Of all the fool things you have read in this newspaper in the last few weeks, there's a good chance that the most foolish of all was a column that ran in this space last month in which I discussed the plummeting prices of personal computers.
It's not that there was anything faulty with the basic premise; as I noted then, personal computer prices have been falling faster than PTL's contributions since the beginning of spring. The foolish thing was that I proceeded to mention some of the prices available for various models of PCs. I reported breath-taking bargains like an IBM-XT compatible machine complete with monitor and 20 megabyte hard disk for about $1,500, and complete IBM-AT clones on sale for less than $2,800. As I should have foreseen then, the price plunge continued unabated after I filed that column. Those "bargain" prices I was so excited about look pretty high today.
Accordingly, I've concluded that there's no way, even in a weekly column, that I can stay abreast of this continously amazing pricing pattern. I therefore swear a solemn oath that I won't report again on the prices of particular computer models.
It's kind of a shame, in a way, because if I was going to write about prices, there'd be some interesting news -- not only about the bargain-basement clone computers but also about the hottest new thing in the PC world, the impressive new IBM "Personal System 2" line.
Just two months after the vaunted PS/2 got its high-powered sendoff from IBM, the PS/2 computers are already being heavily discounted on the street. For example, if I were still in the business of reporting on PC prices, I would tell you that the standard office version of an IBM-XT clone (that is, computer, monochrome monitor, 640,000 bytes of memory, clock/calendar, output ports, one floppy and one hard disk drive) has now fallen into the 3-digit level.
A mail order outfit called AlphaNumeric International of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., is offering a no-label "generic" system in this configuration for $995. For those who are queasy about buying mail order (and you would be in that price range), many retail stores are selling the similar systems for $1,200 or less.
If I hadn't learned my lesson once and for all about reporting on prices, I would probably be telling you that many clone makers, including A-Star and Dell Computing (the new name of PC's Limited), are now offering IBM-AT clones, complete with hard disk and the usual features, for less than $2,000. (Only 5 cents less than $2,000 right now, but this price will drop, too.)
It's worth noting, in this regard, that IBM's recent announcement that it will soon terminate production of its pre-PS/2 computers, including the PC-XT and the PC-AT, will probably make clone prices drop even further. IBM's presence in the PC, XT, and AT markets had always offered a sort of upper reference point, or hook, that clone makers could price around. Now that the hook is gone, there's nothing for the clone-makers to hang onto to, and their prices should enter free fall.
Finally, any columnist who is enough of a fool to write about computer prices could not resist the temptation to report on the surprising price-cutting among sellers of the new IBM PS/2 machines. The western retail chain Connecting Point recently advertised the new IBM Model 50 system, with monochrome monitor, for $2,900 -- roughly $900 less than IBM's suggested price for this brand new model. The newest catalogue from Jade Computer, a California mail order house, offers discounts ranging around 20 percent on the whole PS/2 line. Many other retail and mail order outlets are also discounting the new computers.
Does this mean IBM is having trouble selling the PS/2 computers? Many observers drew that conclusion -- so many that IBM felt compelled to call an unusual press briefing in New York to insist that sales are great. IBM says it shipped (not sold to users, but shipped to dealers) 250,000 of the PS/2 machines in less than two months. This is a big number, even for IBM, and suggests that PS/2 has been a market hit. And yet the discounting continues.
If you want to know how deep the discounts will get, watch the ads in this newspaper and the computer magazines. You won't read about it here, because I'm reporting on computer prices any more. They go down so fast I can't keep up.
Still, if I were going to tell you about prices, I would have to mention the bargain we saw the other day for the ...