I.B.M. Offers Desk Unit For Faster Computing

By David E. Sanger
The New York Times

January 22, 1986

In its first attack on the market for engineering and scientific computers, I.B.M. yesterday introduced a line of personal computers that uses an unusual high-speed processing technology that the industry is just beginning to embrace.

The long-awaited computer from the International Business Machines Corporation is intended for use by a host of professionals who have complained that the company's work stations are inadequate for heavy-duty computing tasks, such as automobile and airplane design, architecture and electronics.

Industry experts say the RT Personal computer catapults I.B.M. into the computer-aided-design and computer-aided-manufacturing markets, a lucrative segment now dominated by Sun Microsystems, the Digital Equipment Corporation and Apollo Computer Inc., among others.

What I.B.M. did not introduce yesterday, to the industry's surprise, was a lap-top portable computer. But industry sources said they were certain that the introduction would take place very soon, perhaps by the end of the month.

A New Line of Machines

For I.B.M., the introduction of the RT Personal Computer marks the first of a new category of desktop machines for the company: powerful, 32-bit machines that are based on the UNIX operating system first developed by the American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation. The ''RT'' in the new machine's name stands for RISC technology, also known as a reduced-instruction set computer.

RISC machines use a far simpler set of operating commands that greatly speed a computer's performance, especially for calculation-intensive operations such as those performed by scientists. The computer comes with an optional co-processor that makes it partly compatible with the rest of the personal computer line, essentially by putting two separate computers under one cover.

I.B.M. also said that the entry was intended to serve as the ''scholar's work station'' that a number of universities, working in secrecy with the company, have raced to adapt for campus use. Much of the initial software work for the universities was done at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, in a laboratory underwritten by a $20 million I.B.M. grant. Prototypes of the computer had been tested there since last year.

Academics on several leading computer-engineering campuses hailed the introduction, saying that the tremendous power of the machine could solve some of their key problems as they try to set up computing networks at their institutions. But at a base price of $11,000, some said the machine was probably too expensive for widespread use on their campuses.

Cheaper Models Expected

William Y. Arms, vice president for computing and information services at Carnegie-Mellon, said, ''It is not inexpensive enough for us to deploy broadly, but I think you have to view it as the first member of a new family, and we will see cheaper models.''

A decade ago, the market that I.B.M. has picked as the target for the new RT Personal Computer - engineers, scientists and other technical users -was an inconsequential niche of the data processing market. But the growth of personal computers and renewed emphasis on design automation has created what analysts say is a huge demand for desktop machines that can execute more than a million instructions per second, store capacious amounts of data and display information on very-high-resolution machines.

At a presentation in New York yesterday, I.B.M. officials showed how the machine could be used to design automobiles, lay out electronic circuits or run a small publishing system.

''It is a solid, competitive product,'' said Frank Gens, an analyst at the International Data Corporation in Framingham, Mass. ''But in terms of price performance, it doesn't quite match the Sun,'' he added, referring to Sun Microsystems, whose highly acclaimed machines have made it a leader in computer-aided design and manufacturing.

The RISC architecture limits the microprocessor's instruction set to basic tasks, such as loading, adding and comparing numbers, and eliminates more complex functions, which are performed by a combination of simple functions when needed. Digital Equipment and the Hewlett-Packard Company also have major RISC projects under way.

Copyright 1986 The New York Times Company