AST is a brand with a legacy of amazing entrepreneurs and tech lovers. In the 1990s, AST was one of the high-fliers among PC makers. Its notebook and desktop PC lines were among the best-selling models, and it had a thriving PC add-on business. It also produced and sold its own brand of laser printers. Total sales for FY1991 were nearly $700 million.
The first AST (1980-1996), “AST Reseach Inc” was the third-largest American manufacturer of personal computers based on the industry standard microprocessing chip. In its short history, the company has grown dramatically from a small endeavor started by three friends, to a major power in the computer business, with markets throughout the world.
The 2nd AST (1999-2001) “AST Computers, LLC” was a private company founded in 1999 when Beny Alagem, founder of Packard Bell Electronics, decided to revitalize this famous brand, a top five computer vendor in the early 1990s.
As William Faulkner wrote it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past”. Now, it is time for the third AST (2012- ). It could be your story… do not hesitate to contact us!
AST Research Inc., was the third-largest American manufacturer of personal computers based on the industry standard microprocessing chip. In its short history, the company has grown dramatically from a small endeavor started by three friends, to a major power in the computer business, with markets throughout the world.
The story of AST’s genesis is a classic tale of a California computer company that was started on a shoe-string and rocketed to wealth and prominence on the strength of technological innovation. The company was founded by Thomas C. K. Yuen, who talked two friends into taking on extra jobs as computer consultants in 1979. The three pooled their spare cash–a total of $2,000–and started the company they named with the initials of the their first names. Albert C. Wong, Yuen’s old roommate from Orange Coast College, contributed the « A »; Safi U. Qureshey, who had met Yuen while working at minicomputer maker Computer Automation, Inc., contributed the « S »; and Thomas Yuen, the son of a Hong Kong textile company limousine driver, contributed the « T. »
In the spirit of equality, the three friends, all immigrants who had been trained as engineers, drew straws to determine who would take what office in the new company. Qureshey, originally from Pakistan, became president; Wong, from Hong Kong, became secretary; and Yuen took over the post of treasurer. The company was incorporated in 1980, but it was not until 1981 that the three principals of AST had an idea for their first product.
That idea was sparked by IBM’s introduction of the first personal computer, or PC. AST’s founders saw a need for a means to upgrade the computers so that such options as a larger memory could be added. Accordingly, the company designed circuit boards that could be installed in the IBM PC’s that would allow for additional functions. By the end of 1981 the tiny company had produced its first shipment of these items. Although the check AST received in payment for its first sale bounced, the next payments did not, and the company’s fortunes took off on the strength of its one good idea.
It was in 1981 that the first AST product was released. They were circuit boards employed in customizing personal computers such as an internal memory upgrade. The product had been well-received by the consumers and boost sales. The founders more than doubled-up their investment by reinvesting US$50,000 in the company to cover the ballooning demand for the company’s circuit boards. In 1983, sales for the product reached an estimated US$13 million.
As PC manufacturers improved the integration of peripheral controllers on their motherboards, AST’s original business began to dry up, and the company developed its own line of PCs, for the desktop, mobile, and server markets.
In 1992 AST became a Fortune 500 company at place 431.
AST computer’s reliability was considered close to that of quality leaders Compaq, Gateway, and IBM. AST managed to gain a decent market share of the PC market, however, it never came close to overtaking Compaq and Dell.
Two example of the fine hardware provided by AST are in the laptop field:
By mid-1992, however, fierce competition in the computer industry had started to slow AST’s growth, and the company began to consider various forms of restructuring in order to keep its costs as low as possible. In a surprising move Thomas Yuen announced in June that he would be leaving the company and would be replaced, in effect, with an ally of the last original member of the troika, Safi Qureshey. Under its sole leader, AST then set out to maintain its position in an industry undergoing widespread upheaval.
A staple of the company’s business philosophy was to keep pace with technological developments, and accordingly, in November of 1992 AST announced that it would produce a notebook computer that exploited the capabilities of Intel’s new i486SL, a chip designed for portable models. With this chip and its faster processing rate, notebook computers would have a longer battery life. AST called its entry into this segment of the PC market the Powerexec 4/25SL Colorplus.
The company’s commitment to technological innovation continued in 1993, when AST announced that it would enter the pen computing market with its shipments of the PenExec « PenTop » notebook computer, which used a cordless stylus to enter data on a screen. AST had created this product as a joint venture with its competitor Tandy’s Grid unit, and the product was manufactured by that company’s TE Electronics unit. Later that summer, AST announced that it had purchased these two parts of Tandy for $160 million, causing the company to incur a loss for that financial quarter.
Despite this temporary financial setback, AST’s position as the third-largest producer of IBM-clone PC’s appeared solid. In a brief time, the company had grown from a three-man operation to a major player in the computer industry, its growth driven by innovative products and constant attention to technological advances. As the computer industry continued to evolve, AST appeared to be well prepared to meet the continuing challenges of its market.
The failure of AST to recognize the movement towards the commoditization of the PC contributed to its downturn. AST insisted on developing and using its own components in the PC’s it produced, instead of those of specialized OEM’s. One often used saying at AST, in an attempt to dismiss competitors who did so was, « the best technology they have (i.e. Dell, Compaq, etc.) is a screwdriver. »
AST Research was acquired by Samsung on August 11, 1996
Principal Subsidiaries: AST Research Deutschland GmbH (Germany); AST Europe Ltd. (England); AST Research (Far East) Ltd. (Hong Kong); AST Research, Inc. (Canada); AST Research ANZ Pty. Ltd. (Australia); AST Research, Inc. (China); AST Research (Switzerland) S.A.; AST Research Japan (K.K.); AST Taiwan Ltd.; AST Research France S.A.R.L.; AST Research Italia S.r.l.
Cnet news, 1999: “ Former Packard Bell NEC chief executive Beny Alagem acquired an exclusive license from Samsung’s ailing AST Research and will manufacture PCs under the AST Computers brand name.
Alagem’s new company will target small and midsized businesses as well as the home market, relying heavily on e-commerce, according to a prepared statement.
« We will use the Internet to offer the most innovative, sophisticated, and effective design, manufacturing, sales, and service and support to our customer base, » Alagem said in a statement.
If the strategy is hardly novel, given the success of Dell and others, Alagem’s rapid return is more surprising. Last September, Alagem formally resigned as chief executive of Packard Bell, having earlier announced his departure amid a lengthy sales slump that cost the Sacramento, California-based company its position among America’s top five PC makers.
At the time, sources told CNET News.com that Alagem was retiring because of health problems–Alagem suffered a heart attack in September 1997–but in an interview, Alagem said he was resigning because of a fundamental clash between Packard Bell’s original executives, major shareholders NEC, and Groupe Bull.
Korean electronics giant Samsung will be an « indirect partner » in the new AST Computers, while AST Research, Samsung’s U.S. subsidiary, will have a minority stake.
AST Research, also once a leading computer maker, has seen its market share and influence drop off considerably in the past few years. Previously ranked in the top five PC vendors, the company ranked only 17th in market share at the end of 1997, according to IDC.
« We are extremely excited about the prospects for this new company under the leadership of Beny Alagem, » said AST Research chief executive Soon Taek Kim in a statement. « He was the first major executive in the industry to recognize the true potential of the personal computer in the home market. »
Source: Cnet news, 1999
AST Computers disappeared from the market in 2001.
“I really loved the AST computer company. One of my computers of the past was an AST Advantage Adventure! 575. I miss that computer more than anything. I am looking for AST stuff. Computers, servers, keyboards, mice, cards, stuff with their logo, anything that I really want, I will probably buy.”
“An AST was my first computer. The thing ran Command & Conquer like a charm. Ah, memories! »
“Wow, there was once a time in the distant past when there was a difference between PC makers? And some of them even invested in research? Amazing!”
“I miss our AST machine.”
“well you guys made awesome products back then”
“I was with AST from 1983 to 1990. What a ride.”
« I love my AST Laptop”
“There are so many memories associated with that AST machine. “