AST Research, Inc., later doing business as AST Computer, was a personal computer manufacturer, founded in Irvine, California, in 1980 by Albert Wong, Safi Qureshey and Thomas Yuen (the name comes from the initials of their first names: Albert Safi Thomas). In the 1980s, AST designed add-on expansion cards, and toward the 1990s evolved into a major personal computer manufacturer. AST was acquired by Samsung Electronics in 1997, but was forced to close in 1999 due to a series of losses.
|Founded||1980 in Irvine, California, United States|
|Headquarters||Irvine, California, United States|
|Parent||Samsung Electronics (1997–1999)|
AST's original business was the manufacture and marketing of a broad range of microcomputer expansion cards, later focusing on higher-density replacements for the standard I/O cards in the IBM PC. A typical AST multifunction card of the mid-1980s would have an RS-232 serial port, a parallel printer port, a battery-backed clock/calendar (the original IBM PC did not have one), a game port, and 384 KB of DRAM (added to the 256 KB on the motherboard to reach the full complement of 640 KB) - marketed under the product name 'SixPakPlus'. A similar expansion card was produced for the 8-bit Apple II, named the AST Multi I/O, which offered a serial and parallel interface, plus a battery-backed clock/calendar.
In 1987, AST produced a pair of expansions cards for the Apple IIGS computer: The RamStakPlus, a dual RAM/ROM memory expansion card; and the AST Vision Plus, a real-time video digitizer card. The latter card was eventually sold to Silicon & Software and licensed and sold through Virtual Realities (and later LRO and then Alltech Electronics). AST Research also produced for the Macintosh line the Mac286, a pair of NuBus cards containing an Intel 80286 and RAM, allowing a Macintosh to run MS-DOS side by side with its existing operating system. These cards were announced in March 1987 alongside Apple's Macintosh II line. The product line was eventually sold to Orange Micro, which developed the concept further.
As PC manufacturers improved the integration of peripheral controllers on their motherboards, AST's original business began to shrink, 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 gained a decent share of the PC market, but never came close to overtaking Compaq and Dell. During 1992–1995, AST owned the largest market share in China with Legend (now Lenovo) as the largest local reseller of AST computer.
In 1993, Radio Shack sold its computer manufacturing division to AST, and in 1994 they reached a deal to sell AST computers in Radio Shack stores. A year later, the electronics chain started selling IBM-brand computers instead.
AST's fortunes shrunk due to the strategy of offering premium models in an increasingly competitive personal computer market, while Compaq Computer Corporation and other top-tier manufacturers slashed prices to go head-to-head with the cheapest clones. 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 PCs it produced, instead of those of specialized OEMs. One often used saying at AST, in an attempt to dismiss such competitors, was "the best technology they have is a screwdriver."
In 1990, AST Research Inc. announced its entrance into the Japanese computer market with a clone of a very popular Japanese computer. Japan's Kawasaki Steel Corp. and Tomcat Computer Corp. were involved in the development of AST Research Inc.’s new computer, Dual SX-16.
By the mid-1990s, AST had severe problems in the highly competitive PC market. Revenues for 1996 were $2.104 billion, down from 1995 revenues of $2.348 billion.
AST Research was acquired by Samsung in 1997. At the time, Samsung owned 46 percent of AST and had offer to buy remaining common shares. Prior to this move, Samsung had already owned a substantial stake and provided considerable financial support to keep AST going. By December, the number of employees was down to 1,900. In 1999, Samsung was forced to close the California-based computer maker after a string of losses and a mass defection of research talent. Samsung had invested one billion US dollars in the company. The AST name was sold to Packard Bell. AST continued to provide support for Tandy and AST computers until December 31, 2001.
In January 1999, the name and intellectual property were acquired by a new company named AST Computers, LLC.
AST Computers disappeared from the market in 2001.
As of early 2011, the dormant AST trademark appears to be being relaunched by a new, independent company named DATA ACCESS based in France.