Toshiba T6400 Series Laptop PCs

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, laptop and notebook PC vendors made a habit of saying their designs were “no compromise.” It’s a meaningless phrase; if you build the computer you set out to build, then you made no compromises. The intent was to make potential buyers think that the laptop was equal to a desktop model in every way. That was never true.

Source: Toshiba, 1992

Toshiba took the hype one step further by claiming its T6400 series laptop was “the first 486 color portable computer better than a desktop.” Toshiba did make some great laptops and notebooks during that era and was a clear market leader.

Source: Toshiba, 1992

The T6400 line was impressive. It was fast, had great color graphics, good storage options, and a full detachable keyboard. At 12 pounds, it was small enough to fit in a briefcase. (Remember those?)

Source: Toshiba, 1992

Four models of the T6400 were available, two of which used a 25MHz 80486SX processor and two that used a 33MHz 80486DX processor. For each processor option you had a choice of TFT color or gas plasma display.

Introduced: January 20, 1992
Original Retail Price: $5,699 (T6400SX), $8,449 (T6400SXC), $6,999 (T6400DX, $9,749 (T6400DXC)
Base Configuration: 25MHz 80486SX (T6400SX and T6400SXC), 33MHz 80486DX (T6400DX and T6400DXC), 4MB RAM (20MB max), 120MB or 200MB hard drive, 1.44MB 3.5-inch floppy drive, 1 full-sized IBM-compatible expansion slot, 101-key detachable keyboard, 10.4-inch TFT color or gas plasma display, MS-DOS 5.0
Video: Super VGA
Size/Weight: 15.4w x 10.5d x 3.3h inches (gas plasma), 15.4w x 10.5d x 3.3h inches (TFT color); 11.7 lbs. (gas plasma), 12.9 lbs. (TFT color)
Important Options: 2400bps modem, external tape drive, external 5.25-inch floppy drive, Microsoft OS/2, fabric or leather carrying case

Droid Genesis Personal Robot

Personal programmable robots date back to at least 1978 with the Terrapin Turtle. Ten years later, Droid introduced its Genesis Personal Robot with a much more powerful PC-based internal computer.

The extra processing power did not keep the Genesis from meeting the same fate as all other personal robots from the era. It sold in small numbers to a limited market of hobbyists, developers, and schools.

Processing power wasn’t the problem. The robot’s physical form and features (or lack thereof) limited its use to experimentation and education. You could program it to function only as much as hardware allowed. It just wasn’t practical for the applications Droid claimed its robot was capable of including light housework, stocking store shelves, cleaning airports, or acting as a butler. It’s $12,500 base price didn’t help, either.

Source: Droid, 1988

The Genesis did have some interesting features. Its onboard PC-compatible computer could connect to another PC to perform diagnostics. Each of the two standard arms could lift up to 12 pounds. An internal communications system was built around what Droid called the DroidBus, which “cuts down the complex, high-level robot control systems into easily managed components by a system known as Articulated Multiprocessing.”

In addition to the PC-based processing unit, the Genesis had a second 8-bit processor to handle the coordination of motions and actions. The robot used a proprietary programming language called FORWARD.

Introduced: 1988
Original Retail Price: $12,500
Base Configuration: PC/XT-compatible processor unit, 8-bit coprocessor, 1 or 2 robot arms with gripper hands

Stearns Desktop Computer

The IBM PC inspired a wave of PC compatibles not long after its launch in 1981. The term “PC compatible,” however, was subjective. Few systems offered complete PC compatibility at the software and hardware level.

The Stearns Desktop Computer was one of those systems. It had an ISA expansion slot like the IBM PC, but only add-on cards from Stearns would work in it. It’s not clear why, but the company claimed that the Stearns was 2.5 times faster than the IBM PC. If true, they might have tweaked the bus design for better throughput.

Another curious claim was that the Stearns was “the first stand-alone desktop computer specifically designed not only to perform high quality data and word processing, but also to provide full internal and external communications and networking capabilities.” That vague claim describes a lot of computers of the era.

What they might have meant by that claim is the fact that Stearns sold the system as a single-user system, but it could be configured for a five-user networked setup where every system on the network functioned as a standalone computer. This differs from most other multi-user systems that used diskless workstations as nodes that were dependent on the main computer for storage.

The Stearns was one of the better looking PCs. The company did not last long despite its claims of having sold 110 systems in its first month of operation.

Introduced: May 1983
Original Retail Price: $2,945 to $5,650
Base Configuration: 8MHz 8086 CPU, MS-DOS 1.25, ISA slot, four proprietary expansion slots, 128K RAM (896K max), 16K ROM, 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, 12-inch monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad, RS-232C port, owner’s and MS-DOS manuals
Video: 25-line x 80-column text
Size/Weight: 5.5 x 21.7 x 15.7 inches, 33 lbs.
Important Options: Concurrent CP/M, second 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, 5- to 20MB hard disk drive, 15-inch monochrome monitor, CGA card, parallel port

IBM Portable Personal Computer Model 5155

The IBM Portable PC was not IBM’s first portable. That was the Model 5100 from 1975 (if you want to call a 50-pound computer “portable”). It was launched in response to the Compaq Portable, which was similar in appearance and was introduced more than a year earlier. Compaq had made inroads into IBM’s customer base with the portable and IBM had no answer.

Source: IBM 1984

Essentially an IBM PC/XT in a suitcase-like form factor, the Portable PC made a few trade-offs versus the desktop model. Most obvious were a smaller screen and three fewer expansion slots than the PC/XT’s eight. You could buy an external monitor and an expansion unit to compensate, but then you would have spent more money than if you had bought the PC/XT.

Quite a few of the original IBM Portable PCs survive today. They were popular and well built.

Introduced: March 1984
Original Retail Price: $2,795
Base Configuration: 4.77MHz 8088, PC-DOS 2.1, five ISA slots, 256K RAM (512K max), 40K ROM, 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, integral 9-inch monochrome CRT, keyboard/keypad, carrying case
Video: 25-line x 80-column text, CGA
Size/Weight: 20 x 17 x 8 inches, 30 lbs.
Important Options: Model 001 Expansion Unit; second 5.25-inch floppy disk drive; Color Display or Monochrome Display monitor; EGA card; serial, parallel, and game ports; Graphics or PC Compact Printer