Sunday 7 June 2020

IBM PS/1 (1990)

IBM PS/1 Model 2011
Introduced June 1990

By 1990 the PC-compatible marketplace had changed a lot since the launch of the original IBM PC (model 5150) in 1981. No longer just the choice of businesses, PCs had largely replaced an eclectic range of incompatible home microcomputers that had dominated the earlier 1980s. It was increasingly common to see PCs in the home, but they weren’t generally IBM PCs despite IBM inventing the platform.

IBM had tried to break into the home computing market in 1984 with the IBM PCjr, a short-lived crippled version of the PC that was a sales catastrophe. Apparently unperturbed by this, in 1990 IBM tried to break into the same market again… and they repeated many of the same mistakes they had done years earlier.

Worse still, IBM’s attempt to redefine the business PC market with the IBM PS/2 launched a few years earlier was floundering. Instead of moving the market from DOS and the old ISA hardware architecture to OS/2 and Micro Channel Architecture (MCA) it seemed that IBM just split the market between themselves and competitors such as Compaq who were improving the old platforms instead.

In 1990 IBM tried a shift in direction with the new IBM PS/1. Rather more based on traditional PC architecture than the PS/2, it was designed for home users who wanted to be able to unpack something from the box and get working in minutes Models such as the 2011 made this really easy, and when assembled they booted into a friendly screen allowing easy access to DOS, Microsoft Works on online services if they had been included.

IBM PS/1 Model 2133
A Mac-like simplicity to the hardware had some drawbacks – it wasn’t really expandable and the non-standard power arrangement where the computer was powered by the monitor (like the Amstrad PC1512) meant that you were stuck with using the IBM PS/1 monitor for ever.

The hardware was excellent though, and it wasn’t stupidly expensive (competing with Compaq on the likes of price), but consumers were not that interested. It didn’t help that IBM had to create a completely new sales channel for the things as traditional IBM dealers didn’t sell to consumers, but in the US large-deal with Sears who bundled access to Prodigy with the computers. On early models DOS was included in ROM, which made the machines very quick to boot up.

Consumers were cool about the PS/1 though, preferring other brands where they were available. IBM was still seen as a business PC, and the incompatibilities of the PS/2 range rubbed off on the PS/1 even though it was a different hardware platform. IBM stuck with the range though, making the machines more expandable and more standard in terms of hardware and software.

The range lasted until 1994 when IBM replaced the PS/1 range with the architecturally similar but more appealing IBM Aptiva range which continued until IBM’s exit from the home PC market in 2001. Today the PS/1 is an uncommon beast but it commands decent prices of about £500 to £700 or depending on model.

Image credits:
Kungfoocow369 via Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain
Science Museum, London – CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

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