字幕列表 影片播放 列印英文字幕 Greetings and welcome to an LGR thing! And today we're headed back to the '90s with this boxy beast right here: the Monorail PC, an all-in-one desktop computer that first hit the market in November of 1996. [Windows 95 startup sound plays] Despite its bulky metal case making it look like a piece of industrial equipment, the Monorail was a low-cost desktop PC intended for first-time computer users. And for a short period in time they were the new hotness, with Monorail being the 14th leading manufacturer of desktop PCs, growing at a rate of 50% per quarter, and looking to become a $2 billion company by 2003. Unfortunately for them that didn't happen, but this machine is still a notable footnote in personal computer history. The first reason is its unprecedented design, packing a Pentium compatible motherboard, desktop-sized CD-ROM, floppy drive, and hard drive, and a color LCD monitor all into one unit. The second thing setting it apart was pricing, with the original Model 7245 first going on sale in 1996 for just $999. At the time, that was a magic number for a PC with a monitor included. So the Monorail was not only one of the cheapest complete systems around, but it was perhaps the first all-in-one desktop with a built-in LCD, predating computers like the Compaq Presario 3020 by nearly a full year. And obviously, before Apple's iMac G5 by a good eight years, that didn't arrive until 2004. Of course the Monorail is a way chonkier lil guy by comparison, but the underlying idea is the same. Adjustable LCD screen up front, optical drive bay on the side, I/O section with all your ports around back. Even its “sealed case” maintenance philosophy is very Apple-esque, with Monorail intending it to only be upgraded by the manufacturer, voiding the warranty if you opened the case yourself. Something many tech reviewers back then did not appreciate, despite Monorail's efforts to make upgrades as painless as possible. You see, Monorail Computer Corporation was dead-set on forging a new path in the personal computer business. The company was founded in 1995 by Doug Johns, formerly the senior vice president of Compaq's PC division, basing Monorail in the city of Marietta, Georgia just outside Atlanta. At the time, 30 million American households had never owned a computer, and Johns saw things like pricing, distribution, and maintenance as barriers to entry. So he invested $2 million into Monorail in 1995, with several talented folks helping co-found the company, each coming from the likes of Compaq, IBM, and Oracle. Pricing was one of the biggest initial hurdles, since the main goal was to sell a sub-$1000 computer. Reducing overhead costs was key, and this was accomplished by outsourcing practically everything. Monorail designed their PCs in-house and received orders by telephone, but all manufacturing, logistics, repairs, and financials were handled by outside partners. An original equipment manufacturer took care of building the machines, at first being Phelps Technologies out of Kansas City, Missouri. Federal Express would handle all the shipping and handling of the machines once they were built and packaged by the OEM. CompUSA was Monorail's sole retail partner, initially, so they took care of regional advertising and kept limited inventory in stock. And Suntrust Banks handled company finances, acting as Monorail's accounts receivable department. Even the machines themselves were designed around the idea of using third party options. FedEx told Monorail that the ideal dimensions for a package weighing between 15 and 25 pounds was 19”x19”x9.5” inches. Too small to fit both a monitor and a PC, which is why Monorail decided to use a dual scan laptop LCD panel integrated into the case. The rest of the components were on the lower end as well, with a 75 megahertz Pentium-class AMD CPU, 16 megabytes of RAM, a 1 gigabyte hard drive, 4x CD-ROM, and a 33.6 Kbps FAX/modem. Nothing mind-blowing, but Monorail was keen to push its planned upgrade path, offering faster processors and up to 80 megs of RAM at prices they claimed were comparable to doing it yourself. They recommended holding onto the shipping box for this, so you could simply drop off your Monorail with FedEx, they'd deliver it to the original manufacturer for upgrades, and then send it back in a few days. As for the name “Monorail,” you might be wondering: what kinda name is Monorail anyway? - ”Monorail!" - “Monorail. Monorail. Monorail.” Well, like almost everything else at the company, the name was outsourced. Another company called Name Lab was tasked with the job, and the mandate was to come up with a friendly name that avoided overused computer company words like “Cyber” and “Tek.” Apparently “Monorail” fit the bill, despite it not really having much in the way of meaning. It did at least lead to the company mascot, Monorail Mo, the Monorail system conductor. Yeah we'll get to you later, Mo. Anyway, despite their lofty ambitions and positive press, Monorail had a bit of a rough go of it at first. Their OEM, Phelps, went bankrupt so they had to move manufacturing to Mitac and SCI Systems, certain retail partners were marking up the price above $1000, critics weren't happy with the stingy warranty and upgrades, and competitors were slashing prices to get their own PCs under a grand. By 1998 Monorail decided to move away from all-in-ones and start focusing on boring white box towers aimed at business users, with machines like the NPC 5000 and 7000 series hitting shelves late that year. You know what else hit shelves in late '98? eMachines, with their sub-$500 PCs using almost the exact same specs as those from Monorail, but at prices hundreds of dollars less. The race to the bottom was finally bottoming out and Monorail wasn't fully prepared. Pulling out of the PC market in the year 2000 and rebranding as Monorail E-Solutions, briefly becoming a business decision-making company before fizzling out in 2002. But that was then and this is now, and we've got ourselves this lovely boxed example of a Monorail Model 133. This was introduced in early '97 at a price of $1,299, with upgrades to the CPU, hard drive, video RAM, and CD-ROM drive over the original Monorail. The manual and the mouse were long gone by the time I got this, but it does have the original keyboard as well as this quick setup poster that kinda reminds me of a board game somehow. And there's our friend Mo again, guiding us through the process of plugging things in, a quaint reminder of how fresh the PC experience still was to many folks in 1996. But yeah, there's really nothing to it: just plug in the keyboard, a mouse, and a power cable and you're good to go. Time to power on the Monorail! [computer powers on, whirs to life] [beep] Right, so this runs the venerable Windows 95, complete with a custom Monorail boot screen. A nice touch indeed. Takes a while to load with that old hard drive, so let's take the opportunity to admire that die-cut steel case. [clunks metal metallically] Yeah for being a budget machine, this thing is surprisingly sturdy. It's metal all the way around, weighing in at just over 17 pounds or around 8 kilograms. And yes, it does feature expansion possibilities, there's a proper 16-bit ISA slot right there above the floppy drive. As mentioned earlier, this was not intended to be user-serviceable. Though you can open it up somewhat by removing a handful of T15 Torx screws around back. This provides access to the monitor, drives, and expansion slot, but you're only gonna get so far without really tearing things down further. And regrettably, that slot is in a really cramped space up against the CPU and its fan, so there aren't many cards that'll fit without blocking the exhaust. From what I gather, Monorail only offered a network interface card for this slot, and it was a very specific model since almost nothing else fit. Once Windows finishes loading, a couple of programs start up. One is this control panel for showing system information and display options. This is where you control the LCD brightness settings, which is either bright or dim. Just either/or, nothing in between. Contrast is an entirely separate thing, controlled using these two rubber buttons below the power and volume. There's also a system tray icon that runs on startup letting you open and close the CD tray by clicking it. [CD-ROM tray opens, closes] Yep, that's... that's all that does. Seems Monorail included this after users complained the CD-ROM's eject button was cumbersome to reach by hand. Which, it is, so good call. Oh and before I disabled it, the Monorail Home Station program also used to start up with Windows. Keeping in line with the idea this might be someone's first PC, it's a collection of shortcuts to commonly-used programs, settings, tutorials, games, and website links. And hey look, there's Monorail Mo again, let's hear what he has to say! - “Monorail Central Station! It's where every Monorail user starts off.” [door closes, monorail SFX] - “Approaching Internet Central.” - “Now I know you've heard about the Internet.” - “Information Superhighway” The 'Net? Cyberspace?” - “Call it what you will, it's on the tip of everyone's tongue these days.” - “Right now over 63 million people are linked by computer” - “to the Internet! To access the Internet, all it takes is your Monorail,” - “a standard phone line and an account with an Internet Service Provider.” So yeah, Monorail Mo walks you through signing up to Mindspring dial-up and Monorail's warranty and registration, and that's about it. There are other web-focused tutorials included though, minus Mister Mo and instead it's some generic narrator dude. It's pretty great. - “Make sure nobody has picked up the phone recently,” - “as this can cause the modem connection to hang up.” - “If the modem seems to be in order and no one has picked” - “up the phone, exit Internet Explorer and start it up again.” For whatever reason, you can rewind the playback here, but like, in the way that you'd play a record in reverse. [narration plays backwards] Not entirely sure what the point of that is, but it amuses me so I approve. Anyway, as for how the Monorail PC is to actually use? Well, it's not ideal. The biggest issue is that awful 10-inch passive matrix display, with its washed-out colors, tiny viewing angles, and smeary motion. Evidently Monorail offered a TFT active matrix later on, but this original display is dreadful even for '96. Granted, it's perfectly fine for productivity and games that require little in the way of movement. You're not gonna have a problem with word processing, for example, or looking up articles within Microsoft Encarta or whatever. And uh by “whatever” I mean adult entertainment! Yeah it seems the previous owner figured out the seedier side of cyberspace pretty quickly, there's seriously like half a gig of late 90s dial-up wank bank. [clears throat] Anyway so uh, point being that this display isn't very good, and even something like Solitaire can be irritating to play with it being so easy to misplace the mouse cursor in a waft of blurry pixels. Yeah, you can enable mouse trails to alleviate this, that's what it's there for after all. But eh, cheap passive matrix displays, one piece of '90s tech I won't be yearning to use again anytime soon. At least the keyboard it comes with is half-decent, being manufactured by NMB Technologies. [keyboard keys thunking away] It's not a mechanical board or anything, but it does feature NMB sliders over rubber domes, making it feel quite similar to the Dell Quietkey keyboards. One can certainly do worse. However, you can certainly do better in almost every single way when it comes to mid-to-late 90s gaming. Again that display is total balls, and while you can hook up an external monitor to alleviate that, it's hard to justify going to the trouble when the horsepower simply isn't there. Even though mine is the upgraded 133 megahertz model, with RAM upgrades taking system memory up to 48 megs, it's still in a rather un-sweet spot in overall performance. First-person shooters from 1996 are sluggish, with Duke Nukem 3D being playable but choppy, close to what I get on a PC running a hundred megahertz 486 Overdrive. Quake is another step down from that in terms of playability, as expected. The Monorail only has an integrated Chips & Technologies SVGA graphics chipset, with the Model 133 here boasting one whole megabyte of VRAM. So it's really no surprise to get frame rates in the low twenties. Something like Hot Wheels Stunt Track Driver is playable too, something I was curious about since it relies on full screen full motion video. And it does run rather sluggishly as well, dulling down the game's pacing with every stunt happening in slow motion. And 1997 games like Pod here are truly unplayable, with chops, skips, and jumps all over the place. [choppy, skipping audio plays] This game was really made for Pentium MMX CPUs and at least two megs of video memory, which the Monorail doesn't have and it shows. Really about the best kinda game to play on this would be higher-res adventure games, like Pajama Sam here. You're still gonna lose the mouse cursor on occasion because of the LCD, but at least you can keep up with what's going on. And real-time strategy games like Age of Empires, those tend to work pretty well too and the movement is slow-paced enough on default speed settings. This kinda 2D fare really is about as far as you'd wanna take the Monorail in terms of Windows 95 games. There's also the DOS side of things to consider, which is actually not half bad with its Crystal Sound chipset offering Sound Blaster compatibility. It's an imitation of the real thing of course, notable in games like Commander Keen Goodbye Galaxy, but overall it's entirely passable. And the speakers do an okay job too, they're actually louder and less garbled than I expected. [Commander Keen plays for a bit] Heh, again, not that you'd wanna play a side-scroller very long with all the ghosting going on, and some additional issues with resolutions lower than 640x480. There's this black line running through the middle of the screen, along with non-integer scaling, plus this wonky wave effect on top of that. Not at all pleasant, but I think I've made my point. [Keen pathetically dies] That being, the Monorail PC is a downright compelling device, both to research and to go back and use, despite its cost-optimized inferiority. Parts of it are astonishingly well-made, while others are serious letdowns, and in the end I wouldn't recommend trying to track one down except as a retro curiosity. You may have noticed the RMA markings all over the box I showed earlier, and yeah, from what I've read on old user's forums it seems these were constantly breaking in one way or another. I got lucky and found this one fully working, something I'm grateful for because I've been wanting to share the Monorail experience on LGR for a long time now. And with that, I hope you've enjoyed this excursion with the Monorail.