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Tandy M1000

 
Published in Personal Computer News #099

The Tandy M1000 is an affordable IBM compatible that offers you not much more for quite a bit less. Geof Wheelwright gives the Texan company's first shot at IBMability his vote.

Change Of Style

The Tandy M1000 is an affordable IBM compatible that offers you not much more for quite a bit less. Geof Wheelright gives the Texan company's first shot at IBMability his vote

The M1000, launched at the Which Computer? show, is part of a concerted effort on Tandy's part to change its image - even the old, comfortable appellation 'Model' has been dropped.

Although it's getting hard to be excited about the release of yet another IBM compatible, Tandy is hoping that the extra features added to the 1000 - along with the low price - might just make people stand up and take notice; and with its impressive specifications, (under £1,100, colour graphics, printer/joystick interfaces, 90-key keyboard, 128K RAM, good bundled software, three IBM PC compatible expansion slots, PC software compatibility), Tandy has an excellent chance of succeeding.

First Impressions

The 1000 covers less desktop than the PC or most if its compatibles, and displays little of the idiosyncratic styling of previous Tandy ranges. The price (£1,099 for the 128K, single-drive model without screen) also makes an attractive first impression, as it beats any other disk-based fully IBM compatible (with the possible exception of the Advance, which costs just under £1,300 for the dual-drive model with a built-in RS232 connector). It also has impressive graphics built into the system - which may cut-price IBMibles don't include in the base price.

The 1000 has a rugged casing, with none of the thin-skinned feel, criticised in the similarly priced Advance 86b. Perhaps the only weak point in the 1000's construction is the keyboard, which has a slight 'plastic' feel to it and less 'bounce' than I'd have liked.

The M1000 uses exactly the same keyboard as the Tandy 2000, the larger, faster MSDOS machine the company released last year. The function keys have been moved from the left-hand side of the keyboard to above the numbers along the top line of the keyboard. It also adds two keys, giving you a total of 12 function keys.

This top-side function key layout shortens the keyboard - which I've always considered somewhat unwieldy - and reduces the 'footprint' of the system. The total of seven keys over those on the standard IBM PC keyboard may cause inconsistencies in the way the 1000 handles some keyboard routines in certain programs, although I couldn't find any in the time that I used the machine.

Documentation

The system comes with a 140-page tutorial, and 18-page quick reference guide to the bundled Deskmate software, an 80-page tutorial for Deskmate, and a 78-page Basic reference guide. But anyone familiar with the IBM PC won't need to study them too hard.

In Use

The proof of an IBM compatible is in the running of IBM PC programs. With this in mind, I sat myself down with two boxes worth of my favourite IBM programs and booted up.

The first thing I noticed is that the copyright message credited 'Phoenix Compatibility Corp' with writing the BIOS (a later discussion with Microsoft in its Seattle offices revealed that Phoenix Software offers a full software service to IBM compatible manufacturers, offering them a money-back guarantee that they will provide a non-litigious IBM compatible BIOS that will run IBM software. If IBM successfully sues any manufacturer using a Phoenix-designed BIOS for ROM infringment, Phoenix will pay the costs).

After booting up good old MSDOS 2.11 and getting the familiar A> prompt, I whipped out my Wordstar disk, and challenged the Model 1000 to run it. The familiar Wordstar menu darted to the screen, and then accepted all the usual commands.

Then on to Lotus 1-2-3, which again did its bit in the way you would expect: a more ambitious test than Wordstar, as Lotus 1-2-3 uses BIOS and ROM calls to accomplish its magic. Although I didn't have a copy of Symphony, it should run, as it uses much the same kind of calls and protection schemes as 1-2-3.

Memory is expandable up to 640K (256K on the main board, and 384K on an expansion card), and thus the full power of such integrated packages should be accessible. The final software compatibility test was the infamous Microsoft Flight Simualtor, which again ran without a hitch.

Tandy promises the machines will hold most standard expansion cards for the PC. In fact, Tandy is expecting PC and other compatible users to be among the customers for the Tandy-built expansion cards the company is planning for the 1000. The one other compatibility issue worth exploring is that of the PCjr. It may not seem too important in the UK - where the IBM has not seen fit to unleash its home computer - but the Tandy 1000 is about as compatible with the PC jr as it was with the PC.

The 1000 will run a large number of the disk-based programs for the PC jr, as it has the same built-in graphics capabilities, joystick and light pen ports. Not only does this expand the potential software base of the 1000, but it also means a number of very good games and entertainment programs will now be made accessible in the UK.

Storage

Storage for the base price 1000 is provided by a 360K 5.25in floppy. A second floppy is available for an additional £249. The disks worked quietly and effectively, and the large, red 'in use' lights on the drives make them easier to see than the smaller ones on the PC and some other compatibles.

Expansion

Tandy is offering a hard disk controller for the 1000 for a mere £289, but isn't saying how much it's going to charge for the hard disk itself. Luckily, the existence of three IBM compatible expansion slots on the machine's main board means that you should be able to hook up most IBM PC hard disk system to the 1000 (although if you want an internal hard disk, you'll have to keep in mind that the 1000 uses half-height drives, and standard size 5.25in hard disk will not necessarily fit.)

As you only have three expansion slots on the 1000, you'll have to plan carefully how you use them. For example, although Tandy offers an RS232 board for £89, it probably isn't worth getting by itself. Your best bet would be a multi-function card that includes memory expansion, RS232C interface, real-time clock/calendar and RAM disk software.

This would take up only one of your three expansion slots, leaving the other two free for, say, a hard disk interface and a Hercules graphics card (you don't have to worry about where to put a parallel printer interface, colour graphics interface, joystick interface or light pen interface - they all come standard with the machine).

Software

As mentioned earlier, the BIOS and ROM for the 1000 were written in conjunction with Phoenix software - with all the compatibility guarantee which that approach offers. The operating system, MSDOS 2.11, and the Microsoft Basic included with the machine are, of course, licensed from Microsoft and offer all the regular facilities you have come to expect in both the operating system and the programming language.

I tried some IBM Basic programs and they ran quite happily under the 1000's Microsoft Basic - so you should even be able to type in IBM listings with no problem.

The applications software is perhaps the most unexpected 'plus' in the Tandy 1000 package. It's called Deskmate, and comprises: Text (a simple word processor much like the one included with the Model 100 portable computer with commands added for pagination, margin settings, headers, footers and a search/replace facility); Worksheet (a 99 x 99 row/column spreadsheet which allows most common formulae and functions, and references the cells by row and column number - R1C1 as opposed to A1 for the top left-hand corner); Filer (a limited database, mainly designed for keeping addresses or small inventory files); Telecom (a fully functioning telecommunications program will all the capabilities of the Model 100 version plus a few more); Calendar (a daily appointment calendar which automatically uses the time and date information from MSDOS to pull a 'daybook' from disk - it also has an 'alarm' function to remind you of appointments); and Mail (an electronic mail program for transferring data between linked Tandy 1000s).

All the programs are function key drive, and as far as possible the same function keys do the same thing in each, making them easy to use and to learn; so, as with the Model 100, you can begin to do something useful with the Tandy 1000 from the moment you unpack the Deskmate software.

Verdict

It you're looking for a cheap IBM compatible that will be well-supported and expandable, then the Tandy 1000 has got to figure high in your list of possibles. While it doesn't have too many hardware advantages over other compatibles, it has about the most immediately useful bundled software you're likely to see on an IBMible. Deskmate gives the 1000 an edge over machines such as the Advance, the Sanyo and even the lower-priced entry-level ACT Apricot machines.

The PCjr compatibility gives the machine an added curiosity value, as it's the first machine released this side of the Atlantic to run a large number of disk-based programs written for IBM's "home computer". The only compatibility stumbling block may be the keyboard - with its seven extra keys - but that should be circumnavigated easily with a small configuration routine on programs where it's important.

Technical Specifications

System: Tandy 1000
Price: £1,099
Processor: 8088 running at 4.77 MHz
RAM: 128K (expandable to 640K)
Screen: 80 column x 25 line
Keyboard: 90 keys including 12 function
Interface: Parallel printer port, three PC-compatible expansion slots, joystick port, light pen interface, audio output jack, monochrome and colour monitor interfaces
Operating System: MSDOS 2.11
Software Distributor: Deskmate suite, MSDOS and Microsoft GW Basic
Distributor: Tandy Corporation, Bridge St, Walsall, West Midlands WS1 1LA. 0922-648181

Geof Wheelwright