Epson Apex 100: The $899 Turbo XT PC from 1989


Greetings and welcome to an LGR computer thing! And this time we’ve got another system that’s practically brand new, despite being several decades old. This is the Apex 100 by Seiko Epson, a Turbo XT clone that sold for $899 upon its introduction in the summer of 1989. At least, that was the price for this base
model with dual 360K floppy disk drives. There was also an $1,199 version called the Apex 100/20, which came with a single floppy drive and a 20 megabyte hard disk. And of course, the monitor cost extra, with
this 13” RGB color monitor priced at $299, or there was a 12” monochrome monitor available
for half that. And go figure, Epson constantly offered bundles
featuring their printers, cuz it’s Epson and printing is kinda their thing. But yeah, this particular system is here courtesy
of an LGR viewer named Nick, who generously donated this since it’d been sitting in
storage for years, basically unused. These Apex machines were Epson’s line of
low-cost personal computers meant for distribution through mass retail channels, starting in 1987. Places like Montgomery Ward, Silo, Macy’s,
Brendle’s, Kaufmann’s, Boscov’s. Really, anywhere that wanted to sell a cheap IBM PC-compatible, but didn’t have their own in-house brand. What’s interesting to me is that the Apex
series was intentionally made worse by Epson, in terms of build quality and specifications,
so as not to compete with their existing Equity PCs. Those had been around since 1985, but Epson
only sold Equitys through specialized computer dealers, you couldn’t buy them in a department
store. Yet Epson still wanted a piece of that wider
retail action, so they introduced the Apex series with specs that were always a step
down from the Equity lineup. For instance, the base model Apex only had
an 8MHz CPU and 512 kilobytes of RAM, while the base model Equity came with a 10MHz CPU
and 640K RAM. And whenever new Equity models came out, the
old ones became the new Apex models. So really, this 1989 Apex 100 we have here
is internally the same as the Equity 1+ from 1987. Heh, yeah this strategy of corporately-mandated
suckage is fascinating. Where a company purposely designs one of its
products to be worse in order to make their other products look better, then names it
“Apex” contrary to its position at the bottom of the totem pole. That’s not to say I think the Apex 100 is
a piece of crap though, not at all! I actually really like this thing, both technically
and visually. Sure, it was slow even by 1989’s standards,
but nowadays that slowness provides some desirable characteristics in a retro PC-compatible. Its 10 megahertz 8088-1 CPU was the de-facto
choice on Turbo XT clones for a while, and naturally there’s a spot for adding an 8087
math coprocessor alongside it. Conventional memory is maxed out on-board
at 640K, which is fortunate since actually reaching that particular part of the mainboard
is an absolute pain. It also has a battery for both real time clock
and CMOS settings, one that isn’t soldered in so it can be replaced without much hassle. And like the IBM XT, it features five 8-bit
expansion slots, with only one of them populated from the factory with the graphics card, more
on that in a sec. And overall I find the design of the case
hugely appealing, with its dual cream-colored 5.25” disk drives, and this grilled section
along the bottom that adds a bit of height to the overall system. This also hides a couple of amusing little
doors on the lower-right. The left one here is where you’ll find the
turbo switch, swapping between 4.77 and 9.54 megahertz. And these DIP switches control the keyboard
and monitor types, number of disk drives, as well as RAM and coprocessor settings. No need to open up the system and look for
switches inside like most XT clones. And to the right of that is where you plug
in the keyboard, reminiscent of Radio Shack’s Tandy 1000 machines. But check out this little detail, this is
so cool. The Apex 100 keyboard connector is designed
in such a way that it only fits in one direction, guiding the cord through this opening on the
right so you can close the door behind it. Now that’s clean. Not only that, but the back of the connector
has a flip-out handle, so you can easily remove the keyboard cable from its little cradle. Ahh, I love it! The thoughtful design continues on the keyboard
itself, which is an 84-key board with a layout mimicking the IBM AT Model F instead of the XT Model F. It doesn’t feature the capacitive buckling springs of its IBM counterparts, but it does use these white SMK inverse cross mount switches using metal leaf contacts, with a tactile bump that’s satisfying in its own right. [keyboard keys clacking] I also quite like
the way these angle adjustment legs work, where you press down on the back half and
pull upwards on the front, loudly clicking them into place. [leg loudly latches] Another useful design
element is found on the right hand side of the Apex 100 itself, with these two rubber
pillars. These exist so that you can orient the case
vertically, standing it up on its side with those rubber parts acting as feet, eliminating
the need for a third party standing kit. Around back is quite nice as well, with molded
plastic around everything, reducing sharp edges, and even plastic brackets covering
the unused expansion slots. As for ports there’s not a whole lot but
it has what you need, like standard serial and parallel ports below the power supply
here. What is impressive though is the graphics
card, featuring a 9-pin video port and a 15-pin gameport for joysticks, making for an unusual
combo. Then there’s this toggle switch here, labeled
color and mono. Epson called this their MGA card, or Multi-Graphics
Adapter, being that it supports both RGB color and TTL monochrome monitors, outputting CGA
and Hercules graphics respectively. Speaking of which, the RGB monitor itself
is pretty awesome in its own right, with a clean design matching the rest of the system and an etched screen surface designed to reduce glare. And around back you get some adjustment pots, as well as this switch for color and monochrome, similar to the graphics card. Wait what? This is a color monitor, why’s it have a
mono switch? Well, lemme power everything on and I’ll
show you! [power switches on, fans whir] [disk drives grumble] [floppy disk loading] Right, so! Being that there’s no hard drive you do
have to insert an MS-DOS boot disk on startup, in this case an Epson OEM version of 3.20
that I’ve reproduced myself since the original disks are unfortunately long gone. But anyway, about that monitor switch! Here’s what it does. [switch switches] Heh, yeah it straight up
makes everything green, mimicking the look of monitors like the IBM 5151. Except that it’s still CGA running underneath! So you can run a game with 4-color graphics,
like Planet X3 here, but it’ll look like it’s running in monochrome on a green phosphor
display, kind of. Really it just highlights the brightest colors
like cyan and white. Yeah this feature is a definite first for
me, though it was also featured on monitors from Magnavox and Commodore at one point. And while its eye strain reduction uses are
limited, I still think the option is awesome without needing additional software or a real monochrome display. The latter is still required though if you
want to take advantage of true Hercules mode using the card’s toggle switch around back. However, something I didn’t know this thing
could do until The 8-Bit Guy recommended I try it out is 16-color Plantronics mode. Yeah, turns out the Epson MGA card features
Plantronics Colorplus compatibility too, providing a 16-color option for the few programs and
games that support it. Fantastic. On top of all this graphical goodness, the
display itself is captivating to look at, with bright phosphors and notable scanlines. It almost looks artificially sharpened, with
80 column text clearly legible, while still showing faint artifacting giving everything
a glow that oozes retro appeal. I don’t have any dot pitch specs for this
thing, but the look of it is close to the Tandy CM-11 in my opinion. As far as how the machine itself runs though,
well it’s a 10 megahertz Turbo XT setup, so it’s faster than a stock XT but doesn’t
hold a candle to a 286. TopBench gives it a score of 7 at full speed
and 4 when switched down for PC-XT compatibility, putting it in the same vicinity as systems
multiple years older than when it came out in 1989. Once again though, the Apex was intentionally designed by Epson to use older, lower-specced components. It was even lower-end than other discount
brands like Packard Bell, which by then were selling 286 AT compatibles with EGA graphics
and 60 meg hard disks. But at least the Apex 100 has its 10 megahertz
mode, which gives it a bit of a leg up with games like Lemmings that would otherwise be
appallingly slow to play. And it has all the RAM you need on a system
of this speed too, so playing games that require an active mouse driver or some other kind
of TSR is doable. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you
can also run games like Atarisoft’s Defender that require a true 4.77 megahertz CPU. If you leave it at full speed you die in like
half a second, so the ability to crank it down to XT speed is exactly what you need
for games like this. Oh and I also wanna mention the sound, or
lack thereof. It does have a built-in PC speaker, a nicely-sized cone speaker at that, but for whatever reason it’s incredibly quiet. [Defender gameplay, barely audible] [game over beeping] And in some games you can hardly hear anything at all it’s so quiet, like in the case of the RealSound effects in World Class Leaderboard. And this is another speed-sensitive situation, where if you leave it on XT speed gameplay is downright painful, but setting it to full
speed is… well, it’s still not quick to load in the artwork, but by comparison this
is blazing fast. Much as I enjoy watching each tree being drawn, I’d rather not wait 30 something seconds every time the view changes so I’m glad
the faster speed is here. Prince of Persia works nicely too, as you’d
expect I suppose. I’ve got no reason to try this except that
I felt like it, and I’m still impressed by these animations in CGA all these years
later. Can you believe this game is thirty years
old now? Good grief. And finally, I had to give a racing game a
shot, and Accolade’s Test Drive is always a fine choice on a slightly faster 8088 like
this. I also took it as an excuse to try out the
joystick port, and yep. Works fine, plugging in right beneath the
monitor! [chuckles] Ah the 80s! Joysticks plugging into the graphics card? Sure why not, we’ve only got so many expansion
slots, better make the most of ‘em. And that’s the Epson Apex 100! A neat little machine that, at its core, really
is just another Turbo XT. They’re not the most collectible pieces
of vintage computing hardware, especially compared to Epson’s earlier systems. And these days you can assemble your own Turbo XT using more modern components, like I did with my NuXT build. But regardless, the Apex 100 appeals to me
for its use of surprisingly thoughtful design elements while also being built on the cheap. The way the keyboard plugs in behind a tiny
door amuses me, I enjoy those odd options on the graphics card and the monitor itself,
and I love the clean look of this whole setup. I don’t know what else to say, I just really
dig the Apex despite its manufactured mediocrity! And I hope that you enjoyed seeing it in action here on LGR. [“Midnight Call” by Magnus Ringblom plays] If you liked what you saw here then do check out my NuXT build video for another side of the Turbo XT coin. Or stick around for new stuff, I’m always
posting computery things on the channel, both new and old. And as always, thank you for watching LGR!

100 thoughts on “Epson Apex 100: The $899 Turbo XT PC from 1989

  1. Truely amazes me that tech like this still exists in such amazing minty fresh condition. And so glad it gets given to LGR who will invariably give the device justice with the highest levels of care and attention!

  2. Jesus, Clint. This episode was a rollercoaster for me, you've actually shown 3 of the first games I've EVER played as a kid. Prince of Persia, Test Drive, and World Class Leader Board are the titles (along with Grand Prix Circuit) that my first PC came with and I still remember the feelings of excitation while launching those gems (not without the help) plus the exact spot and time of the day it happened. Thank you for reminding me!

  3. Now this is something I didn't know Seiko Epson corp sold!! I'm more familiar with their inkjet printers and most recently models such as the WorkForce Pro WF-R5690DTWF, C-869R, C-20590 and WF-C579R… Mostly because I have to work with them pretty frequently doing initializations, basic webpage setup and technical support for them and a large number of laser machines from the likes of SHARP, RICOH and Konica Minolta / DEVELOP. Sadly no Xerox machines because hardly anyone puts a request in for them now. They had some rather decent old greyscale laser machines back in the day…

  4. Back in those old days, I just could read and dream about it.
    Such a dream pc back then.

    Oh, anyone remember what is " TSR"? 😉

  5. I had one of these back when they were current. I had the set with the printer and my Apex had the hard drive which was nice to have. I hadn't heard of Epson before this, so I was surprised later to learn they specialized in printers. It served my family well, though that was after a neighbor of ours who worked with computers set up a nice little menu system for us. I was too young and/or uninterested to learn enough commands. It was apparent it was underpowered once we started to try gaming on it, but it played a mean game of SimCity, among others. Nice to see the machine featured here.

  6. This is one of the best old school computer channels on the YT platform. If you don't like this kind of hobby, why the hell come here to give dislike? why?

  7. here I go again watching this video on my relatively modern and very fast Intel Core i7 7700 Kaby Lake looking forward to having an original old PC running MS-DOS 6.22

  8. Hello, please help to find an old game. I played it as a child in ca. 1996-1998 on a compact laptop by Sony. I was very small back then and may remember not 100% correct. It was like a pac-man, but with toilets. Yes, with toilets, that tried to suck you, so you have to escape.
    Please help to find this game!

  9. 10:20
    I remember playing this version of Test Drive as a very young kid. I have no idea what kind of computer I was playing on but I remember obeying all laws and getting a score of zero.

  10. I have a Sysdyne! Monitor that has 3 modes, RGB, Amber and Emerald… it even still works! Unfortunately, my oldest system had the CGA card stripped before I got it, so I've never seen it in action, so to speak.

  11. It's weird cause I started playing Lemmings 1 again (I am an Amiga 1000 former owner) on UAE 3 days ago. I also remember playing with mono/colour button on the monitor which I had with it.

  12. I'm always interested in technology and just anything really that was released the year I was born.
    Thank you for another really interesting video.

  13. Amstrad did much the same in the UK. My parents bought us an Amstrad CPC 512 in '87 from the now defunct PC shop Lasky's in Hounslow. It had twin 5.25 drives, one of which we swapped out for a 20mb HDD (which we later found was a 4mb partitioned to 20mb, which we re partitioned to 40mb). It had CGA monitor, MS DOS and the GEM CPM desktop system. It also came with several games, Dambusters WW2 Bomber game, Wrestling, PSI-5 Trading company (and Elite clone) and Bruce Lee. It also came with a dot matrix printer. I used it for games and word processing for several years before upgrading to a 286 circa 1989….

  14. I once had a Magnavox EGA monitor with a colour/mono switch on the front. It also had a switch for selecting the colour of the display in mono mode.

  15. … I just watched the beginning 3 times, because I couldn't wrap my head around your signature hand greeting immediately followed by you carrying a box into the frame

  16. LGR, ¿do you have the Apex GW-Basic 3.2 manual? is Not available in .pdf on the web, there are other Basic manuals from Tandy, etc… but Not as good as the Epson, specially im interested in the Telephone Ring demo program somewhere on the manual, near the end, 3/4 maybe.

  17. I used to have one of these. My first computer was an Atari 800 and it was replaced with this Epson computer in around 1990-91.

  18. Ugh. Horizontal/Vertical machines from the era where you would get random hard drive read errors if you switched orientations. Such a faux pas.

  19. That plug wire and enclosure fit are my favorite parts of the entire computer…if only other companies could've followed suit that level of style and cleanness in cord management.

  20. Could you do a video on kid pix?
    I loved that game. I played it pretty much every time we went to computer class in elementary school.

  21. Strange how the high end model was called Equity, while the common mainstream model was called Apex. They should have switched the names around so the definition of the words lined up with the product class.

  22. Okay, now ya done it… Do not tease with the 8088 MPH demo. I wanna see this box run the whole demo in another video, please! 🙂

  23. The first computer I had in 2001 had a monitor that didn't work so I was given an old vga monitor (as in, it didn't support anything higher than 640×480) that had a button on its side, that switched between color, "cga" (the magenta palette) and "monochrome" which was green. It was such a cool little thing <3

  24. Weirdly enough, when you called out that Packard Bell being better specced etc, the Packard Bell computer case looks exactly like my Wang PC/260. Of course, a Google search doesn't reveal anything so maybe it was just a 'generic' picture in the magazine…

  25. Holy shit I've been trying to figure out what computer my parents had in the early 90s that I'd mess around with as a kid and it was this one. When I saw the printer I had a feeling that it might have been related. I guess they bought the bundle back then lol. I always thought the way the keyboard felt when you typed was really interesting. Felt nothing like the HP Pavilion my parents got in 1998.

  26. Ayyy! This was great, Clint! I was born in the summer of 1989 as was this machine. Super fun/weird to see hardware that someone could have bought at the time of my birth. I always hated that "almost white"- look we had on everything when I was a kid but I've grown to love the color. So much nostalgia <3.

  27. WOW! I haven't seen World Class Leaderboard in forever. My favourite part was that you could print out your scoresheet at the end using a dot-matrix printer.

  28. That monochrome green tho lul
    Reminds me of the good ol' gameboy green display if it were backlit.
    That loading on the golf game was like wow… imagine rdr2 loading each and every trees like that ha!
    Interesting model indeed… 👌🏻 thx Clint!

  29. Finally back to the 1980s. I know LGR was born in that decade thus missed much of it like I missed the 1960s born late that decade. So his "time" were the 1990s and 2000s. Thus I understand that's the time span most of his videos will (and had) have items from. So I really appreciate he covered the late 80s in this episode. Thank you! 🙂

  30. I THINK they used to sell these at Walmart back in the day. I know Walmart used to carry those wretched Emerson computers, but I want to say I remember seeing some of these Epsons there, too, when I was a little kid.

  31. That green monochrome mode on the monitor is very familiar to me. When I was at school in the UK in the 1990s, a large proportion of the monitors for the Acorn Archimedes computers had a button which enabled a similar green mode. I always used to wonder what the point of it was, and why it didn't have buttons to turn the screen colours other than green. I expect it probably annoyed the teachers a bit. One of the first things you ended up learning about the computers was how to stop the screen from being all weird and green!

  32. My Aunt had a Epson Equity! had the matching KB monitor and dot-matrix printer. Its been long gone for years. Hers had a HD card in it and I think it was a 20MB seagate. it had one 3.5inch 720K floppy drive. the monitor was like yours regarding the text..but I don't recall the monochrome switch on either the monitor or the video card. I do remember that it was DOS 3.0 and always counted up to 640KB of RAM. I think it was a EGA video card. Recall playing rescue rangers,Math blaster on it. ah memories

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