Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 58 / MARCH 1985 / PAGE 10

Mystery Computers
I read your piece on the PCjr ["IBM's New & Improved PCjr," COMPUTE!, October 1984]. How dare you say that there will soon be computers with the processing power of the PC-XT for less than $500 and not say what they are? I was trembling on the verge of putting out $600 or $700 for an Atari 800XL system, and now I don't know what to do, and won't until your article entitled "Some Machines For Less Than $500 Which Offer More Processing Power Than A $4,000 PC-XT" appears-probably (as they say in the computer biz) sometime during the first quarter of 1985.
Norman Hartweg

Part of the answer to your question can be found in the August 1984 issue of COMPUTE! within the article entitled "Software Power! The Summer Consumer Electronics Show." That CES report included four paragraphs on the new Sinclair QL (Quantum Leap), which has been available in Britain for several months. Standard features of the Sinclair QL include: 128K of RAM (expandable to 640K); a Motorola 68008 microprocessor for the central processing unit; two built-in microdrives for mass storage; a full-size, 65-key, typewriter-style keyboard with special function keys; BASIC in ROM; an operating system in ROM that supports windowing and multitasking; built-in local area networking for up to 64 QLs; two RS-232 serial ports; TV and RGB video outputs; high-resolution color graphics; text modes up to 85 columns wide; joystick cursor control; and four bundled business programs (word processor, spreadsheet, data base manager, and graphics)-all in a three-pound package for a suggested retail price of $499.
    As you can see, the Sinclair QL arguably has more processing power than an IBM PC-XT. The PC-XT's CPU is the same chip found in the PC and PCjr: the Intel 8088, an 8/16-bit microprocessor. The Sinclair QL's 68008 is a 16/32-bit microprocessor, a version of the 68000 chip found in the Apple Macintosh. (However, the 8088 in the PC-XT is assisted by an 8087 math chip, which evens things out a little.)
    Does this mean that the Sinclair QL is a more powerful computer overall than a PC-XT? Although it has a faster processor and can be expanded to the same amount of memory, probably not. Computer power is measured in other ways as well, including the amount of software available, the compatibility of the operating system, and the type of mass storage. The QL has a few factors working against it:

1. The two built-in microdrives are not disk drives, but small endless-loop tape cartridges. Although these microdrives are reportedly as fast as some disk drives, they're not as fast as IBM. floppy drives (or, of course, the PC-XT's built-in hard disk). Also, the microdrives can store only 100K per cartridge, versus 360K for an IBM floppy and ten megabytes for the hard disk.
2. The QL uses its own operating system (QDOS), not found on other computers. Therefore, it isn't compatible with any existing software. The PC-XT is compatible with thousands of PC and MS-DOS programs.
3. For now, Sinclair plans to market the QL in the U.S. by mail order only. Unless you know somebody who already owns a QL, you won't be able to examine a machine without buying it. There also won't be any local dealers to provide personal assistance for new owners.

    Although Sinclair Research is one of the top personal computer companies in Britain and Europe, it is known in the U.S. mainly for small low-end home computers which have practically vanished from the marketplace. Sinclair has never marketed a business-oriented or high-end personal computer in the U.S.
    The low price, ironically, may discourage some people from considering the QL as a business computer, no matter how much processing power it offers. A British computer magazine journalist recently told us that most QLs are being bought in Britain for home use, not business use.
    Even if the innovative Sinclair QL is not a hit in the U.S. marketplace for these or other reasons, computers based on similar technology will soon be available at similar prices. In the first half of 1985, Atari plans to introduce both a 68000-based 16/32bit computer and a full 32-bit machine-both retailing for under $1,000 (see "The New Atari: Q & A With Sigmund Hartmann," COMPUTE!, February 1985). Commodore also hopes to release a 68000based computer based on the prototype Amiga Lorraine for $1,000 or less (see the CES report in the August 1984 COMPUTE!).
    Still, you may not need this much processing power, or you may prefer a computer which already has a large software library. In late 1984 Atari slashed the price of the 800XL you are considering to under $120 (with similar reductions for peripherals), and also was hoping to unveil a 128K RAM version of the 800XL at the Winter CES in January 1985. Commodore, too, had plans for a 128K RAM version of its popular Commodore 64. As always, there are numerous factors to consider when buying a computer, and the final decision is rarely an easy one.