Eagle PC-2. (small business computer) (evaluation) David H. Ahl.
The Eagle PC is a versatile and powerful small business computer system. As its name implies, it is an IBM PC compatible system, but it is much more. Bundles with it are MS-DOS and CP/M-86 as well as word processing and spreadsheet software.
The Eagle PC is available in four configurations ranging from a 64K unbundled system to a top-of-the-line version with a 10Mb hard disk. We tested the PC-2, the configuration we judge will be the choice of most users. It has 128k of RAM, two floppy disk drives, monochrome monitor, MS-DOS, CP/M-86, EagleWriter, and EagleCalc. List price is $3495.
Physically, the system consists of a system unit with low profile floppy disk drives, detachable keyboard, and monitor. The documentation and software are contained in one three-inch thick, three-ring binder. The hardware components are finished in a handsome light and dark gray color scheme.
Setup an dinstallation are straight-forward and simple. The coiled cable on the keyboard plugs into the bak of the system unit. The power cord and video cable from the monitor also plug into the system unit, and that's it. When it is n ot in use, the keyboard slides into a keyboard encasement under the system unit, thus giving it a space-saving footprint. Detachable Keyboard
The keyboard is a sculpted unit which attaches to the system unit with a coiled cable which has a reach of four feet. Thus it is suitable for desktop or lap operation.
The keyboard contains 105 full-stroke keys. The standard alphanumeric keys and numeric keypad are white; the remaining keys are dark gray.
The keys are arranged in a more-or-less standard pattern--certainly more standard than the IBM PC. A nice touch is the separate shift lock (acts like a standard typewriter) and alpha lock (shifts only letters--very handy for word processing).
Special keys include the expected ESCAPE, CONTROL, ALT, INSERT, DELETE, BREAK, and HOME. In addition, there are keys marked ENHANCE and HELP (implemented in some keys (arranged in a logical pattern), and 24 programmable function keys. Unfortunately, the left cursor and backspace key are one and the same, i.e., it is a destructive left cursor. We prefer separate keys.
However, 24 functions keys are far more than are found on most computers. Many of these asre defined in the various applications software packages, while others may be defined by the user.
Functions keys F1 to F14 have labels marked on the keys. These are the correct designations for Eagle software packages (EagleWriter and EagleCalc), but do not correspond to IBM PC functions. The GWBasic software package contains a program, IBMKEYS, that redefines the keys to duplicate those on an IBM PC.
The keyboard has an excellent feel and keybounce is nonexistent. All keys repeat after being held down for about one second. There is no audible keyclick on repeated characters, so you must watch the screen to get the desired number of repeates. System Unit and Disk Drives The system unit houses the cpu, memory, I/O circuitry, disk drives, and expansion slots. The mpu employed is a 16-bit 8088 running at 4.7 MHz. Its performance on our benchmark was about as expected falling between the TI Professional and the IBM PC (see Table 1).
The PC-2 h as 128, of RAM, expandable to 512K. With the exception of a bootup procedure, nothing is contained in ROM, hence, applications software packages tend to eat up large chunks of memory. With GWBasic, for example, user memory is restricted to 51,674 bytes; with EagleCalc, you get 39K. This, of course, is no different from other m achines in this category, but quite different from low end and notebook computers which have Basic and sometimes other software contained in ROM.
Two low profile, double-sided, double-density floppy disk drives each with a capacity of 320K are built into the PC-2. We like the quarter-rotation handles which raise and lower the drive spindles and hold the disk in the drive; we find them more reliable then the filmsy doors on the IBM PC (and many other computers). In operation, the drives are exceptionally quiet.
Indeed, the system itself is noiseless (no noisy fan like the TI Professional, although we understand that TI dealers will replace the airplane turbine in arlier units with a new, quiet fan). To see if overheating might be a problem, we operated the Eagle in a room heated to 90 degrees and left it running for 24 hours with no ill effects. After 24 hours, the system unit was quite warm, but it still was executing our program flawlessly.
The PC-2 system unit has connectors for the keyboard, monitor (D-9 jack for Eagle monitor and RCA jack for others), two RS-232 serial devices, and a parallel printer. The printer output is to a female Centronics-type connector, the same as on most printers. We had some difficulty locating a cable with a male Centronics connector on both ends, but as this convention is employed by more computer manufacturers (Epson, Fujitsu, etc.), we expect cables to be more readily available.
The system unit also has three slots for IBM-type add-on boards. In the PC-2, two of these slots are already occupied, so only one is truly available. Output Display
The PC-1 and PC-2 configurations both include a 12" gren monochrome monitor. We like the power cord that plugs into the system unit allowing the entire system to be turned off and on with just one switch. Text resolution is 80 characters by 25 lines. Characters are formed within an 11 x 14 pixel matrix and are very legible.
The specifications for the monitor state that it has 720 x 352 pixel graphics resolution. However, this is moot, as graphics are not supported by the monochrome video board. The only graphics possible on the monochrome monitor are those formed with the 50 graphics characters and the LOCATE command in Basic.
The built-in character set is quite rich and provides 222 printing characters; these are, of course, the same ones found on the IBM PC. They include the expected ASCII letters, numbers and symbols, 50 graphics characters, 37 foreign letters, 17 Greek letters, math symbols, and several other strange characters.
A medium-resolution color board (320 x 200 pixels) is available for use with any good quality RGB color monitor. This board allows the use of the graphics commands in GWBasic as well as the running of machine language programs that employ color graphics. EagleCalc
EagleCalc is an exceptionally versatile spreadsheet package. In the default mode, EagleCalc displays eight 8-character columns and 20 rows. Three lines at the bottom of the screen show remaining memory, cursor coordinates and contents of current field, command prompts, help prompts, and the current line being entered.
The spreadsheet has maximum dimensions of 64 columns by 255 rows. Of course, with only 39K available, you will not be able to build a 64 by 255 spreadsheet; a matrix of about 4000 cells is about the largest possible unless you add more memory.
Individual column widths can be varied to accommodate various labels. However, we did not like the mandatory one-column blank betweel cells. This prohibits the use of long titles that carry across several columns on the top of a spreadsheet.
A wonderful feature of EagleCalc is the built-in help mode. When you hit the HELP key, a tutorial replaces the spreadsheet on the screen. In total, there are eight screens of material that practically comprise a condensed manual on EagleCalc.
EagleCalc has all the expected spreadsheet functions including NPV (net present value), and AVG (average), IF (Boolean test), and LOOKUP (searches for a value within a range of cells).
Eight function keys are implemented in EagleCalc for such operations as displaying the directory of files, loading and saving files, printing, formatting, and clearing.
The 80-page EagleCalc manual is easy to understand. This, coupled with two sample programs on the master disk, should make learing the system a breeze for the first-time user. In most cases, the commands are identical with VisiCalc, so many of the books and routines written for VisiCalc should be usable with EagleCalc as well. EagleWriter
Like EagleCalc, the EagleWriter disk boots up with a menu that allows selecton of EagleWriter, disk backup, assignment of system parameters, or entry of time and date.
In general, you will go directly to the program, however, you will have to assign system parameters at least once for the type of printer you have connected. This is a longish 23-step procedure, but it is well documented in the User's Guide. EagleWriter recognize four major types of printers:
* Non-precision printers
* Diablo 1610, NEC 5515
* Qume Sprint 5, C. Itoh, Diablo 630
* NEC 5510
If you have another type of printer, you must select the option that most closely resembles it. User configuration is not possible.
A review of EagleWriter could be a feature review in itself, so we will present just some of the highlights.
EagleWriter normally operates in an overstrike mode, although the INS (insert) key will open up space from the cursor to the bottom of the screen for the insertion of letters, words, or entire paragraphs. Thus, in some sense, EagleWriter can be operated in overstrike or insert mode, whichever you prefer. Reformatting a line or page is carried out practically instantaneously --a pleasant change from some other word processing programs.
EagleWriter has two operating modes: edit and command. Edit mode is used for most functions (creating and editing documents, saving and reading files, and printing), while command mode is used only for saving and reading portions of files.
EagleWriter has three kinds of hyphens: hard (always in the same place), firm (in words at the end of the line), and soft (in words at the end of a page). You can tell EagleWriter how you want to treat both firm and soft hyphens.
EagleWriter has character, word, and line deletion. Insertion can be done by typing items to be inserted or by using the "cut and paste" (block move) facility).
There is a search and replace facility which can be used in a discretionary or automatic way. In fact, search and replace can even include files on the disk if you wish. Searching is exceptionally powerful and can be exact, literal, or make use of wildcards in several ways.
Output formatting and printing have a wide range of possibilities and offer as much flexibility as we have seen on any word processing package.
Thirteen function keys are implemented in EagleWriter, and many of the other special keys (HELP, DELETE, etc.) are also used. Since all of these keys are labeled, no special overlays or keytop labels are necessary.
EagleWriter comes with a thick, 211-page manual which looks a bit forbidding, but, with its extensive illustrations and sample documents on disk, is quite comprehensible. GWBasic
Microsoft GWBasic is a $24 option with the Eagle PC. This is the standard 8088 Basic interpreter that runs under MS-DOS. It has all the bells and whistles with the exception of the graphics commands which require the optional color board.
According to the documentation, the disk comes with a User's Guide, Basic Reference Manual and Basic Reference Book. We're not sure of the difference between these latter two documents as we got an early version which included only one 102-page manual titled, "Language Feature Extensions to Standard Basic-86 Version 5.0." As we remarked in our review of the Computer Devices DOT, this is poorly organized manual that suffers from the lack of a table of contents and an index. We presume that production shipments will include the specified documentations. IBM PC Compatibility
Although the Eagle PC is promoted and sold as an IBM PC compatible computer, nowhere in the documentation does it mention how to run IBM PC software. As it turns out, perhaps it is not necessary.
All you do is pop in an IBM PC disk, power up the Eagle, and you are off and running. It is that easy!
Of course, not every PC disk will run. We tried to run the disk from PC Disk Magazine. No go, except for one program. We quickly traced the reason to the fact that we did not have Basic on the Eagle. Once we loaded GWBasic we had no further problems. Naturally, you will not be able to run color graphics programs or games if you do not have the color board and a color monitor, but that should not be any surprise.
We were pleased with this compatibility, but just a teensy bit of documentation would have been nice. Eagle dealers have a booklet, "Eagle Compatible Product Catalog," that lists the IBM and third pary hardware and software that works on the Eagle. Unfortunately, this is not available to end users. Documentation
As mentioned earlier, all the manuals for the Eagle PC are contained in one large three-ring binder. The manuals include a 78-page User's Guide, manuals on EagleCale and EagleWriter, a 50-page MS-DOS User's Guide, a 34-page CP/M-86 User's Guide, a glossary of terms, and a short section with customer support and warranty information.
All the manuals are written specifically for the Eagle PC, a pleasant change from the mildly customized applications software manuals furnished with so many other machines. Illustrations are included where necessary, and we found all the manuals to be clear and thorough. Warranty and Support
The Eagle PC comes with the usual 90-day limited warranty on parts and labor, plus a one-year warranty on parts only.
Service on the hardware is available from either the selling dealer, Bell & Howell (a third party maintenance organization with 175 service locations), or directly from Eagle in Los Gatos.
Software support is also available from your local dealer, from regional distributors, or directly from the Eagle Customer Service Organization. You can hope you don't need to use this last option. We tried calling the distributor that shipped us the computer and they gave us a toll-free number to call at Eagle. It produced only a recorded announcement that is was inoperative.
When then called long distance--several times--and left messages. Finally, one was returned by a charming young lady who asked if we really had a problem. We said, "Yes, why do you think we called?" She said, "Okay, then I'll have a customer service person call you back." None ever did.
When testing a computer, we like to act as a normal customer, but after a month we gave up, revealed our true identity, and got some fast response to our problems.
We understand that things have improved today, so we tried the customer service line just before putting the finishing touches on this article and were rewarded with a return call in about two hours. We judge that quite acceptable. Pricing
As mentioned above, the Eable PC-2 with 128K, two disk drives, monochrome monitor, EagleWriter, EagleCale, MS-DOS, and CP/M lists for $3495. Here are the prices of several add-ons and options: 64K Memory Kit $135 8087 Co-processor 495 10M Hard disk unit 2495 Color board 295 GWBasic 245 In Summary
The Eagle PC is a well-designed computer with plenty of power and good versatility in a space-efficient package. The keyboard uses a standard layout, has a numeric keypad, and an unexpected 24 functions keys. The disk drives are very quiet and, when the drives are not in operation, the system is totally noiseless.
We think that the monochrome board and monitor should permit the use of graphics, and we had a few small bones to pick with the documentation. Our experience with the customer support group wasn't wonderful, but that seems to have been rectified. All in all, these are small nits against a machine that is excellent in nearly every regard.
Considering the IBM compatibility, bundled software including both MS-DOS and CP/M-86, expansion slots; and compact design, we find ourselves in agreement with Eagle, when they say,
"The Eagle PC is simply, a better PC." It sure is.
Products: Eagle PC-2 (computer)