[theme music] This… is the IBM PCjr. It is IBM’s answer to the home computer and nobody remembers it today. [Willy Wonka (Depp)]
[laughs] “You’re really weird.” In 1981, IBM released the IBM PC which quickly became the de facto standard in business personal computers. They were popular enough that IBM got to work on home version of the PC, the PCjr. Also known by the nickname “Peanut.” At the time, the home market was dominated by machines from Apple, Commodore, and Atari, and IBM wanted to rule that market in the way that they had the business market. Because while the IBM PC was immensely popular, they were far too costly for a home user. For the PCjr, they took ideas from the other home microcomputers, like enhanced graphics and sound for games, cartridge slots, a rubber-keyed chiclet keyboard, built-in BASIC, TV output and monitor options, as well as light pen and joystick ports. It would also be cheaper than the PC, yet compatible with most of its software, and come with a built-in floppy drive, giving it a huge advantage over the other machines. However, on release in 1984, the PCjr retailed for nearly twice the cost of most of its competition, though it was still significantly less costly than the PC. And while it used MS-DOS, and was compatible with much of the PC software, it just simply wasn’t powerful enough to run many office programs and on top of that, lots of software for the PC just simply didn’t work. IBM had inadvertently made a machine which appeared to be a bad PC clone that wasn’t 100 percent compatible with its own IBM PC standard. While it had a leg up on almost every area of its competitors, it was instead compared to the IBM PC, and failed to make a dent in the home market, being too expensive and too strange compared to the PC. There are two main models of the PCjr. The 4860-004 and 4860-067. The Model 4 had 64K of RAM, and the Model 67 had 128K of RAM. Of course, there are tons of hardware configurations possible, but we will get into that soon. I got my Model 67 PCjr for about $75, shipping cost probably half of that. Although not a ton of them sold, they really aren’t in demand. The first thing you’ll notice is how small it is, especially in comparison to the 5150, and internally, most of the hardware is the same as well, but the comparisons end there. First things first, what the BALLS?! Cartridge ports on a PC. To my knowledge, this is the only PC to have them, and I can see why. They’re almost useless, holding only 64K on a cart. That would be enough for other machines, but for the PC, most things were already pushing 360K for a large program. It’s pretty cool, though, if you can find any carts for it, that is. You just plug it in, the cartridge starts instantly. I also like how there’s foam inside the cart, making it feel awesome when you insert it. There’s also a 360K floppy drive, like the PC, and it’s a half-height drive to save space, but because of the cartridge slots, there’s no place for another drive. You’d think you could just hook in an external drive to the back like you could a on PC, but then you see this mess on the back. This is the I/O area of the PCjr, such as it is. For whatever reason, IBM decided to go with these pin-based proprietary ports for everything. Even the freaking power supply isn’t standard. Yes, that’s right. The power supply is external. Again, I suppose to save space and to copy the other computers. You’ve got spots for joysticks, light pens, serial port, AV outputs, monitor speaker outputs, cassette, and even an optional keyboard. I say optional because the PCjr came with an infrared wireless keyboard. It’s powered by four AA batteries and works pretty much like an old-school remote control. In other words, it works when it wants to. This is actually the second keyboard the PCjr had, since it launched with a chiclet keyboard like you’d find on a calculator. Meant to be small and durable, but also useable with overlays to show which buttons did what for a certain program. Sure, other computers had chiclet keyboards too, but they weren’t exactly successful in America and people demanded a real keyboard quickly. Well, they got this. I suppose it is an improvement, but it’s not a clicky keyboard like the PC. It has a mushy rubber membrane underneath and it’s still missing half the keys. You have weirdly-placed arrow keys instead of a numpad, and no function keys. You just get a function switch key, much like you find on laptops still. It was made this small in order to be portable and fit in your lap while using it in a chair, but how many people had TVs big enough to see the text from that far away anyways? Even then, the infrared sensor barely works from a few feet away and only at certain angles, so it’s just stupid. You may as well just get the optional keyboard cable and be done with it. So what about the display? You could use it with a TV, but the official monitor is great. It’s a 14″ color CGA monitor and it only works with the PCjr, since it uses that strange PCjr connection. It’s kind of awesome, though, since it has a built-in speaker and volume knob, and it all hooks through the same port, similar to HDMI today. I don’t get the volume knob at all, though. You would think volume up would be this way, and volume down would be this way, but it’s the opposite. Whatever! Everything else on this thing is completely atypical, so you may as well just make the volume backwards. Internally, it is nearly the same as the PC, with an Intel 8088, 128K of RAM and 360K floppy drive. You can upgrade the RAM past 128K, but there’s no more spaces for expansion cards, like a PC. Instead, you have sidecars. These take the LEGO approach, attaching to the side of a PCjr to expand it, with things like memory or a parallel port. I guess you could theoretically keep adding these things forever, creating a kind of Great Wall of PCjr. So a few of the internals are the same, but that’s… really about it. There are several changes to specific components which make it very finicky when running some programs that would be just fine on a PC. Things like the lack of DMA and differences in rendering CGA graphics. Take Paratrooper, for example, which runs on any PC, but is totally screwed on a Junior. On top of that, you have the new PCjr graphics and sound chips. And these are great when they work, and they were essentially cloned by Tandy for the Tandy 1000 series. But while hundreds of Tandy games were created to take advantage of these enhanced features, very few actually run on a PCjr, due to subtle technical differences, even the though the capabilities are the same. Still, once you get something working on a PCjr in its enhanced mode, it really is pretty spectacular for the time, with 16-color graphics similar to EGA, and the three-voice square-tone sound generator. Here’s a few games that work specifically on the Junior. [King’s Quest theme] [Leisure Suit Larry theme] [Boulderdash theme] [synth swooshing] [various beeping and swooshing] [Thexder music and sounds] While there are a dozen or so cartridge titles, most are gonna be found on floppies. These are easy enough to copy with any other computer with a 5.25″ IBM-compatible floppy drive, but finding PCjr-specific versions of some of the games can be a hassle, especially if you’re looking to download them. Then it’s a bigger pain if you haven’t upgraded the RAM, since most games require 256 to 384K. And of course, there are great emulators for the system, like Tand-Em and DOSBox, the former being better for cartridge support. Still, it is exceptionally hard to substitute the real deal for emulation. And if you really want to emulate all these games, just emulate a Tandy machine instead, and forget the hassle of dealing with the PCjr. So is the PCjr worth buying or not? Well, that really just depends on who you are. For me, I’m pretty heavily into weird computers, Uh, the IBM PC standard, anything having to do with MS-DOS, so it was very much worth it to me. It’s not that costly. It’s pretty historic, one of IBM’s biggest failures. And it also created the PCjr standard, which became the Tandy standard that was used for many years after the PCjr was discontinued. But if you’re just kind of casually into collecting or just wanna play some MS-DOS games or try out the PCjr’s standard graphics and sound, I would say don’t even bother because it’s a pain! If you wanna do that, I would say just get a Tandy machine. They’re usually easier to find all the different parts for, they have a much wider category of games to play, and they’re just easier to work with. PCjr is just quirky and weird. If you don’t know what you’re getting into, don’t even bother.