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Portables Hardware

A History of Portable Computing 281

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the changing-definitions-of-portability dept.
PCM2 writes "MobilePC magazine is running an exhaustive history of portable computers, going all the way from the IBM Portable 5100 to last year's OQO. Do you remember the three-pound Epson HX-20 from 1982 that boasted a 50-hour battery life? Or that the first color portable came from Commodore? Interesting stuff." They have the compaq luggable I learned BASIC on in middle school in the 80s. 28lbs of power baby!
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A History of Portable Computing

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  • by karvind (833059) <karvind@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:21PM (#12024693) Journal
    I would include them as well in the list.
    • Programmable calculators, especially the gems created by HP in its calculator hey-day, do below on the list. The HP-65 [hpmuseum.org], introduced in 1974, was billed as the "smallest programmable computer ever" It had mass storage (magnetic cards), assembly language, a stack, registers, everything you need for basic computing.

      Early programmable calculators were surprisingly powerful for their day and you could learn all the basics of computing from them. (Plus on ones like the HP-67 and HP-25 you could write a progr
  • by AndroidCat (229562) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:22PM (#12024705) Homepage
    I think the military definition of portable is if two people can move it.
  • Do you remember the three-pound Epson HX-20 from 1982 that boasted
    That's why in the 80' people had more muscles! I bet that Arnold began his training with a laptop.
  • No TRS-80's? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by glen604 (750214) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:24PM (#12024736)
    What about the Model 100/102/200? Those were some pretty good computers, and iirc sold quite well.

    or at least it was my first laptop, and I have many fond memories of downloading games off of a bbs on a 300bps modem
    • I was going to ask about these, too. Decent little word processing machines that ran on AA batteries.
    • From page 2 of the article:
      "...The success of products like the HX-20 and the TRS-80 Model 100, which followed in 1983, was phenomenal. Epson sold a quarter million HX-20s, and the laptop moniker stuck in many circles, even after the industry had long since abandoned this limited form factor..."
    • Re:No TRS-80's? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by pilgrim23 (716938) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:52PM (#12025130)
      I STILL use my Model 100! The battery life is- "all week and no problem", it is feather weight, and the keyboard is full sized. If you are working on a book, magazine article, or other text based work and do not need the distraction of email (now THAT is a distraction!), web, or other nonsense, it is just the ticket. The serial port is slow, but works great for transfering data to a modern machine. The current "do it all in a cell phone" aproach to computing seems to have missed one area: a simple, easy to use, light, text entry tool.
    • Another vote for the Tandy Model-100 family. A highly functional portable computer that ran forever on batteries. My teacher had it when I was a kid in school and got to use it. The thing was perfect.

      http://oldcomputers.net/trs100.html

      • Another vote for the Tandy Model-100 family. A highly functional portable computer that ran forever on batteries. My teacher had it when I was a kid in school and got to use it. The thing was perfect.

        I acquired the NEC equivalent of one of those some years ago - it's one of the reasons my programming to this day is a bit ... efficient. At least I don't remove all whitespace for speed of execution any more!

        Bastard evil thing went and died recently, and now just displays flickering, corrupted rubbish on th
    • yeah, I was surprised to see no TRS-80s. That was the machine I learned BASIC on, and, when I booted up my model100 a couple years ago, I was surprised to see that it was using Microsoft's BASIC. I didn't realize they were around that long.

      A couple years back, I remember reading, here on /., about a group who ported Apache to the TRS-80 and were actually hosting their website off of it. The main advantage of running a site off a TRS-80 is that it is almost instant-on, and, since it runs off AA batteries, i
  • OQO? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cvdwl (642180) <cvdwl someplace around yahoo> on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:24PM (#12024737)
    Can someone review one of these? After all the hype, they've sort-of disappeared now that they're out there. Is it world-shaking and under produced (Apple), or kludged, unreliable and annoying?

    Extra points if you post from the OQO.

  • Remember? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Ohreally_factor (593551) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:24PM (#12024741) Journal
    Anyone remember the good old UNIVAC PDA?

    Back then, it was considered clever to quip, "Is that a UNIVAC in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"
  • Nerds? (Score:5, Funny)

    by AdityaG (842691) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:24PM (#12024743) Homepage
    Pioneering nerds may not have had Starbucks tables to occupy with their PowerBooks for hours on end

    Nerds? Starbucks and powerbooks don't remind me of nerds. They remind me of metrosexuals.
  • by tabkey12 (851759) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:24PM (#12024744) Homepage
    Look here at the PowerBook 100 [mobilepcmag.com].

    I think every laptop I have ever owned is basically a very similar variant of that simple design! Way to go Apple.

  • Complete? (Score:2, Informative)

    by chiapetofborg (726868)
    They make no mention of modern laptops and their current capapbilities. They mention Mac Laptops, and jump straight into the newfangled devices that aren't laptops (a la tablet PCs...), but they make no mention of current "desktop replacements."
    • Re:Complete? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vasqzr (619165)
      Yep, no mention of Titanium Powerbooks. Those things set the world on fire, and companies still try to imitate them with no success.
  • Ahhh, Compaq. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mopslik (688435) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:25PM (#12024755)

    They have the compaq luggable I learned BASIC on in middle school in the 80s.

    I remember being a wee kid, and doing some simple programming on an 80s Compaq behemoth as well. I had a floppy disk (5 1/4", of course) that held roughly 20-30 games on it. Nothing like launching up Frogger and staring at the miniscule 6"x6" green-monochrome screen for hours. I'm surprised I don't wear glasses today.

    Anyhow, imagine my surprise when I took a job a few years back, and noticed that we are using said Compaq as a status/communications monitor in one of our test machines.

    Good times.

  • And i quote from the article, "ThinkPads were red hot, but IBM was still a corporate brand for corporate users. College kids and aspiring hackers wanted portables, too: They bought the Apple PowerBook. Apple had just come off one of the worst beatings in computer history: The Newton had bombed miserably, and the 16-pound Macintosh Portable (see "The Worst Notebooks of All Time") was a laughingstock of computing."

    Considering that the Newton wasn't released until 1993, it seems difficult to believe that it preceded the Powerbook 100. Mobile PC needs an editor who can fact check.
    • What's more, they also say that Apple stole the GUI and the mouse from Xerox, which is completely false. Anyone who'd done the slightest fact-checking beyond "well my buddy Bob on the interweb told me" wouldn't make mistakes like these. I also don't remember the Portable being a laughingstock. It was big and heavy, yes, but so were ALL the portable machines of that time.

      This guy is their Editor-in-Chief too.
    • Not only that, but the Newton didn't really "bomb". They sold over 100,000 units in the first year - far more units than Apple IIs or Macs in their first years of introduction.

      The reason why so many people think it "bombed" was because they spent too long a time and too much money on R&D, they set their expectations too high, and later when the Palm Pilot entered the market, they looked bad by comparison. Before the Pilot came out, they were the best selling PDA by far.

    • I talked my Boss into buying a Mac Portable for the group.

      You heard the sound of a dozen Jaws hitting the floor when I was asked what I was doing with the machine, I replied "taking notes in FrameMaker". That I could carry a machine into a conference room, turn it on, and run FrameMaker in 1989-1990 was simply unbelievable.
  • by ites (600337)
    I used to work on an Olivetti "portable", which was a clone of the IBM portable PC. It weighed about 15kg, and had a small yellow/black screen. The best thing about it was that closed, it was quite good as a seat.

    I carried that machine home and back to work for a year or so, before I finally convinced my boss to pay for a PC for me at home.

    Great times. Now I use a Sony X505, which is just about the lightest notebook every made.
  • I remember a mate of mine used to take his Amiga 600 [emugaming.com] with him everywhere in a rucksack. Pretty cool little machine that...
    • by Ohreally_factor (593551) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:57PM (#12025212) Journal
      I remember a mate of mine used to take his Amiga 600 with him everywhere in a rucksack. Pretty cool little machine that...

      that what? Do we have to wait for Timothy's dupe to get this cliff hanger resolved? Stay tuned for the next exciting dupe on "As the Slash Dots"?
      • I guess you're joking, but he meant "Pretty cool little machine, that..." where the "that" refers to the computer. A very English turn of phrase.
        • Who knew that something as small and as insignificant looking as the comma could carry such a heavy semantic load? =)

          I did indeed know what he meant. I also know a good set up when I see it.

          A note to the anti-grammar Nazi Nazis: This is why you get so much shit!
  • I *loved* IBM's butterfly keyboard. I didn't understand ( being a Mac guy, and not actually owning a computer but instead using the ones at my university ) why it quietly died.

    I had thought it was ahead of its time, now I know it was an anemic machine, just with a brilliant keyboard.

    What a waste.
    • I *loved* IBM's butterfly keyboard

      I hated it, since I a bunch of them in my department I was respsonsible for. Two main reasons: (1) The butterfly mechanism was somewhat fragile, and (2) any PCMCIA peripherals that stuck out from the slot (network adapaters in particular) couldn't stick up even the slightest bit from the slot, or the butterfly action and the PCMCIA device interfered.

  • by druske (550305) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:30PM (#12024833)
    Here's an 1802 based handheld computer [ringcomps.co.uk] from 25 years ago, complete with specs and schematics.
    • That has to be one of the worst color schemes I have ever seen on a website. Light grey on white, not so bad. Light grey on blue, again not horrible. But alternating white and blue backgrounds as the image tiles? It physically hurt my eyes to try reading those pages.
  • Battery Life :-) (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Usquebaugh (230216) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:32PM (#12024847)
    Where can I buy a notebook with > 8 hr battery life?

    I'd give up the CD/DVD, the color screen, the ghz proc. I'd give up most things to get a decent battery life. Now the ideal would be about 40hrs.

    Any ideas?

  • by AndroidCat (229562) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:33PM (#12024864) Homepage
    Sticklers agree: The 5100 represents the first production portable computer. So does the Smithsonian, where a prototype now resides.
    Sticklers do not agree. For some weird and stupid reason probably related to marketing, the HP9830 [decodesystems.com] (1974) was classified as a "programable calculator". Balls. It was a 16 bit computer and had BASIC. (There was a thermal printer that attached to the top.) Guts and stuff [classiccmp.org]
    • Yes. I believe I encountered that machine as well. It definitely was programmable. Smaller than the IBM 5100 (Yes, I've used this one too.) And I do remember it having a thermal printer.

      The IBM 5100 Basic had a very peculiar bug. For one of loop statements (a 'for' loop, i believe), once you typed in the statement, you could not edit it in any way. If you did, the statement would not work correctly. This included editing any comments at the end of the line. Very aggrivating, this was. You'ld type in a

  • where they claim someone is a visionary for "dreaming up" something completely obvious. *I* want a portable nuclear generator for my house. Im a visionary!

    In 1968, Xerox PARC's Alan Kay came up with a bold idea: Saw those legs off the table and shrink the computer down to more manageable chunks that could be stitched together and tucked under your arm. His Dynabook was originally envisioned as a computer for children. Inspired by the design of a regular hardback book, the Dynabook featured a flat-panel

    • What is obvious today wasn't obvious in 1968, when there weren't even desktop computers. The computer was the entire desk.

      However, it's good to see that you have evolved so much beyond the humans of 1968 that you're much smarter than they were, so that such ideas are obvious to you.
      • Thanks for the terrible reply. What im saying is this: Im sure someone in the 60s said, "god damnit I wish I could take my phone anywhere I go". But THAT person isn't credited as a cell phone visionary, the same way this person shouldn't be credited with being a computer visionary. How can you DESIGN something the technology doesnt exist for? Answer: You can't.
        • Well, I think you're changing the argument from what was or should have been obvious back in 1968 to something else entirely.

          Fine, I'll go with it. First of all, you assume that all Alan Kay did was mention in an off-hand conversation, "Wouldn't it be cool to have a computer that was like a book." The truth of the matter is that he did considerable work on it, although it ultimately didn't succeed. However, others that came after, that did succeed, where based on the ideas he had developed.

          Which goes to y
  • Batteries Anyone? (Score:2, Interesting)

    Somewhat off topic, but, a neat side bar to the story would be "how long can you compute with out being plugged in".

    Seems that batteries havnt really improved much in the last 20 yrs. The only thing that seems to have greatly improved is power-consumption with better, low power chip designs.

    I wonder how long an old Apple ][e could run if it was re-designed with low power components? (not that I'd want to actually use it!) Could I run it for a couple days on flash-light batteries?

    Anyone have any info on h
    • I'd imagine a modern PDA gives a good analogy for what you want to try - low-speed, low-power processor, limited RAM, limited screen but long battery life.
  • by torpor (458) <jayvNO@SPAMsynth.net> on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:35PM (#12024888) Homepage Journal
    .. I remember those hot, sweaty days, at the back of the typing class, me and the fold-up newly-donated Osborne sitting together, watching the sweaty backs of all the schoolgirls in class adjusting their bra-straps .. hooh boy .. I was 15, the only guy in the class of 30, and I selected the class because of the Osbourne straight up, without even thinking, ignoring the other 'none of my friends are gonna take it' factor completely, honest. My first day of class, when I realized it was just me and pretty much every hot chick in my year, *plus* the Osbourne sitting there for me to hack on, every afternoon ..

    I was only allowed to touch 'the wordprocessor' because I'd already mastered the drills and homekeys of every other typewriter in the class (Typing A, Senior High School) .. highest accuracy, highest rate, document writing, etc. The Osbourne was 'special', because it wasn't really typewriter-standard keys, or so the teacher said, bless her .. but it wasn't long until it was just me n' Wordstar, totally horny for each other, watching sweet teenage girls of my year doing their typing drills on crappy old hard-core typewriters, in the desert sun, paper, ink and sweat. In uniform.

    Good times, good times ...

    I'd love to have an Osborne around, but alas the oldest computer I ever owned that I still have is a lowly Oric-1, whose treasured spot in a box in the attic at home is right next to the "Local Boy Wins in State Typing Championship" newspaper article, cheesy photo and all ..
  • Commodore SX-64 (Score:2, Interesting)

    Yep, I have two of these, actually. One I just purchased. They both are in 100% working order, though the first one has a home-made wood and aluminum handle on it, and I'm still looking for another keyboard cable. They both have JiffyDOS, and system reset buttons (to accompany the serial reset buttons). Great little machines. Was thinking about converting one to an internal LCD if I can do it without making any permanent mods to the inside of it.
    • The "degaussing slot." Located above the built-in floppy drive (or was it below?), this space provides an inviting location to store your floppies when you're on the move. What they didn't tell you is that any floppy left in that space when the unit gets turned on has a better than average probability of being wiped by the degaussing circuit of the monitor.
  • by adeyadey (678765) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:41PM (#12024973) Journal
    It doesnt even mention Strongbad's Lappy 512..
  • by qualico (731143) <worldcouchsurfer.gmail@com> on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:45PM (#12025011) Journal
    I thought my Timex Sinclair was pretty portable.

    Carrying around a TV was harsh though.

    Timex Sinclair Emulator [vavasour.ca]

    Timex Sinclair Picture [bigredtoybox.com]
  • They missed so much. TRS-80 model 100, the handhelds like the MS-DOS HP-95LX, and the quasi MS-DOS Atari Portfolio, the first laptop with a color display (NOT A THINKPAD). Libretto! Atari STacy!
  • by Skraut (545247) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @12:51PM (#12025115) Journal
    10.00 Ghz 2000MB Ram and 30000GB HD [amazon.com] AND, it runs DOS, wohoo!
  • the DG/One http://www.digibarn.com/collections/systems/dg-1/ [digibarn.com]. It may not qualify as 'clam shell' due to having it's hinge more toward the centre but to my mind it set the design that all others followed. It was a full laptop pc in 1983!
  • I remember by first two laptops battery life.

    First one was a TRS80 model 100 'laptop'. Had a 12 line / 40 column LCD display and .. with no backlight or moving parts, a battery life of weeks .. I think I remember it running on D cell batteries.

    My next laptop (of this story) I got in 1991. It was a Toshiba T1100+.
    7.16mhz 8086 processor
    640K of memory
    two 3 1/2 inch floppies
    80/24 CGA (mono) LCD screen.

    At the time I got my boot profile so heavily optimized that I could load a DOS 3.3, a minimal word process
  • SL-C3000 has a 400 MHz processor, 64 mB RAM, 4 GB HD. It's probably more powerful than Slashdot's first server was.
  • It had an undocumented feature that allowed programmers to easily port programs from the old mainframe standard to the more modern UNIX.
  • Editor, spreadsheet, BBC Micro compatibility, about 10 lines of screen space IIRC, what more could one want? I still have fond memories of my first laptop.
    • Well, it's a 'Merkin mag, what would you expect?

      Biggest problem I had with my Z88 was battery life: Alkaline AAs were OK but expensive, NiCds were useless, and we didn't have any NiMH AAs back then. I rigged up a bundle of 8 D-Cells with a power socket, which also served to angle the Z88 for better typing, and that kept me going through marathon research sessions in the Imperial College library. The keyboard was surprisingly good: rubber, but silent and reasonably responsive, even without the optional keyc
    • A fantastic little machine; light, truly portable and surprisingly useful. I must have written about half of my thesis on that patented dead flesh+ keyboard.

      The Z88 was practically unique in being a Sinclair product that it worked straight out of the box AND it kept on working. Mine was out in the rain, dumped at the bottom of suitcases, dropped, sat on - you name it - and it kept on working! In the end it didn't survive a move to Milton Keynes - but then, few things do ;)

      Uh oh, nostalgia is coming on;

  • I had one of those Osborne 1's. CP/M, now that is an OS! I even wrote a rudimentiary Hold'em game for it in pascal - text based, but it worked. I thought I was really cool lugging that thing around airports with me.
  • I still want a Vulcan FlipStart [flipstartpc.com]. It will probably come bundled with Duke Nukem 3D.
  • The first computer I got to screw around on, back in 1975.

    It came with a cassette of cheesy text-based games like Hunt the Wampus and Star Trek. After I got bored playing them, I printed out the BASIC and figured out how to re-write them for my Apple ][. That was my introduction to programming.
  • by NitsujTPU (19263) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @01:25PM (#12025550)
    The IBM 5100 is the fav' of time travelers!

    Visit, http://www.johntitor.com/ [johntitor.com] to see why!

    That said, the reason he states is The 5100 has the ability to easily translate between the old IBM code, APL, BASIC and (with a few tweaks in 1975) UNIX.

    This makes little sense to me, it can translate between 2 languages and an operating system? Perhaps this is a hoax *grin* Still, hundreds have read this guys postings, and he has been the topic of coast2coast more than once. The inconsistencies in his story lead little credence to his claims, as for Art Bell's show, that's for you to decide.
  • No mention of Psion? (Score:3, Informative)

    by gidds (56397) <slashdot&gidds,me,uk> on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @01:29PM (#12025592) Homepage
    Not only did they pioneer handhelds, their Series 7 was ahead of the subnotebook game. And I hope I don't have to mention the 5mx again...

  • Compaq SLuT (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cr0sh (43134) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @01:34PM (#12025646) Homepage
    Well - that is what I call mine, anyhow - I think they are one of the more interesting laptop designs. The SLT was available as a 286 or 386 (286/SLT and 386/SLT, respectively) - I am not sure if they ever had color screens or not (mine has a bluish/blackish-grey and white LCD). The laptop portion has a handle, a floppy drive, and IIRC you could have up to 8 meg of RAM. All the ports on the back (serial/parallel/video) - no sound, though beyond the PC speaker. Plus an internal hard drive, of course. No such thing as expansion slots or a mouse, either.

    No idea what the original battery was like - I had to build my own battery from old cellphone ni-cads, and had to mod the case a bit to get it all to fit. I also managed to get the docking station (where you could add EISA cards and such). But the real treat was the keyboard...

    It was detatchable! You could detatch the keyboard and it had a cord so you could position it how you wanted. In reality, it used a PS/2-style mini-connector (not sure how compatible it really was with PS/2 stuff), so the keyboard was like a mini-keyboard of sorts.

    It was a great computer, and I played around with it and such a lot - even managed to use a form of Linux on it (my first Linux experience - it was Monkey Linux which ran on top of the DOS filesystem!)...

  • Memories. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jhobbs (659809) * on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @01:37PM (#12025687)
    Another trip down memory lane. For good grades in 8th grade I recieved my first computer, an Epson Geneva PX-8 bought from a DAK catalog. I feel so old.
  • by fritter (27792) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @01:41PM (#12025739)
    The Mac Portable sucked, but at least you could look at it and know right away it was awful. I can't believe the PowerBook 5300 didn't make their "Worst laptops ever" list - other than being slow, unstable, and stylistically a step back from the previous PBs, they would actually burst into flames sometimes due to a defective battery - a friend of mine personally saw one start to melt on a woman's desk. I mean, bad performance and too much weight is one thing, but when your laptop starts trying to actively murder you, it seems like it deserves a special place in the annals of portable history.
  • Do you remember the three-pound Epson HX-20 from 1982

    Yes! That was a neat machine. A built-in printer! And a BASIC interpreter in ROM. I developed some programs on that computer for a biotech company. But I quickly ran out of memory for the BASIC programs. To save memory, you could stack several BASIC commands on one line and use one or two-letter variable names. Ugh!

    So I wrote a program translator on the VAX/VMS system that the company had. (The VAX had a gigantic 2 megabytes of main memory!) The transl
  • by dimss (457848) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @02:00PM (#12025952) Homepage
    > It wasn't until 1989 that someone had the bright idea that the power of a luggable and the portability of a laptop didn't have to be mutually exclusive.

    Ten years ago, I owned an old PC laptop manufactured in 1987. I don't remember its name but in was 8088 (4.77 MHz) equipped with 512k of RAM and 720k 3.5'' floppy drive. The last OS that worked on it was MS DOS 6.22. Qbasic was amazing :) Borland Turbo C and FoxBase worked too. Batteries were completely dead in 1996.
    • Believe it or not, Apple had a laptop in 1984, aka year 0 of the Macintosh.

      It was called the Apple IIc and everyone that mentions the history of laptops seems to forget it.

      The Apple IIc can be seen in the movie "2010: Odyssey Two" which, by coincidence, also appeared in 1984.

      IIRC actor Roy Scheider is seen using it on a beach.
  • I fondly remember the Epson portable machine because I was given one when I was in the hospital right after having my appendix ripped out, so I could keep in touch with my community. The few who brought it by also helped disrupt the hospital routine in the process of securing my phone, and connecting the then needed analog modem. They were brand new back then, and it was, thinking back, quite ammusing writing from my hospital bed between spong baths while on morphine drip. Scrolling about the somewhat li
  • I had a GRiD a few years ago I had bought off of ebay. True to the adverts, that thing endured a helluva lot. I used to to take notes in class on, and because I'd paid $30 for it and had heard about its durability, I treated it as such. I dropped it on cement more than once, left it in the car when it was below freezing - and it kept on working.

    That is, until I left it on the floor in the room where we kept our ferrets. The next day when I went to use it, I noticed that one of our ferrets had taken mo
  • -=Sigh=-

    There it was, on page 1, my good old pal the Osborne 1.

    My dad bought the Ozzie for his business to do spreadsheets and word processing and quickly outgrew it. Then I got it. All of my high school term papers and essays got cranked out on that thing (WordStar). The little screen (and any accessory monitor you might attach to it) would not accommodate 80 columns, so you had to press ctrl-<left/right_arrow> to scroll the viewable area around to see the hidden portions of the display.

    It was

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