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AST Unveils a Mimic of New IBM : Premium/386 Computer Echoes PS/2's Micro Channel

October 20, 1987|DAVID OLMOS | Times Staff Writer

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 used in IBM's Personal System/2 models. Unlike IBM's new machines, however, the AST machine allows buyers to use hardware compatible with an earlier IBM model, the popular PC-AT.

Executives at AST are hoping the Premium/386 will help transform the company into a leading producer of personal computers. The firm, which reported sales of $206 million in the year ended June 30, entered the IBM-compatible personal computer field just 10 months ago with its Premium/286. As of last week, AST 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.

Working Hard on Clones

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.

AST unveiled the new computer before industry officials, Wall Street analysts and reporters at a news 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 newly introduced, high-performance computers.

Richard Shaffer, a computer industry analyst in New York, said the new computer positions AST and Compaq as the leading challengers to IBM's new line of computers, although other companies are certain 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."

The Premium/386 will be available in four models, priced between $4,695 and $8,995. Shipments will begin in January, the company said.

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