ComputerLand Model Isn't Just Another Clone

October 27, 1986|Richard O'Reilly | Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for The Times

Take a stroll into your local ComputerLand these days and you'll find IBMs, Compaqs and Apples for sale, along with a machine that bears the ComputerLand label. The ComputerLand Business Computing models, produced in South Korea, are the Hayward, Calif.-based chain's answer to the flood of low-cost IBM PC clones.

They are not--strictly speaking--clones, even though they work like the IBM products, running all the same software.

What distinguishes the ComputerLand computers from other PC clones is their internal structure. Instead of using two separate chassis and enclosure structures, like IBM and virtually all PC clones, ComputerLand models use a single chassis and enclosure that can be configured internally to mimic either the PC-XT or a PC-AT.

There are two basic ComputerLand models--the BC88, which operates like a PC-XT, and the BC286, which operates like the higher-performance PC-AT.

The BC88 functions like the PC-XT because it runs on Intel's 8088-2 microprocessor. The BC88 can have from 256 to 640 kilobytes of operating memory (RAM), comes with a battery-powered clock/calendar and can be equipped with floppy and hard disk drives as well as a tape backup unit. The computer can run at either the standard IBM PC-XT speed of 4.77 megaherz, or at 8 mhz for double the processing speed.

Circuit Board Added

For the customer who wants the performance of a PC-AT, ComputerLand creates a BC286 by installing a circuit board based on the Intel 80286-2 instead of the 8088-2 circuit board, along with from 512K to 2 megabytes of RAM. It runs at either 6 or 8 mhz, matching either version of IBM's PC-AT.

Other components of the BC286 model are a hard disk, two serial ports (versus one on the BC88) and a clock/calendar.

Instead of containing a fixed "motherboard" with expansion slots, as do the IBM products in most clones, the ComputerLand models have a modular chassis with a power supply and eight slots into which circuit cards that perform the "motherboard" function can be installed. The advantage is that you can make a new kind of computer simply by swapping circuit boards.

The BC88 with video adapter requires a minimum of three circuit cards, and the BC286 needs four.

The common keyboard for both models is patterned after the one that IBM introduced on the PC-AT, a major improvement over the original IBM PC keyboard. It has the 10 function keys in two vertical rows at the left side of the keyboard. (IBM has recently abandoned that design for what it calls an "enhanced" keyboard with 12 function keys along the top.)

One promise of ComputerLand's modular design is that it will be relatively easy to update when future technology becomes available. Undoubtedly, this will be cheaper than buying a whole new computer.

Some Might Wish to Wait

For instance, you might want to buy a BC88 now and wait to see if a board using Intel's new, most powerful microprocessor, the 80386, becomes available.

The modular concept seems so logical that one wonders why everybody doesn't do it. (In fact, Kaypro was first with a modular PC, although a couple of computer generations ago, in the 1970s, many desktop small business computers used a standard modular design that allowed circuit cards to be interchangeable.)

The suggested retail price for a BC88 with 640K of RAM, a single floppy drive and a 20-megabyte hard disk but no video card or monitor is $2,660, while that of the BC286 with 1 megabyte of RAM, two floppies and a 40-megabyte hard disk but no video card or monitor is $5,139.

You should find healthy discounts off those prices, however, as ComputerLand's margin is much larger on these machines than it is on the name-brand machinery it markets. For instance, one Los Angeles ComputerLand franchise operation is offering the BC88 for $1,875 and the BC286 for $3,977, in the configurations above.

The BC88 I tested performed admirably. I liked the keyboard touch, the floppy and hard disk drives gave me no trouble, and I liked the computer's compact size and faster speed. It is narrower and taller than an IBM model.

But what really caught my fancy was the Sysdyne monitor and enhanced graphics adapter that came with the computer.

Also a Beauty

Sysdyne is also a ComputerLand house brand, and this combination of monitor and video card, with a suggested retail price of $1,295, is a beauty. (The Los Angeles franchise operation has it on special for $873.) First of all, after five years of hating the crude look of the standard PC color graphics display, the higher resolution enhanced graphics color display is a welcome relief. It lets you have color text at a quality nearly as high as that provided by the IBM monochrome card.

What really sets the Sysdyne monitor apart, however, is its ability at the touch of a button on the front panel to change from color to amber to green display. I never realized how relaxing it could be to the eyes just to be able to change the look of what you spend so many hours looking at.

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