At last, and a welcome relief after 1986’s Personal Computer World and Compec exhibitions, a major UK computer show that is actually quite fun to visit. The Which Computer? Show. Lots of 80386 boxes, AT-alikes, and barely portable portables. And, of course, Sir Clive Sinclair. Or, since he no longer has the right to market computers under his own name, perhaps that should read Sir Clive Cambridge Computers Ltd. If the interest shown by the astonishing number of journalists present is anything to go by 200 bodies, admittedly including some of the swarm of public relations people at the show, crammed into the press centre to hear everyone’s favourite high-tech Uncle – the Z88 (CI No 623) is a real winner. The only question seems to be whether Sir Clive can overcome the problems of quality control that have dogged him in the past. Such a question would not arise if Amstrad Plc had taken the rights to the Z88, then code-named Pandora, when it bought Sinclair Computers last year. But it didn’t, and after the Z88’s reception Alan Sugar must be kicking himself. Not too hard mind, for, despite a knocking front-page story – Amstrad sales claims outrage corporates – in this week’s issue of PC Business World, the Amstrad stand was packed to overflowing all day with the flysheets detailing the new DMP 4000 printer and V21/V23 modem being snapped up by the punters. With the notable exception of IBM, whose Unix-based 6150 – the RT PC – is starting to attract attention according to Tudor Business Systems of Broom, Warwickshire and Computer Factors Ltd of Coventry, all of Amstrad’s rivals in the UK Personal Computer market are at Which? Tandon Computer, which is virtually alone in having no new product, is attracting attention with a competition which requires entrants to predict the top five selling PCs and PC software packages in the UK this time next year. However, instead of waiting until next year, Tandon is announcing the results this Friday with the help of a panel of some prescient computer industry experts. The predictions should provide us all with a giggle at 1988’s show when we realise how wide of the mark they have been. One prediction, oft-repeated in the past, that has proved wide of the mark is that portables will take a major share of the personal computer market. And, if the large number of launches at Which? on Tuesday, including the Z88, is anything to go by, the prediction will come true after all. Compaq Computer Corp unveiled the hefty Portable III (CI No 623); Olivetti showed off the UKP1,295, 11 lbs, 512K RAM, LCD screen, 80C88-based M15 with dual 720K, 3.5 floppy drives – 5.25 drives may be attached externally – SMT International, UK offices in Putney, launched the Goupil Club, an UKP1,895 15 lbs, 768K RAM, supertwist LCD screen, 80C88-based dual 720K, 3.5 floppy machine; Panasonic Industrial has the FH 200, a 2 lbs 8086 machine without drives, but with slots for EPROMs, which comes with a printer for around UKP1,000 and with a Forth-based software development tool for UKP2,000; and Wang UK and Husky Computers Ltd are giving their recently announced machines their first public showing. The 14.5 lbs, MS-DOS Wang Lap-top includes a 10Mb hard disk and built-in printer while the A5-sized, 26oz, Hawk, which runs under CP/M, has an 80 character by 24 line backlit LCD screen and 352K RAM, rechargeable 35-hour battery and V24 and RS-232 interfaces. Other portables on display include the Flyer series from Computer Frontier of Stevenage, and the Bondwell range, the potential success of which recently encouraged Spectrum Group Plc to sell its profit-making photographic business in order to concentrate on its loss-making PC distribution. Zenith Data Systems has cut the price of its Internal Revenue Service contract winning portable, the Z-171, to UKP976 for a limited period but the real focus of the company’s stand is on the 80386-based Z-386 (CI No 623). It was expected that the machine, which features 1Mb RAM, one 1.2Mb floppy drive, six slots – three 32-bit, two 16-bit and one 8-bit – and a 40Mb Winchester, would
have MS-DOS 5.0, the all singing, all dancing multi-tasking operating system. But no. Microsoft is not allowing anyone to demonstate or even announce the product until IBM announces it, presumably on a new 80286 box, but, apparently, Microsoft is now starting to get annoyed with IBM’s tardiness. Other 386s on show are the ALR machine distributed in the UK by London-based EuroMicro Ltd, single user machines from Compaq and Apricot Computers, new multi-user machines from Comart Computers Ltd and LSI, and recently announced multi-user machines from Apricot Computers, Jarogate and LSI’s expected new parent Technology For Business Plc’s Rair Ltd. The EuroMicro 386 has 512K 32-bit RAM, 1.2Mb floppy drive, 40Mb hard disk, eight slots – two 32-bit, four 16-bit and two 8-bit – and costs UKP4,945. The Comart CP3042T and CP3082T run under Digital Research’s Concurrent DOS-XM. The 3042 comes with 40Mb hard disk, 2Mb RAM, tape streamer, eight serial and two parallel ports while the 3082T has 80Mb hard disk, 12 serial and three parallel ports. The LSI Octopus 386 has a 80287 floating point co-processor, up to 8Mb RAM, 170Mb hard disk, tape streamer, floppy drive and 24 serial ports. It runs Concurrent DOS, BOS and Unix System V. LSI also introduced an Octopus 286 with a co-processor, up to 4Mb RAM, 170Mb hard disk, tape streamer and 16 serial ports. Amongst the new ATs at Which? are the PC40 from Commodore Business Machines – switchable 6/10MHz 80286-based at UKP2247 – the FX-600 from Panasonic, which will not be officially launched until June, and the Ness Industries Ltd PC-286. At UKP1,399 with switchable 6/8/10MHz processor, 1.2Mb floppy drive, 20Mb hard disk, mono graphics adaptor and display, the PC-286 is the best value 286 box we saw. Which Computer? Show is on at the NEC, Birmingham until Friday.