-end computers as the PCjr's main competition, however, expecting it to most affect sales of the IIe, another home-business crossover product. PC expert Peter Norton wrote that the new computer "has all, or nearly all, the capacity and flexibility that most of us who are already using PC's need ... All in all, the PCjr looks like a remarkable machine for its capabilities and an astounding one for its price", and predicted that "the PCjr will make an even bigger splash" than the PC. Financial writer John Gantz wrote "Conventional wisdom says that with the PCjr, IBM has the personal-computer market sewed up [and that] IBM will kick hind end in any market remotely related to the PC, maybe in any market whatsoever".
Developers began developing PCjr software in 1982, for which a rumor stated that IBM paid US$10 million. Sierra On-Line, SPC, and The Learning Company were among those that produced two dozen games, productivity, and educational software as launch titles, using detailed production outlines prescribed by IBM. They did so in secret, with IBM security making unannounced visits to ensure that computer prototypes remained hidden. Spinnaker Software built a locked room for its prototype, for example, with everyone entering the room signing logbooks that IBM could review at any time. The PCjr's graphics and sound features were superior to the PC's, and PC Magazine speculated that "the PCjr might be the best game machine ever designed". Among the most prominent of launch titles were Sierra's graphical adventure King's Quest I; IBM covered much of the game's $850,000 budget.
IBM did not plan to sell the PCjr through discount stores, however, and observers believed that software companies would also publish many non-game applications for the new computer without fearing that it would become orphaned quickly. Major peripheral manufacturer Tecmar stated in full-page magazine advertisements "We're glad you're here, PCjr. Tecmar will have a boat-load of products for you." Advanced Input, the small Idaho company IBM chose to manufacture the PCjr keyboard, predicted that it would be the world's largest keyboard manufacturer by 1990.
Although IBM missed the important Christmas sales season because of production delays, by announcing early the company succeeded in its likely goal of hurting competitors; ComputerLand sold gift certificates with a large model of the computer "'beautifully wrapped to go under your Christmas tree'". IBM planned to spend US$40 million on advertising, which used Charlie Chaplin's iconic character "The Little Tramp"—already used in a successful campaign for the PC—to link the two products together. Ziff Davis, publisher of the successful PC Magazine, printed the first issue of PCjr Magazine even before the first units shipped; competing computer magazines included Peanut, PCjr World, jr, and Compute! for the PC and PCjr. At least one instant book on the computer was published the same month as its introduction, with the publisher comparing the PCjr to Operation Entebbe and the Jonestown Massacre in consumers' desire for information about it.
|“||The machine has the smell of death about it.||”|
|— Steven Levy, 1984|
George Morrow was one of the few to be pessimistic about the PCjr after its announcement, predicting that Commodore's Jack Tramiel would "make mincemeat" of the "toylike" computer. "Somehow the mighty colossus looked a lot smaller that day", Popular Mechanics wrote of the announcement, calling PCjr "a terrible disappointment". InCider agreed that the computer was disappointing, but observed that "no product could have lived up to the jr's pre-release publicity". The New York Times noted that "After all that waiting, it seems odd that no one appears particularly enthusiastic about the machine". Several InfoWorld writers criticized the computer. Offering a "contrarian view: the PCjr could actually turn out to be a dog", Gantz wrote that "it's consumer and buyer demand that will spell success, not how awesome IBM is. It's still a free country, we don't have to buy the PCjr." John Dvorak joked that "champagne corks were popping all over the place. The bottles were being opened by Apple shareholders". Doug Clapp called PCjr "a pathetic, crippled computer", but glumly expected that "the magic letters IBM" and the company's enormous financial and marketing resources would let it "get away with this stuff".
Dvorak added that after the PCjr announcement "I go to my local ComputerLand dealer and everyone there is depressed. 'I'm not sure I even want to carry it,' said the manager", in contrast to the reaction to the PC. Despite Clapp's fear, when the PCjr became widely available in early 1984 sales were below expectations. One store owner reported that "Interest was at a fever pitch" after the announcement, but "Once we had a demonstration model (in January), the only thing I can say is that the response was underwhelming". IBM reportedly worried about demand as early as March, stores began discounts almost immediately, and the company—admitting that demand was "variable and not growing as expected"—began unusually early discounts of up to US$370 in June, but many of its 1,400 dealers could not sell their initial allotments of 25 computers. "Inventory is beginning to pile up", Time wrote in April; by August InfoWorld described it as "the colossal flop that the experts said couldn't happen"; and in December Time stated that the PCjr "looked like one of the biggest flops in the history of computing...[it] sold as sluggishly as Edsels in the late 1950s".
Journalists at the PCjr announcement who hoped for, Compute! reported, "a revolutionary machine that would reinvent the home computer" "gasp[ed in] dismay" when they saw its chiclet keyboard. "No single component in an IBM computer has ever attracted such controversy", the Times said, describing it as "not suitable for serious long-term typing" and "nearly useless", with fingers having "all the grace of a rubber-kneed centipede" on it. The Boston Globe described the "noticeably different" PCjr keyboard as "weak for word processing", and Popular Mechanics warned that no "businessman or professional would feel comfortable with" the "distinctly toylike" keyboard. PC Magazine quoted someone comparing the keyboard's touch to "massaging fruit cake", and stated that using IBM's function keys-dependent DisplayWrite word processor on the PCjr "requires a level of digital dexterity more normally associated with concert piano playing".
A Yankee Group analyst said that the keyboard—which IBM reportedly sought to manufacture for the unusually low $15–20—needed "orangutan fingers to type on", and Clapp wrote that "to say that jr even has a keyboard is far too charitable". Compute! agreed, stating that the computer "leaves something to be desired. A keyboard for one". The magazine observed that "Atari and Coleco must have breathed collective sighs of relief, because both promptly raised January 1 pricing of their personal computer systems". BYTE called the keyboard "a new standard for intentional product handicapping", and other publications and experts agreed that the keyboard was evidence of product differentiation by IBM, giving the PCjr less capability to avoid cannibalizing IBM PC sales.
"How could IBM have made that mistake with the PCjr?", an astounded Tandy executive asked. The keyboard design stunned many in the industry, including Ken Williams and others at Sierra—whose prototypes did not have the chiclet keyboard—and Doug Carlston of Brøderbund Software. John Dvorak stated that "the week before the announcement, [another journalist] told me it had a 'chiclet' keyboard. 'No way — that's the dumbest thing IBM could do,' I replied ... [it's] associated with $99 el cheapo computers". Factory workers manufacturing the keyboard mocked its poor quality, even IBM salesmen advised customers to buy a replacement, and Dvorak predicted that other companies would "make a fortune selling real keyboards for the thing".
|“||Junior is probably the most expensive product sold with the famous legend, "Batteries not included."||”|
|— PC Magazine on the PCjr's wireless keyboard, 1985|
The PCjr's cost was its biggest disadvantage, even more so than the keyboard. The Wall Street Journal reported that customers "find that the PCjr is expensive for a home computer but isn't very powerful for an expensive computer." Ahoy! wrote that "a machine with relatively limited technology at a relatively high price, not only presented much less of a threat than the industry had feared", but benefited the C64 by encouraging Atari and Coleco to raise prices. IBM did not say whether the target market was the home, schools, or executives working at home, confusing software developers and consumers, but likely erred by setting the PCjr's price in the US$800–$1,600 range, where demand was weaker than for computers that cost less—especially the C64—or more. Norton warned that the PCjr "may well be targeted at a gray area in the market that just does not exist", and an observer estimated that "perhaps only 10 to 15% of the home market will be interested". IBM were surprised to learn that many of the initial customers for the PCjr were not home users as they assumed, but instead businesses who wanted a cheaper PC that took less space on a desk.
Many consumers wanted a computer more sophisticated than those costing less than $500, but did not want to spend more than $1,000. Without a VisiCalc-like killer app for the home "There is no compelling reason, based on what's available in software, to convince families to" spend $2,000 on a computer, one computer-store chain manager said. IBM was unfamiliar with the consumer market but hoped that customers would be willing to pay more for a product with, as an industry expert said, "those three letters". Popular Mechanics warned that at $669 and $1,269, PCjr "has been priced out of those markets ... almost any other computer in those price ranges is a better buy", such as the Coleco Adam. Gantz agreed, stating that "inasmuch as it goes after the home market, [the PCjr] goes to a very price-sensitive crowd." Unlike IBM's traditional corporate customers, he wrote, "the home computer crowd has no notion of concepts like upward compatibility, software availability, or the importance of vendor stability"; such customers usually bought the C64, which gained in popularity. The PCjr cost more than twice as much as the C64 and the Atari 8-bit family, while inferior to both and the IIe for games. Imagic stated that the C64 was "a lot faster and it sells for one third the price", Sierra's Williams predicted that "There's no way our game Frogger will ever look as good on the PCjr as it does on the Commodore 64 or the Atari", and Spinnaker said that "for its level of performance it is simply the most expensive machine on the market". After the PCjr's discontinuation, Spinnaker chairman William Bowman said that it had developed software assuming that the more expensive model would cost $800 to $900, and "we dropped production immediately" when the company learned that it would cost $1,269.
Those willing to pay more than $1,000 could buy better computers than the PCjr for the same price. Consumers were reportedly much more excited about the also-new Apple Macintosh, more sophisticated but only US$300 more expensive with accessories and software. So compelling that one dealer called it "the first $2,500 impulse item I've ever seen", Macintosh reportedly outsold the IBM product during their first two months on the market. PCjr's price was close to that of the Coleco Adam, but the Adam also included a tape drive, a printer, and software. The Times warned that "your initial expenditure of $1,000 or so will probably grow to more than $2,000 - even if you purchase the entry model" after adding peripherals; other packages cost $3,000 or more, even while IBM did not include batteries for the wireless keyboard.
The IIe was the PCjr's most direct competition. Although the PC outsold it, Apple sold almost 110,000 units in December 1983, in part to customers who had waited until details of the PCjr became available. The company estimated that 80% of its dealers sold both IBM and Apple computers, and many visitors disappointed by the PCjr, or curious about the Macintosh, reportedly left with a IIe instead; the latter was so popular that a shortage occurred in early 1984. Although the US$669 PCjr model compared favorably to a $1,400 IIe also with 64 KB and no floppy drive, Apple lowered the computer's price as part of a "Starter System" with monitor and floppy drive with a price as low as $1,300, offered a 30% discount to the important education market, and in April 1984 introduced the Apple IIc, a portable version of the Apple II with a more compact form factor, 128 KB of RAM, and a floppy drive. Although the PCjr's CPU was superior, the IIc—which Apple did not describe as a home computer, to avoid the "game machine" connotation—had an excellent keyboard and was compatible with the Apple II's thousands of programs. A dealer stated that Apple "very neatly bracketed the PCjr", and the IIc and IIe's good sales compared to the PCjr implied that cost was not the latter's only problem.
Not fully PC compatible
|“||The PCjr cannot be used for serious business computing.||”|
|— The New York Times, 1983|
|“||The PCjr is a failure as a game machine.||”|
|— InfoWorld, 1984|
Peanut had been rumored to be fully compatible with the IBM PC. By early 1984, PC compatibility had become vital for any new non-Apple computer's success. Doug Clapp, writing in InfoWorld, suggested that were Cray to introduce an incredibly sophisticated, shirt pocket-sized computer, "what's the first question that the computer community asks? 'Is it PC compatible?'" An important market was executives who took data home to work on applications such as the spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3, and many customers visited stores believing that the PCjr could run most PC software; they compared it—which The New York Times warned "cannot be used for serious business computing"—unfavorably to the PC instead of other home computers. IBM expected that most would be new to computers, but 75% were familiar with them and wanted to run business software on the PCjr.
Norton estimated that the PCjr had about 85% of the IBM PC's capability for a smaller fraction of its price. IBM technical documentation stated that the "PCjr is a different computer than the PC", but "has a high level of programming compatibility". The documentation also promised software developers that "if your application maintains an interface ... at the BIOS and DOS interrupt interfaces, then all hardware differences are handled transparently to your application". Norton expected that "any program that followed a design guideline of 64 KB and one disk drive is likely to run beautifully on the PCjr. That means that the PCjr will run most of the PC's programs nicely". He warned, however, that developers "must understand the PCjr's basic limitations and promise not to cheat", and predicted that applications that required more than 128 KB of memory, did not support using only one disk drive, or used IBM PC-specific copy protection, would have problems.
Many popular IBM PC programs did require more than 128K of memory and one disk drive. In practice the PCjr proved incompatible with about 60% of PC applications, including the popular word-processing program WordStar, and a program often used to test PC compatibles' compatibility, Lotus 1-2-3; even IBM DisplayWrite required a separate PCjr version. Although 1-2-3 was so important that InfoWorld joked that "PC compatible" really meant "1-2-3 compatible", a PCjr version did not become available until a year after the computer's announcement. IBM's own stores had a list of software they distributed that was compatible with the PCjr, but customers had to—as the Chicago Tribune reported—learn from "trial and error" whether other programs worked with the computer. An analyst stated that its incompatibility with PC software made the PCjr akin to a game machine, benefiting Apple, but InfoWorld stated that compared to Apples it "is a failure as a game machine" because of poor performance with arcade games. Apple satirized IBM's Tramp mascot in a commercial that emphasized the IIc's larger software library.
Limited hardware expansion
Computer dealers quickly identified the PCjr's limited hardware expansion capability as another major disadvantage. Spinnaker expected to sell most PCjr programs on disk because of cartridges' small storage capacity; the PCjr version of Lotus 1-2-3 requires two cartridges and a floppy disk, and a 128 KB model running it does not have enough memory for many business spreadsheets. The computer only has an internal slot for a modem and an external slot on the right side for "sidecar" peripherals. IBM published technical details for the PCjr as it had done for the IBM PC to encourage third parties to develop accessories, but did not offer a second floppy drive, hard drive, or memory beyond 128 KB although many customers preferred to use IBM peripherals. Multiple sidecars are very clumsy, and the computer requires additional power supplies with a second floppy drive or several sidecars. The PCjr also lacks a DMA controller, so the 8088 CPU has to service standard system interrupts such as the serial port or the keyboard directly. The PCjr thus cannot use modems faster than 2400 baud, and it refuses to process keyboard input if its buffer is full or while the disk drive is in use.
The "Save-the-Junior campaign"
|“||I want an Apple.||”|
|— Child demonstrating PCjr at IBM event, when asked what computer she wanted for Christmas.|
By mid-1984, the PCjr had experienced months of bad publicity. Sales were poor despite the discounts, falling each month, and dealers were panicking; Steven Levy wrote "The machine has the smell of death about it." Observers believed that it was doomed; no company had ever succeeded in improving early poor sales of a personal computer.
IBM allowed dealers to postpone paying for inventory for 180 days, and in July replaced customers' chiclet keyboards for free with a new model with conventional typewriter keys. Although it attempted to reduce attention on the decision with other, simultaneous announcements, the press focused on the new keyboard. The act surprised observers by being unusually generous even for IBM—with a reputation for excellent customer service—and the industry; Creative Computing compared it to an auto maker sending four new free tires to customers, and the Times favorably compared the free keyboard to Apple charging $995 for upgrading the Macintosh to 512K. By replacing the keyboards IBM also acknowledged its initial mistake; other than the keycaps the two designs are identical, so the company could have used the conventional one from the PCjr's debut. The new keyboards cost US$50 each but IBM had to replace only about 60,000 to 75,000, compared to the 250,000 to 480,000 computers that experts had estimated the company would sell during the first six months.
On 5 August 1984 IBM began a massive advertising campaign. It reduced the PCjr's list price, offering a US$999 package that was arguably superior to the comparably priced IIe and IIc, and introduced new IBM-made memory expansion options to 512 KB. As part of $32.5 million in advertising for the computer during 1984, it began what the company described as the most extensive marketing campaign in IBM history, in which 98% of Americans would see at least 30 PCjr advertisements in the last four months of the year. Three simultaneous bundled software promotions, a sweepstakes with Procter & Gamble, and direct mail to more than 10 million people marketed the redesigned computer, while deemphasizing the PCjr's role as a home computer and emphasizing PC compatibility. Advertisements listed the new price, "new typewriter-style keyboard", standard 128 KB of memory and expansion options, the PCjr version of 1-2-3, and the ability to "run over a thousand of the most popular programs written for the IBM PC." A $500 rebate to dealers let them include a free color monitor with the discounted PCjr.
Despite widespread skepticism, what observers called the "Save-the-Junior campaign" succeeded, amazing the industry. One large dealer stated in November 1984 that "it could be a PCjr Christmas". The more expensive model now cost the $800 to $900 that Spinnaker had expected. With the new hardware options and lower prices consumers could buy a PCjr for $1,000 less than a comparable PC, and many dealers reported selling more in the weeks following the changes than in the previous seven months. The PCjr reportedly became the best-selling computer, outselling the IIe and IIc by four to one in some stores and even the C64. Stores grew their inventories, and Tecmar resumed production of PCjr peripherals after dealers suddenly ordered its millions of dollars of unwanted inventory.
|“||We're just sitting here trying to put our PCjrs in a pile and burn them. And the damned things don't burn. That's the only thing IBM did right with the machine—they made it flame-proof.||”|
|— William H. Bowman, Chairman of PCjr software company Spinnaker, March 1985|
By January 1985, experts estimated that IBM had sold 250,000 PCjrs, including 200,000 in the fourth quarter of 1984. When the discounts ended, however, sales decreased from an estimated 50 computers sold per store in December to 2.4 in February, with large unsold inventories. By this time three PCjr-specific magazines had ended publication; ABC Publishing reportedly lost $100,000 or more on its magazine. IBM was unable to meet the demand for its new PC AT business microcomputer, but the home-computer market was in decline and the company was likely unable to make a sufficient profit when selling the PCjr at a discount.
IBM discontinued the PCjr on March 19, 1985, stating that "The home market didn't expand to the degree I.B.M. and many observers thought it would". The decision astounded Sierra and others, some of which only made PCjr products. Rumored to have 100,000 to 400,000 unsold PCjrs despite not having ordered new microprocessors from Intel since summer 1984, the company offered large discounts to its employees and consumers. Inventory remained through Christmas 1985, however, and IBM used discounts and radio and full-page print ads for the computer; one industry executive stated that "only the unaware purchaser would be liable to pick that thing up".
|“||It will never happen again.||”|
|— IBM engineer, 1985|
Although PCjr had little effect on IBM's $46 billion in 1984 revenue, discontinuing one of its most prominent products embarrassed the company. The failure was so great that the Chicago Tribune later compared PCjr to that of the Edsel and New Coke, and IBM reportedly created a Chiclet rule, requiring human factors testing for future products.
Spinnaker's Bowman said "IBM didn't talk to anybody when they designed this product. They tried to enter a market segment without knowing anything about the customers". Sell-side analyst Barbara Isgur correctly predicted in 1984, however, that the PCjr "will probably establish the standard operating system for the home market as it has in business. So even if the PCjrs have gone into the closet, I think that as the software continues to evolve and increase, they will be brought out". Tandy Corporation released a clone, the Tandy 1000, in November 1984, describing it as "what the PCjr should have been". After its discontinuation Tandy quickly removed any mention of the PCjr in advertising while emphasizing the 1000's PC compatibility. The machine and its many successors sold well, unlike the PCjr, partly because the Tandy 1000 was sold in ubiquitous Radio Shack stores and partly because it was less costly, easier to expand, and almost entirely compatible with the IBM PC. The PCjr's enhanced graphics and sound standards became known as "Tandy-compatible", and many PC games advertised their Tandy support. A company developed a PCjr modification that made it compatible with Tandy software.
"[The PCjr] was a nice enough machine, a little underpowered for its price, but not fatally flawed. Its cardinal sin", PC Magazine concluded in late 1985, "was that it wasn't PC compatible". From mid-1985, what Compute! described as a "wave" of inexpensive clones from American and Asian companies caused prices to decline; by the end of 1986, the equivalent to a US$1,600 real IBM PC with 256 KB RAM and two disk drives cost as little as $600, lower than the price of the Apple IIc. Consumers began purchasing DOS computers for the home in large numbers; Radio Shack estimated that half of Tandy 1000 sales went to homes, not offices. The inexpensive clones succeeded with consumers where the PCjr had failed; unlike the IBM product, they were as fast as or faster than the IBM PC and highly compatible.
Several upgrades for the PCjr were designed by IBM/Teledyne but never reached the store shelves before the IBM PCjr was canceled. These included a wireless joystick and various memory/drive upgrades. PC Enterprises became the last of the major third party vendors to supply full service, parts, and add-ons, extending the functional life of the PCjr to about 10 years, often buying out inventory and rights for PCjr support.
- CPU: Intel 8088, 4.77 MHz
- Memory: 64 KB on the motherboard, expandable to 128 KB via a card in a dedicated slot. Further expansion via IBM sidecar adapters. Later third-party add-ons and modifications raised the limit to 736 KB.
- Operating system: IBM PC DOS 2.10, (Boots to Cassette BASIC without cartridge or DOS)
- Input/Output: cassette port, light-pen port, two joystick ports, RGB monitor port, composite video port, television adapter output port, audio port, wired keyboard port, infrared keyboard sensor, serial port, two cartridge slots
- Expandability: three internal slots, dedicated to PCjr-specific memory, modem (300 bits per second non-Hayes-compatible modem available from IBM, although 2400 bit/s Hayes-compatible modems were available from third parties), and floppy controller cards. External sidecar connector capable of daisy-chaining multiple sidecars.
- Video: Motorola 6845, "CGA Plus" This chip was officially called the VGA (Video Gate Array).
- Text modes: 40×25, 80×25, 16 colors
- Graphics modes: 320×200×4, 640×200×2, 160×100×16, 160×200×16, 320×200×16, 640×200×4
- Video memory is shared with the first 128 KB of system memory, and can be as small as 2 KB and as large as 96 KB.
- Sound: Texas Instruments SN76496; three voices, 16 independent volume levels per channel, white noise
- Storage: Optional 5.25-inch diskette drive or cassette. Other storage options were provided by third parties.
- Keyboard: 62-key detached. Corded or infra-red operation. IBM supplied two different keyboards, the first being the maligned 'Chiclet' keyboard, so named for its square rubber keys that resembled Chiclets. Many third-party keyboards were also available.
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We at Coleco think that IBM's possible or probably entry to the home-computer field with 'Peanut', whether it's this year or next year, is extremely encouraging and positive, both for the home-computer industry and in particular for Coleco. Now, I assure you I haven't taken leave of my senses, and obviously it's no lack of respect for the well-earned reputation of IBM that prompts me to say that. But there's at least four considerations that I'd like to throw out to you and help you as far as my thinking.
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IBM is just not another strong company making a positive statement about the home-computer field's future. IBM is a company that knows how to make money. IBM is a company that knows how to make money in hardware, and makes more money in software. What IBM can bring to the home-computer field is something that the field collectively needs, particularly now: A respect for profitability. A capability to earn money. That is precisely what the field needs ... I look back a year or two in the videogame field, or the home-computer field, how much better everyone was, when most people were making money, rather than very few were making money.
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IBM Personal Computer
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