LGR – IBM PCjr Vintage Computer System Review


[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.

100 thoughts on “LGR – IBM PCjr Vintage Computer System Review

  1. Can you plz do 1983, IBM PCjr Original version of King Quest also dose anyone know where you can get all the ver`s of sierra quest line game`s like King Quest 1 had 9 vers alone ,

  2. Was Thexdar released as a SMS game on a card? I recall a very similar game and the music seemed the same as that one which also had a transforming robot…I could just look that up, but now I am being lazy…

  3. I grew up with this thing. Mine shipped with 128k RAM. Even when it was new there were about zero titles that worked with that small amount of RAM; most wanted 256k. But I did learn how to program BASIC on this, which eventually resulted in my career as a Software Engineer.

  4. The one my dad used to have had a second floppy drive above the main unit. I'm guessing it was installed via one of those "side cars" mentioned in the video. What would that be called, or is it too rare for me to be likely to find it?

  5. I'm amazed at how much memory it takes to run games on it.  As amazing as C64 games were at the time, I bet it was a bit of a letdown to those who shelled out so much for one of these things.  The games do look pretty good when they run though.  It goes to show that you should never rush to buy a product when its first released.  Wait to see how it does.

  6. We had these in our high school computer class. The big prank everyone played at least once on the poor sucker sitting in front of them was to take the IR keyboard, point it at the unsuspecting victim's machine (usually while they were looking at printouts or assignments) and then mash a bunch of keys on the keyboard and then watch the other guy look up at his monitor and see garbage all over his screen. 🙂

  7. The improved graphics modes and sound chip were nice.  The lack of full compatibility with the IBM PC was not.  Tandy took the PCJR standard and made it better in many ways while still retaining some oddball hardware decisions.  The tandy machines at least were highly software compatible with the IBM PC and retaining completely CGA register compatability in addition to the improved graphics.  Having said that I would have gone for either a Tandy 1000 with expanded memory (and added DMA controller) or one of the other dirt cheap PC clones which were nearly 100% IBM PC compatible.

  8. imagine if they lauched Lenovo PCJR instead of ibm! to me this maybe a cheapest pc for student using intel celeron from lenovo

  9. Awesome Les Claypool shirt! I've just finished reading the Primus biography not too long ago, and it's a very interesting read if you're into that sort of behind-the-scenes thing.

  10. I remember walking into Radio Shacks when they sold Tandy PCs, and always felt oohed-and-ahhed about them. It certainly seems that Tandy succeeded in what the PCjr failed to be. Although one has to wonder if even the original Macintosh 128K might have been a better computer for the money over the PCjr, as iconic as that one was.

  11. Sounds like the PCjr was a system in the unfortunate void between markets. Not cheap and easy enough for the home market of the time (Compared to Commodore, Apple or Atari), and nowhere near powerful enough for the serious office user. Happens from time to time.

    I'm surprised you didn't talk about peanut panic and how people initially thought IBM was going to monopolize the home microcomputer market. People SERIOUSLY expected this system to set the world on fire.

    Also, can that joystick be any MORE bulky? Holy crap, I can't imagine that thing being comfortable.

  12. The wireless keyboard uses infrared instead of an RF transmitter or bluetooth like later wireless keyboards do. The problem with infrared is that it requires a direct line of sight between the transmitter and the receiver so if you hold the keyboard just a little too far off to either side of the receiver, it stops working because the receiver can't talk to it anymore. People tend to like to move around when using a wireless keyboard, so the line of sight would be broken a lot. The keyboard wasn't actually broken, it just couldn't communicate with the PCjr when you moved it around too much.

  13. I had to wach twice some parts of the video just because that SimCity4 music kept distrating me! So many memories!!! jajaaajjajjaja

  14. I can never understand how the supposed marketing experts can be so wrong. People are not going to buy purposely downgraded models of anything in significant numbers. IBM would have been better off offering a bare bones PC in a smaller form factor case with a TV adapter to cut costs of the IBM AT for the home market. Leave in the ability to expand the unit and it would have sold like hot cakes.

  15. I had one of these when I was growing up. My dad got one of the RAM side cars and replaced the RAM chips in it so I had 640K memory. The real cool thing was that the cartridge games didn't have any boot sounds, so I didn't have to worry about waking up my parents when I should have been sleeping.

  16. love how this video is almost 7 years old and noone commented on the Les Claypool shirt you have on. saw him in concert a few years back and my buddy has the same shirt… giving you props sir

  17. The Boulderdash version shown is the original IBM PC version. The PCjr version had much enhanced graphics and sound, but was not distributed on the same disk as the PC version. An example of it currently lives in the MAME softlist for ibmpcjr.

  18. Tandy 1000 is NOT PCjr compatible. A PCjr needs a couple of simple hardware hacks in order to run games using T1000 graphics and sound modes.

  19. Used a PC jr to write a paper for college. Damned thing barely ran WordPerfect 4. And that keyboard, oy vey, what a piece of crap.

  20. My friend had one of these… We loved playing King's Quest on it. I remember the keyboard with the mushy keys on it.

  21. Yeah, I've had the unfortunate luck to have ever dealt with an IBM PCjr…
    Actually…the whole thing may be a mess but there are ways to improve it.
    I've actually had worse experiences when it comes to computers (Tandy machines are awesome by the way).

  22. i watched the leisure suit larry attempt earlier and noticed that the keyboard was wireless. At first I back tracked and thought maybe a cable was off screen to the left. But nope. Wireless keyboard confirmed.

  23. In my Junior year of high school (1987) I took a AP Computer science class. We learned Turbo Pascal on PC JRs. The first thing I learned was if I wrote a program and complied it on my home PC (Leading Edge Model M) the complied version did not run on the PC JR.

    A note on the wireless keyboards. In a lab environment the wired version was required because the wireless keyboard could type on other computers in the lab.

  24. Are the games for this valuable? I found a copy of Sierra's "The wizard and the Princess" for it and cannot find any copies for sale online

  25. This was what my folks got for the family computer instead of the Commodore 64. To be honest, I learned a TON on that system, and had a leg up when it came to the industry's wholesale transition to to DOS-based systems.

    That said, it was seriously a pain in the butt. I found myself often having to re-code certain PC games (and Tandy 1000 variants) to work on it properly.

  26. In 1989 the acorn archimedes had sound in lander but on today's machines theres no sound in lander do you maybe know why thanks

  27. I just wanted to say that while the PCjr ROM cartridge’s severe size limitation of only 64 kB was a problem, the presence of two cartridges slots did provide some benefits. First, their where cartridges made by third-parties that would replace the system BIOS and other firmware with more advanced versions. There was also a number of patches from various vendors on ROM cartridge such as the single "combo-cartridge", licensed and sold by PC Enterprises, to support add-on hardware, bypass certain limitations of design, and keep up with changing OS requirements. Another nice feature of PCjr ROM cartridges was that you did I not need to turn off the computer before inserting or removing a cartridge unlike other home computers of the time. Unfortunately, in some cases, to run some software the was popular with the regular IBM PC business users (like Lotus 1-2-3) you you had to buy a special PCjr version of the software as the IBM PC version would not run on the PCjr and it came on a cartridge and a floppy disk that you had use at the same time to load it. Like booting an OS from a USB stick, ROM cartridges did have uses in the home computer market but high prices limited the size and thus their usefulness vs floppy disks. They did load much quicker then floppies and if cost was not so much of an issue I could imagine even even business of the era using them in certain circumstances where quick loading, higher durability, and lower power usage compared with floppy drives and disks (at least 5 1/4” disks) was a major benefit such as a DOS laptop of the era.

  28. they used to sell a second disc drive that was as big as the CPU and you had a "double stack" Pc Jr ad it was expandable to 640K

  29. I was in school working on a degree in CompSci when it launched they were really expensive. The biggest things that hurt it was the keyboard it launched with and comparisons to the early Apple series. It did not help when the Mac launched soon after. They were difficult to write code for as it was not the same as IBM or the early clones. My first job was at a computer game company and it came up about porting games to it and it had such little market share it was a easy decision.

  30. I used one of these in the US Navy. My chief bought it for home but then brought it to the ship. I copied an operations manual from another ship using whatever word processor we had and passed it off as our own. Took forever since spell check took roughly 30 seconds to find a recommended replacement word, per word. Yikes. That and that damn IR port was constantly being blocked and since I'm a touch-typer I wouldn't notice until I looked at the screen several minutes and several paragraphs later. Good times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *