In an effort to break into the ranks of top computer makers, Irvine-based AST Research on Monday introduced a new product line designed to mimic the advanced features of IBM's new personal computers without actually "cloning" the IBM machines.
AST said the design of its new Premium/386 computer incorporates advanced features of IBM's so-called Micro Channel--a communications pathway utilized in IBM's Personal System/2 computers.
Unlike IBM's new models, however, the AST machine allows buyers to use hardware compatible with IBM's popular PC-AT models.
AST officials are counting on the Premium/386 to help transform the company into a leading producer of personal computers. AST, which reported sales of $206 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, entered the IBM-compatible personal computer field just 10 months ago with its Premium/286. As of last week, the company had shipped 50,000 machines.
"We intend to be a player in the systems marketplace for the long term," said Charles McHenry, a company spokesman.
IBM's introduction of its PS/2 line in April caused a scramble within the personal computer industry as companies attempted to respond to what is expected to become a new industry standard.
Although IBM reportedly designed its new computers to be difficult to copy, many computer manufacturers have been working hard to clone the IBM machines, much as IBM's original PC line was widely copied.
Like Houston-based Compaq Computer Corp., AST opted to design a computer that offered some of the advanced functions of the PS/2 models without attempting to produce carbon copies of key IBM components.
'Looks to Be Competitive'
AST unveiled the new computer before industry officials, Wall Street analysts and reporters at a press conference at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Benny Lorenzo, an analyst with the investment firm of L.F. Rothschild, Unterberg, Towbin in New York, said the AST machine "looks to be competitive" with other computers that use Intel's new ultrafast 80386 microprocessor.
Richard Shaffer, a computer industry analyst in New York, said the new computer positions AST and Houston-based Compaq Computer as the leading challengers to IBM's new line of computers, although other companies are sure to enter the fray.
"I think they (AST) are going to sell a lot of those machines," said Shaffer, editor of the Technologic Computer Letter in New York. "But everybody is shooting at the same target. It's very competitive."
AST officials said the company decided to produce a machine that duplicates many of the functions of IBM's new computers without actually copying PS/2 components.
"We didn't step into the ring with IBM," said company spokesman McHenry. "Our intention was to bring the best design into the marketplace we could."
The Premium/386 will be available in four models, priced between $4,695 and $8,995. Shipments will begin in January, the company said.