[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM PS/1 Imagination System

September 14th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

IBM PS/1 Imagination System Box Scan Photo - 1994IBM and Disney go together like peanut butter and petroleum jelly

Just before my brother left for college in the fall of 1994, my whole family went shopping for a new PC to send off to school with him. We made our way to an IBM PC factory outlet near Durham, NC. Upon walking in to the store, I remember being amazed by rows of 20-foot tall warehouse-style shelves, each one stacked with large boxes for IBM PC systems. A salesman met us at the door and apparently steered my father toward this: the IBM PS/1 Imagination system. I guess it was a good deal.

The machine itself came equipped with a 25 MHz 486-SX CPU, 4 MB of RAM, a 2400 BPS modem, and a Disney Sound Source (a sort of primitive SoundBlaster that plugged into the parallel port). Unlike earlier PS/1 models, this one shipped with MS-DOS 6 and Windows 3.1. It also came with a suite of pre-installed Disney software that my brother promptly deleted.

My dad also bought an unusual IBM-brand external ISA CD-ROM drive that required its own peripheral card. There wasn’t enough room in the PS/1 case for a CD-ROM drive and a 5.25″ floppy.

After college, my brother took this machine to work with him as a programmer, and he used it there until it was long outdated — probably until 1999 or so. It now rests safely in my collection, although the hard drive is now shot, and I think the power supply is fried too. Almost a decade ago, its rubber feet chemically decomposed into the most abysmally black and sticky tar that you can imagine. I need to restore the machine.

Just recently, I found the rather large shipping box for this computer sitting in my mom’s attic. Today, it holds miscellaneous housewares. This “scan” is actually a perspective-corrected photo of the side of that box (here is the original photo).

[ From IBM PS/1 Imagination System Box, ca. 1993]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What computer did you take with you to college?

11 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] IBM PS/1 Imagination System”

  1. Jay Says:

    I didn’t buy a new computer when I left for college; I took the white-box monster that a friend of a friend of the family had built for us. However, not a week into my freshman year, said computer bit the dust rather spectacularly (apparently the friend of a friend did not know computers as well as he claimed he did) and we hurriedly replaced it with a Compaq Best Buy special sporting a decent Pentium I (shortly after the P-II had come out) that served me for the next four years and change. I started building my own after that.

  2. cozmo Says:

    Attending the Air Force Academy requires you to ‘purchase’ the computer that all incoming freshman had to buy. Back in 1991, this was a 386 sx-16 computer with no monitor (which they supplied, and it was EGA that doubled as a monitor for the campus tv). I’m not sure what the RAM was, but I think was 640K. The cost was $1,500, and was the only real money you had to pay upfront when you arrived. If you couldn’t pay it, they would deduct a certain amount per month from your ‘salary’ until it was paid off (you actually got paid while attending college). I did bring my NLQ printer though, which I spent a lot of my high school graduation money to buy :/

    Since I was the big computer nerd of the group, I quickly replaced the 386 a year or so later with a 486 and VGA graphics. This was about the time Doom came out, and it blew our minds.

  3. Dar Says:

    I distinctly remember us having one around 89 or 90.

    But the one we had had no mouse, and was EGA or CGA graphics?

    It couldn’t have been the PCJr because that one I believe was 5.25″ drives only, while the one we had 3.5″.

    I don’t know.

  4. Jistuce Says:

    Ugh, the rubber foot-tar. I’ve had that happen to a few devices myself, and it is the nastiest substance around.

    I went to a college near home and continued living with my parents. I did, however, borrow a 486 laptop to take to school occasionally. Passive-matrix grayscale screen, Windows 3.1. In the year 2001.

    But it ran Doom, and the attached “sidecar” trackball was a pretty good pointer.

  5. Xyzzy Says:

    I spent my first two years at a community college (F95-Sp97) while living at home, so I just used the family computers my divorced parents had bought in ’94. My mother had just inherited a few thousand dollars, so she got an IBM PS/1 486 DX2/50 similar to your brother’s. It had an obnoxiously loud mechanical keyboard, CD-ROM, and 300mb hard drive.

    The one thing I remember liking a lot about it was that the soundcard’s MIDI soundfont/emulation was beyond anything I’ve heard since. Let’s just say that it made the MIDI soundtrack to then-recent computer games sound good enough that I used to load fan websites so the files would loop in the background while I surfed USENET. 🙂

    I did most of my work on the system my father got, a 486 SX-33 AT mini-tower badged a “Wizard” by the local computer store that built it. The guys that built it had cheerily loaded not just Windows 3.11 for Workgroups on it, but several dozen shareware games. I mostly just remember endless hours of listening to audio CDs (switching tracks by pushing the volume knob on the front) while writing or working on projects.

    The computer that I actually got “for college” came when I was about to transfer to university as a junior. It was a custom-built Pentium 133MHz which had been retired from a 911 call center, so it had a quiet keyboard, 4 expansion bays, Windows 95 and a Matrox video card with two VGA ports. I didn’t have two monitors to use (just the 15″ it came with) but it was exciting to know that if I did have one, I could use it. 😉

  6. SirFatty Says:

    The soundsource device was nothing more than a resister ladder d/a converter. Useful for midi sounds (built one back in the day to work with Scream Tracker)

  7. Chester Says:

    Oh, those parallel port DACs! It blew my mind to be finally able to have Amiga-level sound on my 386 (until I could afford a SoundBlaster clone and have it with simultaneous AdLib-compatible MIDI sound). What a joy!

  8. Justin Salvato Says:

    In 1995, I went to a local college so I didn’t have to take anything with me, but I was using a 1990 IBM PS/1 the first year then an IBM Aptiva 2144 after that. My mother was using the PS/1 you discuss in your post. It was running Windows 3.1 and I was constantly in AOL chat rooms on that computer when I wasn’t in the Prodigy forums on my computer.

  9. XCALIBR8 Says:

    My buddy in Wyoming had one of these, and I remember him mainly having Disney software for it. We played a lot of “DuckTales: The Quest For Gold”.

  10. Jordan Says:

    It’s so fun seeing old scans of ads for computers like these. It’s amazing to think how so many things we take for granted now were new features at the time.

  11. Alexander Says:

    I brought a Dell D830 laptop that my school provided in-house repair for the duration of the 4-year warranty. And boy did I need it! But that machine got less and less use as time went on, and I did most of my work from custom desktop builds, and a Toshiba Satellite from 2003 (both of which are still kicking).

    As for the Disney Sound Source/Covox Speech Thing, those are apparently very easy to duplicate at home. I’ve contemplated building one some time down the line.

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