IBM is delaying the introduction of its widely awaited home computer because of a shortage of computer chips necessary for volume production, according to sources close to the company.
When the so-called "Peanut" computer is finally introduced before year's end, however, it will be able to run most of the same software that runs on the company's more expensive IBM Personal Computer. Moreover, the Peanut is expected to have a more powerful microprocessor than the PC.
The problem that IBM has had to face, says analyst Ken McKenzie of Dataquest, a consulting and marketing research firm, is that there has been a "limited chip set availability" for the semiconductors used to build its personal computer. Currently, demand exceeds capacity for many semiconductor components. Since the IBM PC and the Peanut use many of the same chips, the company has to choose how to allocate them between the two products.
As an IBM spokeman concedes, demand for the IBM PC is far outstripping the supply. Though IBM will not disclose figures, one analyst estimates it will produce and sell over half a million PCs this year.
The Peanut, on the other hand, is an unproven product in a market that IBM has never been in before, that of the individual consumer. Moreover, since the consumer market requires mass production, both the Peanut and the PC have to compete for the limited supply of chips. An IBM employe says that the company is "very conscious" of the constraints placed on the company by the volume of available chips.
Because the PC is a more expensive product with a fairly high profit margin, says McKenzie, "IBM will make a lot more profit going with the PC production for a while longer."
The problem is of particular concern because at least two suppliers report that IBM has asked them whether they are capable of supporting production of "over one million" Peanuts in 1984.
IBM has already begun limited manufacture of the Peanut, but has yet to formally confirm its existence or to announce a release date.
There is a great deal of speculation surrounding what the Peanut will look like, and sources closely involved with its production report that it will have a number of interesting features. At least one Peanut model operates with a "cordless" keyboard that uses infrared waves rather than a cable to communicate to the computer and its display screen.
Intriguingly, the Peanut is positioned to use an Intel 8188 microprocessor--a chip that, according to an Intel engineer, is "faster and better packaged" than the 8088 microprocessor that is now in the IBM PC. That would mean the Peanut, in many respects, could calculate faster and perform computer animation functions better than the PC.
When the Peanut premieres in the next three months, industry insiders expect it to be priced somewhere between $600 and $1,000, depending upon whether the machine comes with a disc drive facility.
Michele Pressman, a vice president of L.F. Rothschild, Unterberg and Towbin, reports that the reason Peanut is so named is that IBM's advertising campaign for the machine will use the Peanut characters of Charles Schulz.