Bank Holiday weekend musings, Part 2

Nearly a decade before the Y2K deadline I had a weird job for a couple of years in IBM Hursley as a Laboratory "mole". It was a job I invented out of desperation in an attempt to improve communications within the workforce. Not everything I wrote in my published "mole reports" went down terribly well1 in all quarters. And although I can honestly say they were never censored by management — something that certainly struck me as quite remarkable at the time — sometimes, for the sake of a slightly quieter life, I actually censored them myself (rather than face all the flak I felt it likely they would attract).

Here's one such previously-unpublished report...

The story of an upgrade

Here's a mole report with a difference. For a start, it's come out in half the time because I've just finished backing my manager into a corner from which he could only get out by letting me fit a one-chip processor upgrade for my PS/2 Model 70. Quite a saga, this one. Let me share the story with you.

It seems the model 70/25 is not naturally terribly upgradeable, and now that I've stuffed it full of 16Mb of memory, a LAN card and the screen adapter (only IBM could make a computer that needs a screen adapter and impose this strange standard on the world, surely?) all I want it to do is run OS/2 2.1 a wee bit faster than it does. "No problemo", as Arnie would say. Off I trot to talk to "IBM" about it.

Says the PC procurer: "Buy the IBM model 70 planar upgrade with a 486 on it."

Me: How much?

"To you, 600 smackers."

Me: Hang on! I can buy a Cyrix single chip 386-to-486 upgrade micro for 200 smackers.

"But we don't want you to spend 200 smackers on a fully-depreciated bit of kit — it's cheaper to buy a new machine."

Me: Wait! I don't want a new machine, I just want more ooomphh in my present one.

"Well, buy the IBM upgrade planar then."

Me: But that's 600 smackers! You just told me 200 was too much, and now you say 600. Surely if at 200 it's cheaper to buy a new machine, then at 600 I get three new machines?

"Well, not exactly."

Me: OK, what do I get for 600?

"Well, you get a 486 Value Point machine that will be faster than your upgraded model 70."

Me: Any catches?

"Well, you'll need a new screen, a new keyboard,.."

Me: What? You mean in addition to the system?

"Oh, yes. New international regulations mean you'll need the XGA2 adapter, your present monitor would probably blow up if you fed it on XGA2."

Me: So, let me see if I've got this right. Instead of buying an upgrade chip from Cyrix for 200 smackers, you want me to spend 600 on the IBM upgrade but you'd really rather I spent 600+ for a new machine?

"Well, no, not really. You see, we haven't got any money in the capital budget for a new machine."

Me: What about money for an upgrade? After all, we must have several hundred of these model 70s dotted around the site.

"Yes, yes, we do, and that's a bit of a problem, 'cos they're not really terribly upgradeable. But we don't have any money for the IBM upgrade, so we're a bit stuck."

Me: Well, look, does the Cyrix chip do all it's supposed to do?

"Oh, yes, very reputable firm, probably a good product. In fact, we've been thinking of getting some in to try out. It's a question of someone being the first to take the plunge, and we don't have any money in the budget, you see."

Me: I see. OK, how about if I get my manager to sign off 200 smackers on expenses for the Cyrix chip?

"Well, yes, I suppose you could do that, but what would you do if it didn't work or went wrong? We couldn't support an unofficial upgrade — it wouldn't be fair."

Me: Oh, I don't think I'll worry too much about that. One of my spies has told me these chips are specially made for Cyrix by a very reputable firm — I'm sure it will be OK.

"Oh yeah, who makes it for them?"

Me: Well, we do, actually! In our Kingston plant.


My Cyrix upgrade, once I'd fitted it, worked really rather well. But it still felt slower than my Acorn Archimedes RISC OS machine at home, though.


1  Troops tended to like them more than managers for some odd reason — go figure.