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IBM PS/2 The MicroChannel Path to Failure


Anybody out there remember microchannel and the PS/2?

IBM brought out the PS/2 to CRUSH the competition. LITERALLY crush them - some of the computers weighed as much as a boat anchor!After IBM so brilliantly developed the PC with its open architecture, they discovered that there was actually a big market for the gadget and eventually decided they needed a much better and more proprietary personal computer both to address shortcomings of the original PC’s bus and to try and regain control of the market.

This resulted in the PS/2 which packed a number of useful innovations (such as plug-‘n-play expansion cards) and more reliable components into some really massive boxes – I still have a Model 80 in one of my garages and the tubular steel handle alone is a massive statement of rugged reliability – unfortunately that computer is the only one I ever lost to a power surge through the phone lines, but inside those PS/2s, especially the high-end models were like little jewels.

What IBM failed to notice was that PCs were becoming so cheap that they were nearly disposable for business customers even way back then and the PS/2 was developed to fill a crying need for dependability and sophistication which simply didn’t exist.

I well remember the PS/2 because it was the first really new computer line which I covered in the press from the very beginning.

I picked up a Model 60 (Intel 80286) the week they were released and the IBM store I got it from was so impressed by all the reviews I wrote that they arranged for me to trade it in and get what was probably the very first Model 80 (Intel 80386DX) put in the hands of a regular customer. The Model 80 was released after the rest of the line probably due to a shortage of that powerful new 386 chip.

I liked the PS/2 line, they were elegant and rugged, if a bit over priced and I said so in my reviews which were mostly technical descriptions of all the innovations.

The PS/2 introduced VGA graphics, standardized the 1.44M 3.5-inch floppy drive, as well as the keyboard and mouse ports we still use today.

More important for IT departments, it introduced true plug-and-play BIOS management.

I believe I ended up writing reviews of the new PS/2 line for 10 publications in all, putting to lie the belief that science/technology writers weren’t creative.

YOU try writing 10 different reviews of the same computers for 10 publications with different audiences, and, at the same time, reporting all the same information in an unbiased way in each review.

THAT’s creative writing!

It’s so much easier when you can make things up or change the facts, but it is a lot harder to keep all the facts straight and still make each review different enough that the editors didn’t complain.

Part of it was easy – I was writing for three main markets those days, government, business, and home users (geeks). Although each wanted the facts, which set of facts were most important to each audience was different.

So, I still have that Model 80 sitting around, a classic boat anchor, except that I no longer have any boat large enough to use it even as a storm anchor.

Here is a link to one of those reviews written when I was on the staff of Newsbytes News Network, the first and only fully-independent international high-technology wire service.

http://calbears.findarticles.com/p/search?tb=art&qt=&ft=any&qn=&fn=any&qe=&fe=any&qa=john+mccormick&oi=pub&qp%5B%5D=m0NEW&sm=1&sd=1&sy=1980&em=12&en=8&ey=2007&pc=50&so=&free=0&x=29&y=13

Here is a photo from a library archive:

http://www.mannlib.cornell.edu/computing/stonecenter/history/ps2_80.cfm

Here were the original specs:

Manufacturer:International Business Machines

Year Introduced:1987

Cost (new):$10,895

Processor:Intel 80386 Speed:16 Mhz

Transistors:275,000

RAM:1 MB - 16 MB

ROM:128 KB

Storage Media3.5" Floppy Drive70 MB Hard Disk

Expansion Slots:Eight Internal Operating System:IBM PC-DOS 3.3 System Bus:32-bit

11 comments
RightPaddock
RightPaddock

well I remember my PS/2-80, and its then hi-res graphics, not to mention the token-ring network to which it was connected. It ran for 4 months at one time without a reboot - it was running OS/2 and I used it for software development as well as office work

CodeBubba
CodeBubba

Those machines were built like tanks! I had more fun writing device drivers and memory-management code for those things! I was working at Quadram Corp. at the time - wrote the Quadmaster IV utilities for the PS/2 and our own Quadboards. PC's were really fun back then. The stuff we have now is still fun, yeah ... but it's just not quite the same anymore. -CB :)

CodeBubba
CodeBubba

Sure I remember them. I was working at Quadram Corporation when they were released. I wrote Quadmaster IV which was the utility set that implemented LIM/AQA EMS memory management for the PS/2 systems as well as our Quadboards. I really liked the model 60 and 80 - they were built like tanks. If memory serves they were also among the first machines that came with an EGA display built-in, right? We got the Model 80's in our shops right around the same time as we got the Compaq Deskpro/386. Developing for the 386 was a real treat at that time. The "brain-damaged" extended memory-management scheme on the '286 was replaced by a fully implemented memory management unit on the 386 - allowing smooth transition between "real mode" and "native mode". I remember writing lots of bootstrap code and device drivers for those things. I had more fun doing that! -CB :)

rlg0209
rlg0209

Irregarless of the tone of the title the facts are that IBM never has been just about anywhere first unless there was A LOT in it for them. Recall the famous published Steve Jobs comment regarding what he said to IBM. Not only was it pretty much on point, but CONSIDER - - most techies could could not have forseen what he did with-and-for them? Hey, there is nothing wrong with IBM having always been about profits. But what's their major contribution? I vote for the sign - - - T-H-I-N-K ! Moreso today things are going south, and so we could all use (and do) far far more testing of everything we design, build and implement. APPRECIATE THE READ - this is not to offend applefreaks or anyone else. ... Bob Gox

michael_orton
michael_orton

In 1990 I was working for the tnen CEGB (Electricity Generation) at a Nuclear Power station. We had pcs before, but they were data outputs for scientific equipment that had galaxy WP hidden on them, and we mustn't call them PCs. Then cam the very expensive IBM PS/2 PCs, with dos 3.2 and soon windows 3.1. Training was negligable, so we bought out own home pCs at half the price and learned the s/w at home. And then we found that our cheap and nasty home pcs were a lot faster than the works ones and we could buy much cheaper add on goodies like modem cards, and we soon got better video cards. I still have one at home, it was saved from the skip and it still works with dos and first choice integrated office suite, which incidently can be opened/edited/saved as with the latest version 8 of Star Office (Linux and XP versions). It had a huge 80 Meg HD and dosshell made it quite usable as a system. Of course I added all manner of illegal programs at work to make it work better then IBM or Microsoft intended it to, but soon the PS/2 was outclassed by any cheap old PC of unknown make. Howver I learned at lot about hacking and anything dogey in computing from this time. Before I had only worked with mainframes IBM 7030, 360 etc.

steve
steve

Microchannel architecture was used for a long time in the RS/6000 seris of machines running AIX, and support for microchannel was only dropped from recent AIX versions. It was very reliable, if a little slow once PCI cam along.

JamesRL
JamesRL

When I joined one multinational corp as a desktop support tech, there were a few kicking around, though the standard boxes were either Compaqs or Macs. They were more problematic than the Compaqs for sure. We held a little ceremony(celebration) when the last one was replaced. James

Tech Locksmith
Tech Locksmith

Personally I never had any trouble with mine (until the lightning strike) but they were definately over-engineered and sometimes that causes more problems than just high cost. Certainly the boards were a bit on the delicate side. They were supposed to be easier to maintain in a business setting but for some reason they always reminded me of a shrunken 360. I sure wouldn't want to support an office with both PCs and PS/2s. Whatever the celebration, I bet you couldn't get the thing to burn.

fred.wagner
fred.wagner

I started in a Law Firm as IT manager back in 1991 - and one profitable attorney had a model 80, with a BIG (for then) drive - maybe 90MB, but the OS could only see 20MB at a time, so it was partitioned into C,D,E,F, and G. But our LAN was Netware, and the default first network drive was F, which couldn't work on his, because he had local drives out past that! We ran Arcnet, and there was a MCA-bus Arcnet card, and we did put serial modems on it for dial-in telecommuting. That was one heavy computer though! Built to last for decades - but it was obsolete before it was even worn in! The Microchannel reference disks were a pain to keep track of too!

The-Jetman
The-Jetman

As I recall, the biggest hassle w/ the PS/2s were those ref disks, which kept the drivers for the MCA boards you had in your system.

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