IBM comes down to earth, selling models for home


November 09, 1992|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

A few years ago, if you'd asked me whether it was a good idea to to buy an IBM computer, I would have asked you which lottery you'd just won.

While IBM has always made fine computers, they were designed and priced for corporate buyers -- people who were spending other people's money. The premium for the IBM logo was anywhere between $500 and $3,000, depending on the horsepower under the hood.

But corporate buyers have wised up, and after years of losing market share to clone makers who produced good computers and sold them much cheaper, so has IBM.

The company's new PS/1 and PS/Value Point lines offer a variety of attractive machines at prices that are finally within easy reach of the average home and small business user. They come with a a 30-day, money-back guarantee and a well-conceived support and service system.

The new IBM line has touched off another round of price cutting by Compaq, Dell, AST and other name brand manufacturers, which is good news for buyers everywhere.

IBM's PS/Value Point computers are available in 36 different configurations. If you can't find one you like at your local retailer, you can dial up IBM's 800 number, and they'll build one to your specifications. (It's hard to believe this is IBM.)

At the low end, IBM offers a variety of systems based on its 25MHz, 386SLC processor, which squeezes a lot of performance out of a relatively inexpensive design. You can find these for as little as $1,100, depending on the size of the hard drive and the amount of memory available.

Be wary of the cheapest models, however. Many of them come with only two megabytes of memory as standard equipment. This isn't enough memory to run Microsoft Windows. Find one with four megabytes or pay an extra $100 or so to add memory before you take the computer home.

While the low-end machines will run Windows at acceptable speed with sufficient memory, you can get a faster, better-equipped computer based on the Intel 486SX processor for about $1,700, and a full-fledged, 486DX running at 33 MHz for about $2,000.

For this kind of money, you can't expect technological breakthroughs. But for most standard home and business applications, the line's time-tested, standard AT-bus design is more than adequate, and IBM has always had quick hard disk drives -- a must for Windows applications. The monitors I found on floor models at the local computer store were also somewhat sharper than the cheap screens on IBM's earlier, low-end PS/1 line but not as good as you'll find packaged with some other brands.

You can find these machines at a variety of computer stores and retail outlets. Depending on the machine and the store, the computer may be packaged with Microsoft Windows, an application program or two and a 2400-baud modem.

It pays to look around for the model that makes the most sense to you, although you probably won't find too much price variation within a given configuration, since IBM has cut its dealer margins substantially to bring the street price down.

Can you buy more horsepower for less money? Undoubtedly. ButIBM is certainly in the ballpark. The premium for an IBM logo is no longer a stiff one, and the company's service, guarantee and reputation for quality may well be worth it.


While we're on the subject of bargains, here are a few more.

If you run Microsoft Windows 3.1 and you want to look good in print, pick up a copy of Typecase II, a collection of more than 100 True Type fonts in 45 different families from SWFTE.

Considering that type foundries sold single font sets for as much as $150 apiece a few years ago, this $49.95 package is a terrific buy. If you match it with SWFTE's earlier Typecase release, you'll have an entire print shop at your disposal for a little over a hundred bucks.

These fonts use Microsoft's True Type engine to produce screen and printer output at virtually any point size. The availability of True Type under Windows 3.1 has literally revolutionized the typeface business, and if you look around, you'll find similar offerings from other companies at incredibly low prices.

Typecase II includes a variety of decorative fonts, as well as a few classics such as SWFTE's version of Garamond, and a couple of sets of icons. (Also called dingbats, these are little pictures that appear when you type characters on your keyboard).

My favorites in this whimsical set include Comic Strip, a three-dimensional font that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever read headlines in a "Superman" comic; Billboard, which graces the banner of the magazine of the same name; Ivy League, the block characters you see on sweat shirts, and an elegant Art Deco font called Astaire.

Pick up this set, and I guarantee you the PTA bulletin will never look the same. For information, contact SWFTE, P.O. Box 219, Rockland, Del. 19732.

So what do you do with all these typefaces? Well, you can produce customized Christmas or Hanukkah cards for your business with the Custom Laser Greeting Card Kit from Paper Direct.

The kit, which costs $45.95 (or $65.95 with a copy of Avery's Label Pro), includes 15 greeting cards with glossy, color covers and blank insides designed for laser printing, a set of word processing templates and clip art for Microsoft Word for Windows, Word for the Macintosh or Word Perfect for DOS or Windows. You also get a package of Desktop Colorfoil, if you want to give your greetings an embossed look. Additional card packs are $21.95.

Using the templates and the clip art, you can choose from a variety of custom card designs and messages and even personalize each card with the recipient's name, using your word processor's mail merge function. If you're adventurous, you can just buy the cards and create the design yourself.

For information, contact Paper Direct, 205 Chubb Ave., Lyndhurst, N.J. 07071.

A5 (Michael J. Himowitz is a columnist for The Sun.)

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