When General Electric Co. bought RCA in 1986, one of the first RCA operations to be put on the block was the Lancaster-based New Product Div. All seven division managers had spent more than 20 years in the area. Five were natives. All wanted to stay. They figured they could use the equipment at the facility and launch a computer startup. "Between the seven of us, we already had all the skills that it takes to start and run a company," says Krall, who spent 22 years at RCA.

The partners raised $1 million and bought the division's assets in March, 1987. They got a 92,000-square-foot building, CAD/CAM systems, and some manufacturing equipment that GE tossed in from other facilities. "Essentially, what we got from GE was a jumbo jet with no passengers," says Raymond Sobieski, Cardinal's chief financial officer. The name was chosen to reflect the idea of the cardinal rule and because it wasn't high-tech mumbo jumbo. Cardinal designs and builds its machines in the U. S.

By early 1989, Cardinal was ready for complete PCs. It signed a seven-year contract to build clones for Leading Edge Products Inc., a distributor based in Westboro, Mass. But the deal backfired late that year when Leading Edge was forced into Chapter 11 and acquired by its chief creditor, Daewoo Corp.

The experience convinced Cardinal that it was better off on its own. The result is the IBM-compatible PC10, which starts at $995. Its major distinction in a sea of IBM clones: It has a one-piece case that makes it look like the Apple Macintosh Classic. It also comes with Microsoft Corp.'s Mac-like Windows 3.0 graphics software. Like the Mac, the Cardinal PC comes with its basic software installed so that buyers can simply "plug and play."