Hewlett-Packard HP 110 “The Portable” Laptop PC

The HP 110
Source: HP, 1984

Hewlett-Packard did not have broad success with portables until it introduced the HP 110 laptop. Some HP literature referred to the 110 as simply “The Portable”. It offered good performance in a small but practical package. At nine pounds, it was one of the more petite laptops of the time.

The HP 110 came with a built-in software suite including communications software
Source: HP, 1984

The HP 110 had a software suite in ROM that included a graphical user interface, word processor, and the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program. It also had a terminal emulation program, through which users could share files with other computers. HP claimed that this enabled “a new kind of computing in which programs and data are always present, wherever The Portable is carried.”

HP 110 owners could share files with the IBM PC
Source: HP, 1984

A portable, battery-powered Thinkjet printer and HP 9114A 3.5-inch floppy disk drive were available as options. The HP 9114A was notable as HP claimed it was the first that could read and write from both sides of the disk, effectively doubling capacity.

HP 110 Plus with Thinkjet printer and HP 9114A disk drive
Source: HP, 1986

In 1985, a Plus version of the 110 was introduced with greater RAM and ROM capacity and improved graphics resolution.

Introduced: May 1984
Original Retail Price: $2,995
Base Configuration: 5.44MHz 80C86, MS-DOS 2.01, 272K RAM, 384K ROM, monochrome LCD, integral keyboard, RS-232C and HP-IL ports, Lotus 1-2-3 and MemoMaker in ROM, carrying case, internal modem, owner’s and software manuals, AC adapter, lead-acid batteries, battery charger
Video: 16-line x 80-column text, 480 x 128 graphics
Size/Weight: 13 x 10 x 3 inches, 9 lbs.
Important Options: HP 911A 3.5-inch external floppy disk drive, HP 2225B printer, leather carrying case

Zoom Telephonics Zoom/Modem PC

The first decade or so of the PC saw hundreds of peripheral and add-on vendors compete for sales among a rapidly growing user base. The modem market was particularly crowded. To succeed, modem manufacturers had to keep improving performance and adding features while keeping prices low.

Zoom Telephonics (not to be confused with Zoom, the video conferencing company) first began producing modems in 1983. Three years later, the Zoom/Modem PC was a market leader in terms of price and performance. It was an internal, Hayes-compatible modem that came with its own Zoom/Disk communications software package.

Zoom/Modem PC
Source: Zoom Telephonics, 1986

In 1999, Zoom Telephonics bought modem pioneer Hayes. The company merged with Minim in 2020, but still sells home networking products under the Zoom brand.

Advanced Logic Research ALR 386/220 PC

ALR was a mid-tier producer of high-performance PCs. Its ALR 386/220 was an example if how it approached the business market. Based on a 20MHz 80386 CPU, the system ranked among the best performers in its class at a more affordable price. It could be configured as either a network server or a workstations for applications such as CAD or desktop publishing.

ALR 386/220
Source: Advanced Logic Research, 1987

The ALR 386/220 came in four models that primarily offered different memory and storage configurations.

About ten years after the 386/220 was introduced, ALR merged with Gateway 2000 in 1997, which made the combined company the twelfth largest PC server vendor worldwide.

Introduced: 1987
Model: ALR 386/220 Model 10
Original Retail Price: $2,495
Base Configuration: 20MHz 80386 CPU, MS-DOS, 2 8-bit ISA slots, 4 16-bit ISA slots, 2 32-bit ISA slots, 1MB RAM, 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, keyboard/keypad, serial and parallel ports, 200W power supply,  clock/calendar
Important Options: 80287 or 80387 coprocessor

Model: ALR 386/220 Model 40
Original Retail Price: $4,485
Base Configuration: 20MHz 80386 CPU, MS-DOS, 2 8-bit ISA slots, 4 16-bit ISA slots, 2 32-bit ISA slots, 2MB RAM, 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, 40MB hard disk drive, keyboard/keypad, serial and parallel ports, 200W power supply, clock/calendar, EMS and EEMS software
Important Options: 80287 or 80387 coprocessor , tower case

Model: ALR 386/220 Model 80
Original Retail Price: $5,185
Base Configuration: 20MHz 80386 CPU, MS-DOS, 2 8-bit ISA slots, 4 16-bit ISA slots, 2 32-bit ISA slots, 2MB RAM, 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, 70MB hard disk drive, keyboard/keypad, serial and parallel ports, 200W power supply, clock/calendar, EMS and EEMS software
Important Options: 80287 or 80387 coprocessor, tower case

Model: ALR 386/220 Model 130
Original Retail Price: $7,794
Base Configuration: 20MHz 80386 CPU, MS-DOS, 2 8-bit ISA slots, 4 16-bit ISA slots, 2 32-bit ISA slots, 2MB RAM, 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, 130MB hard disk drive, keyboard/keypad, serial and parallel ports, 200W power supply, clock/calendar, EMS and EEMS software
Important Options: 80287 or 80387 coprocessortower case

IBM Personal Computer XT

The PC XT (eXtended Technology), Model 5160, was IBM’s encore to the original PC. It used the same 4.77MHz 8088 CPU as its predecessor but offered incremental improvements such as more expansion bus slots, greater mass storage capabilities, better screen resolution, and MS-DOS 2.0.

IBM PC XT
Source: IBM, 1983

IBM also offered new options for the PC, including an expansion unit that housed additional storage in a matching cabinet to the computer.

IBM PC XT with Model 002 Expansion Unit
Source: IBM, 1983

IBM later offered a version of the PC XT that would run its mainframe applications. The Personal Computer XT/370 used the Virtual Machine/Personal Computer (VM/PC) control program that provided compatibility with the Virtual Machine/Conversational Monitor System (VM/CMS) mainframe program.

IBM PC XT/370
Source: IBM, 1983

Introduced: March 8, 1983
Original Retail Price: $4,995
Base Configuration: 4.77MHz 8088 CPU, PC-DOS 2.0, eight ISA slots, 128K RAM (640K max), 40K ROM, 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, keyboard/keypad, RS-232C port, BASIC, operations manual
Video: 25-line x 80-column text, 640 x 200 graphics
Size/Weight: 20 x 16 x 6 inches, 32 lbs.
Important Options: Model 002 Expansion Unit; second 5.25-inch floppy disk drive; 10MB hard disk drive; Color Display, Enhanced Color Display, or Monochrome Display monitor; EGA or CGA card; game port; PC Color, PC Compact, or Graphics Printer; technical reference; hardware maintenance and service manual

Microsoft Multi-Tool Word

Microsoft Word will be 40 years old in 2023. As it approaches middle age, let’s see what it looked like as a baby.

The first version was actually called Multi-Tool Word. It was first available for UNIX, quickly followed by the PC version in 1983. As the screen photos show, the user interface was primitive by today’s standards–heavily text and menu based.

Multi-Tool Word
Source: Microsoft, 1983

It’s biggest innovation at the time was the “what you see is what you get” approach, meaning the printed output matched what you saw on the screen. Today, we take this for granted, but in the early PC days it was common for the printer to have a different interpretation of a document than the monitor screen.

Micro-Tool Word
Source: Microsoft, 1983

Other features included an auto-formatting feature, which eliminated the need for manual reformatting, and a ruler at the top of the screen that allowed users to set margins and tabs. The press release announcing the PC version on May 2, 1983, mentions many features that are standard on today’s word processors. They include:

  • An auto-format feature, eliminating the need for manual reformatting
  • A ruler at the top of the screen that allowed users to set margins and tabs
  • An undo command
  • Advanced word-wrap capabilities
  • Style sheets

Victor Technologies Victor 9000 Desktop Computer

The Victor 9000 was an early competitor to the IBM PC, introduced about five months later. It wasn’t a true PC compatible, but it did have an 8088 CPU and came standard with MS-DOS (as well as CP/M).

Victor 9000
Source: Victor Technologies, 1982

The Victor 9000 was developed by Sirius Systems Technology and sold in the U.S. by Victor Business Systems, a company known for its calculators and cash register systems. Sirius sold the computer as the S1 in France and as the Sirius 1 elsewhere. Sirius bought Victor Business Systems in 1982 and changed its name to Victor Technologies.

Victor 9000
Source: Victor Technologies, 1982

Chuck Peddle, who created the MOS Technologies 6502 and designed the Commodore PET series, became Victor’s president. Sirius produced 1,150 Victor 9000/Sirius 1 systems in March 1982, and 3,000 the following month.

Introduced: January 1982
Original Retail Price: $5,000
Base Configuration: 5MHz 8088 CPU, MS-DOS and CP/M-86, four expansion slots, 128K RAM (896K max), two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, 12-inch monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad, two RS-232C and one parallel port, voice synthesizer
Video: 40-line x 132-column text, 800 x 400 graphics
Size/Weight: 7 x 15 x 13 inches, 28 lbs.
Important Options: Z80 coprocessor, CP/M-80, 10MB hard disk drive

The Poqet PC

Poqet PC
Source: Poqet, 1989

At a time when manufacturers like NEC, Toshiba, and Compaq were racing to shrink the size of portable PCs, Poqet leapfrogged them with its one-pound Poqet PC. Reaching that size came with compromises. Its reflective LCD screen was small and hard to read. Memory and storage options were limited, and the keyboard was not optimal for tasks that involved a lot of writing.

Still, the Poqet PC had appeal as a travel-friendly DOS-compatible system. You could keep only the files you needed in RAM or on a PCMCIA storage card and use popular software such as Lotus 1-2-3. It would run for up to 100 hours on standard AAA batteries.

Source: Poqet, 1990

Introduced: September 12, 1989
Original Retail Price: $1,995
Base Configuration: 80C88 CPU, 512K RAM (640K max), 640K ROM, 2 RAM or ROM card slots, MS-DOS 3.3 in RAM, RS-232C port, 8-inch LCD, keyboard
Video: 80-character x 25-line, 640 x 200 pixel resolution
Size/Weight: 8.75w x 4.3d inches, 1 lb.
Important Options: 3.5-inch, 3.44MV floppy disk drive

Dolch PAC TFT Screen Portable PC

Volker Dolch was an engineer who designed microprocessors. He founded an instrumentation company in the 1970s, and then Dolch Computer Systems in 1987. Given his background in digital instrumentation equipment, it’s not surprising that the portable PC systems his company produced were prized by other engineers and technical professionals.

Dolch PCs were high-performance, ruggedized systems designed for industrial settings. The company was an early adopter of new technologies, as evidenced by the Dolch PAC (Portable Add-in Computer) line’s use of the then new active-matrix thin-film transistor (TFT) LCD color display in 1990.

Dolch PAC portable PC
Source: Dolch, 1990

The quality of color displays for portables at the time was not great. The technology was still young and trade-offs for cost, power consumption, and availability meant that most portable color displays were not good enough for some applications. The TFT technology started to change that. It had a much greater pixel density than other LCD technologies, offered better performance in terms of switching pixels on or off, and was brighter.

Diagram showing how TFT displays work
Source: Dolch, 1990

TFT displays were more expensive, but the people who bought Dolch systems were willing to pay for it. The TFT option added nearly $4,000 to the price of a Dolch PAC.

Introduced: June 3, 1990
Original Retail Price: $3,995
Base Configuration: 80286, 80386SX, 80386, or 80486 CPU; 1MB or 2MB RAM (16MB max); 20MB to 200MB hard drive; 5.25-inch floppy drive; 6 or 7 expansion slots
Graphics: CGA (VGA with TFT or gas plasma display)

Corona PC and Corona Portable PC

Corona Data Systems was another contender in the early IBM PC compatibles market. The company was moderately successful at first, selling 5,000 desktop and portable PCs from December 1983 to January 1984. In 1985, South Korea’s Daewoo Group bought a controlling interest, later renaming the company Cordata in 1986.

Source: Corona Data Systems, 1983

The Corona PC and Portable PC were the company’s first IBM compatibles. They had fairly standard PC configurations and were true IBM compatibles. That fact drew the attention of IBM, which sued Corona (along with Eagle Computer) for copyright infringement on the BIOS. Corona ultimately settled by agreeing to use BIOS code that did not violate IBM’s copyright.

Source: Corona Data Systems, 1983

Corona PC
Introduced: 1983
Original Retail Price: $2,595
Base Configuration: 8088 CPU, MS-DOS, four ISA slots, 128K RAM (512K max), 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, 12-inch monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad, RS-232C and parallel ports, GW-BASIC, spreadsheet software
Video: 640 x 325 graphics
Important Options: CP/M-86, 10MB hard disk drive

Corona Portable PC
Introduced: 1983
Original Retail Price: $2,395
Base Configuration: 8088 CPU, MS-DOS, four ISA slots, 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, integral 9-inch monochrome CRT display, keyboard/keypad, RS-232C and parallel ports, spreadsheet software
Video: 640 x 325 graphics
Size/Weight: 9.6 x 18.6 x 19.8, 28 lbs.
Important Options: 10MB hard disk drive, carrying case

Compaq Deskpro

The Compaq Portable in 1982 marked the company’s entry into the PC market. The system targeted a niche ignored by IBM: portable PCs. Compaq quickly established itself the leader in that category.

With the Deskpro desktop PC a little less than two years later, Compaq took on IBM right in its own wheelhouse. The Deskpro line was an immediate success and became a top alternative to PC in the business market. Compaq sold the Deskpro line until 2001, making it one of the longest-running computer models ever.

Source: Compaq, 1984

While some manufacturers of PC compatibles competed with IBM mainly on price, Compaq positioned the Deskpro as a premium brand and sold it on its reliability and range of options. The Deskpro initially was available in four models (Model 1 through Model 4, as shown in the photo above) with variations on monitor size, storage capacity, and memory.

Introduced: June 1984
Original Retail Price: $2,495 to $7,195
Base Configuration: 7.14MHz 8086 CPU, MS-DOS 2.11, six ISA slots, 128K RAM (640K max), 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, 12-inch monochrome Dual Mode Monitor, RF modulator, composite and RGB video ports, keyboard/keypad, parallel and serial ports
Video: 25-line x 80-column text, 720 x 350 graphics
Size/Weight: 5 x 19 x 16 inches, 40 lbs.
Important Options: Unix, 10- or 30MB hard disk drive, tape backup drive