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Radio Shack Remains a Contender

August 12, 1985|Lawrence J. Magid | Lawrence J. Magid is executive vice president of Know How, a San Francisco-based microcomputer education company

Once upon a time, around the turn of this decade, if you wanted a personal computer you went to an Apple II dealer or a Radio Shack store. If you went to Radio Shack, you could select a TRS-80 Model 1 in any color, as long as it was gray. That early Radio Shack computer, circa 1978, was a gangly looking machine with 4 kilobytes of random access memory and cables everywhere. For thousands, it was their first personal computer.

Fort Worth, Tex.-based Tandy Corp., the company that owns Radio Shack, was an early leader in personal computers. Although it has lost market share to Apple, IBM and others, it remains a strong contender.

With more than 9,000 outlets, the company is one of the world's biggest retailers. It's hard to drive through a town, even a little one, without seeing at least one Radio Shack dealer. In many cases, it's the only computer or electronics store in town.

Neighborhood Radio Shack stores stock their computers alongside batteries, switches, stereos, toys and thousands of electronic gadgets. The experience and knowledge of the sales staffs vary widely. Though you may find some gems, you might also find a clerk who knows almost nothing about computers. Computer systems are a lot more complicated than radios and batteries. Even the experts have difficulty keeping up.

However, Radio Shack has a string of more than 430 computer specialty stores. Whereas the regular stores stock only a modest selection of the company's computers and accessories, the Computer Centers stock the company's entire line of computers, software, accessories and peripheral equipment. They do not carry competing brands of computer hardware.

If you're shopping for a Radio Shack computer, try to visit a Computer Center, where the staff is likely to be much more knowledgeable than at a regular store.

If you're not near a Computer Center, seek out one of the nearly 700 regular stores designated as a "Radio Shack Plus Computer Center." These have a special expanded computer section that is managed by employees who have the same training as those in the Computer Centers, according to Tandy spokeswoman Deborah McAlister. If such a store doesn't carry what you need, ask the manager to refer you to a Computer Center. Be aware, however, that managers and salespeople are paid a commission. One manager I spoke with acknowledged that he considered other Radio Shack dealers to be "part of the competition."

Cost of Full-Blown System

Radio Shack's product line ranges from a $59.95 "Pocket Computer" with half a K of RAM to the Model 6000, which, when fully expanded, can accommodate up to a megabyte (million bytes) of RAM, 140 megabytes of hard disk storage and six remote terminals. A basic system with two floppy disk drives, 512K of RAM and no hard disk sells for $4,499. A full-blown system could cost more than $10,000.

There are two battery-operated lap-size units. The $599 Model 100, introduced in 1983, comes with 24K of RAM and offers an 8-line-by-40-column display with built-in software for telecommunications, word processing and BASIC programming. A recent sequel, the $999 Model 200, has a 16-line-by-40-column display and comes with the MultiPlan spreadsheet in addition to the software included with the Model 100.

Tandy has three entries in the "IBM compatible" market.

The Tandy 2000 retails for about the same price as the IBM PC but outperforms the IBM PC in several ways. It stores twice as much data per disk (720K versus 360K), has superior color and monochrome resolution, and runs programs at a faster "clock speed." The only problem is that the machine is only partially compatible with the IBM PC. It can read and write IBM data disks but cannot run most of the programs written for the IBM PC.

Nevertheless, many popular programs for the IBM PC have been adapted. Tandy sells Model 2000 versions of spreadsheet programs such as of 1-2-3, SuperCalc3 and MultiPlan; database management programs, including dBaseIII, and word processors including MultiMate and Microsoft Word. The Model 2000 starts at $1,599 for the two-drive, 256K system. The monitor is extra.

Tandy calls its 1200 HD "an XT mirror image." Like the hard-disk version of the IBM XT, it comes with one 360K floppy drive, a 10-megabyte hard disk and IBM PC compatible expansion slots. The keyboard has the same layout as the PC's and runs almost all IBM compatible software. A 256K version (expandable to 640K) sells for $1,999 plus the cost of the monitor and adapter ($438).

The Model 1000 competes directly with the floppy drive-based IBM PC. The $999 basic unit comes with 128K of RAM, one 360K floppy disk drive and adapters for a parallel printer and both monochrome and color/graphic displays. The system comes with DeskMate, an integrated software package that includes word processing, spreadsheet, filing, telecommunications and calendar. A hard disk is available, or, for $1,999, you can purchase the 1000 HD, which includes a 10-megabyte hard disk.

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