Some early microcomputer manufacturers saw a better chance for success by targeting the industrial and government markets. By designing systems to be more durable and better equipped at certain tasks, they avoided competing in the cut-throat business market. It didn’t hurt that industrial and government customers were willing to pay a premium.
The M6000P was one example. It was originally sold under the Micro Source brand, but the company changed its name to MicroStandard Technologies sometime in 1983 and changed the basic configuration of the M6000P at the same time, dropping the “P” designation. A 10-slot card cage became standard, and an Intel 8088 CPU became optional. A color CRT option was also made available in place of the standard monochrome display. The M6000 was sold for industrial, scientific, and military applications. The company later sold a model aimed at the general business market, the M3000
Introduced: 1982 Original Retail Price: $3,900 to $5,100 Base Configuration: 4MHz Z80 CPU, CP/M 2.2, eight STD slots (four open), 64K RAM (512K max), 8K ROM, two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, integral 9-inch monochrome CRT, keyboard/keypad, C-BASIC, application suite, carrying case Video: 25-line x 80-column text Size/Weight: 17 x 20 x 7 inches, 33.75 lbs. Important Options: 4MHz 68000 coprocessor, Unix, 10- or 12-slot card cage, external 8-inch floppy disk drive, 10- to 40MB hard disk drive, color graphics card, color monitor, serial and parallel interfaces, modem, acoustic coupler, integral printer.
Portable computer designers made sacrifices as they continued to shrink the size of the systems through the 1980s. Internal expansion options were one of the first to be cut in the name of achieving a smaller form factor. For some systems, the only way to add a modem, for example, was to plug one into an external port.
External modems were almost as big as the portable computer in many cases, making them poor choices for traveling professionals. To solve that problem, some vendors shrank the modem as well.
The Touchbase Worldport modems were small and light enough to be easily carried in a briefcase or coat pocket. They had a DB25 connector for the computer and an RJ-11 jack for the phone. The Worldports (initially branded Worldlink) were compatible with the Bell 103/212A and CCITT V.21/V.22 telecommunications standards, which allowed them to be used worldwide. The Worldport 1200 was introduced in 1986, and the Worldport 2400 followed in 1987.
This type of battery-powered portable modem soon gave way to even smaller units based on the PCMCIA card standard.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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