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PCjr History

(unofficial, of course ...)

Rumors of "The Peanut" started in 1983. When it was finally announced November 1st, 1983 it was named "PCjr", model number 4860. Two models were available:

Model 4860-004, featuring an Intel 8088, 64KB of memory
Model 4860-067, featuring an Intel 8088, 128KB of memory, and 360KB 5 1/4 inch diskette drive
An excerpt from the original IBM announcement letter:
"Today, IBM is announcing the IBM PCjr entry (Model 4) and enhanced (Model 67) systems. The IBM PCjr system is compact, low-cost, and designed for use in the family and educational environments for personal productivity applications, learning and entertainment."

(Source: IBM Canada, http://www.can.ibm.com/helpware/4860.html)

Also announced was the PCjr Color Monitor, a 14 inch RGB display with a 0.43 dot pitch and a 60hz refresh rate. Its model number was 4863. Unlike other computer monitors of the time, the PCjr Color Monitor included a speaker and a volume knob. Audio and video were fed from the system unit via a single cable.

Some options available at the announce were:

IBM PCjr Diskette Drive (8600005)
IBM PCjr 64KB Memory and Display Expansion (8600007)
IBM PCjr Parallel Printer Attachment (8600009)
IBM PCjr Attachable Joystick (8600010)
IBM PCjr Keyboard Cord (8600012)
IBM PCjr Cordless Keyboard Overlays (8600013)
IBM PCjr Connector for TV (8600020)
IBM PCjr Adapter Cable for Cassette (8600022)
IBM PCjr Carrying Case (8600023)
IBM PCjr Adapter Cable for Serial Devices (8600026)

(Source: IBM Canada, http://www.can.ibm.com/helpware/4860.html )

Below are scans of an IBM order form with suggested configurations from November 1983:

IBM PCjr Order Form (front) IBM PCjr Order Form (back)
IBM PCjr Order Form (front) (IBM PCjr Order Form (back)

This was going to be IBM's attempt at the home market. It started shipping in March of 1984.

In 1983 the Apple ][ was very popular in the home and educational markets and the Commodore 64 was popular at home. The Timex Sinclair and ZX81 (both essentially the same machine) were at the very low end of the market, and the IBM PC and IBM XT were in the business market. Other machines (early IBM PC clones, the Apple Lisa, the Coleco Adam, some Atari machines, etc.) were available, but not as popular as the Apple, the Commodore, and the IBMs. The Macintosh was a twinkle in somebody's eye, and Microsoft wasn't considered evil yet.

From a buyer's perspective, the Apple ][ was a good bet but it was expensive. It had business software, it had great hardware support, and they were all over the place. The Commodore 64 was barely acceptable; it had almost no expansion capability and its hardware was best suited for games, but it was cheap. The IBM machines were gaining in popularity and had good hardware support, but they were very expensive for a home user. The PCjr was going to be IBM's machine for the home market; vastly superior to a Commodore 64, good competition for an Apple ][, and having most of the virtues of an IBM PC.

The Apple ][ and the Commodore 64 would be outclassed. The PCjr's 4.77mhz Intel processor was speedy compared to the MOStek 6502 processor that powered the Apple ][ and the Commodore. The base unit came with 64KB of RAM and 64KB of ROM; the MOStek machines were limited to 64KB total addressable space. It could do 40 or 80 column graphics, making it suitable for use with a television or a dedicated RGB display. Its graphics capabilities were better than the Apple ][ and on par with the Commodore 64. (The Commodore 64 supported sprites, giving it a slight edge on many games.) The PCjr was very expandable compared to the Commodore 64, and reasonable against the Apple ][. The Apple had slots, but the PCjr had a lot of the things you'd want to add to an Apple already built in. And best of all, the PCjr would run home software and the business software that was making the IBM PC popular.

Sounds like a killer setup, right? I thought it was, which is why I placed an early order. Unfortunately the PCjr wasn't compared to the home machines it was competing against. It was competing against its bigger brother, the PC. And for the most part, that was a losing battle.

The PC had expansion slots with good vendor support. The PCjr had many options built in already, but its expansion capability was weak in comparison. Adding memory, another floppy drive, or a hard drive were not supported at first, and the machine wasn't designed to make it easy. The PCjr also wasn't entirely compatible with the PC; many pieces of software hiccup'ed on the different BIOS and the different video setup. And the cost wasn't low enough to make up for these shortcomings.

The PCjr was a failure in the market. It was too expensive to compete with home machines like the Commodore 64 and the Apple ][ series. It was too limited compared to the IBM PC, and slightly incompatible as well. (It is ironic that any name-brand IBM machine should be a failure because it wasn't "IBM compatible.") These two factors made the PCjr an undesirable machine.

A small add-on and upgrade market sprang up to support the PCjr after its announce. The PCjr was "hardware challenged", so the additional help was required. Common upgrades to the PCjr included memory expansion cards, second diskette drives, hard drives, better keyboards, mice, etc. Many of these options were specific to the PCjr because of its non-standard hardware.

IBM gave up on the PCjr in 1985. They didn't sell very many, the price was hard to swallow, and the incompatibilities with other members of the PC family had earned it a lot of bad press. The add-on and upgrade market survived for a short time afterwards. I doubt that many PCjrs are in regular service now ... after 17 years it would be a very tired piece of hardware.

Seventeen years later it is interesting to look back at all of these machines. It was an exciting time in the computer industry.

Prices on options, as reported by PCjr Magazine, February 1984 (Vol 1, Number 1)

Option Price    Comment
IBM PCjr Entry Model $669
64KB RAM with keyboard
IBM PCjr Expanded Model $1269
128KB RAM, diskette drive, and keyboard
PCjr Diskette Drive $480
Used to upgrade entry model
PCjr 64K RAM and Display expansion $140
Used to upgrade entry model & support 80 col text
PCjr Internal Modem $199
300bps, internal, based on a Novation design
PCjr Parallel Printer Attachment $99
PCjr Joystick $40
PCjr supports 2 joysticks
PCjr Keyboard Cord $20
If you hate the infrared system, you bought this.
PCjr Keyboard overlays $10
5 pack; for original chiclet keyboard
PCjr Connector for TV $30
RF modulator
PCjr Adapter Cable for IBM Color RGB Display $20
Use a standard RGB monitor with your PCjr
PCjr Cable for Cassette Recorder $30
Needed to save/restore from cassette
PCjr Adapter for Serial Devices $25
Required to use an external modem
IBM PC Compact Printer $175
Thermal printer designed for the PCjr
IBM PC Compact Printer Adapter $40
Adapter to use Compact Printer on other PCs
IBM PCjr Color Monitor ??

DOS 2.1 with BASIC $65
DOS 2.1 for diskette drives
PCjr's "Cartridge BASIC"
IBM PCjr Carry Case $60
Hard sided carry case

Lots of existing hardware could connect to a PCjr; I just didn't list it all here. For example, after plunking down the money for the parallel printer adapter, you could attach a standard IBM Graphics Printer (dot matrix, 9 pins) or any other standard parallel printer. Likewise, any serial device (mostly modems) could be connected if you had the serial adapter cable. Composite monitors worked without any adapters.

Created in October 2000, Last updated March 8th, 2013
(C)opyright Michael B. Brutman, mbbrutman at gmail.com

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