Vintage Computers and Hardware

Vintage Computers 1970 – 2000


Canon Cat (1987) – Canon

Canon Cat Computer (1987) - Canon

Canon Cat Computer – Photograph: Grant Hutchinson

The Canon Cat was a task-dedicated, desktop computer released by Canon Inc. in 1987 at a price of 1495 USD. On the surface it was not unlike the dedicated word processors popular in the late 1970s to early 1980s, but it was far more powerful and incorporated many unique ideas for data manipulation.

The Cat was primarily the brainchild of Jef Raskin, originator of the Macintosh project at Apple in 1979. It featured a text user interface, not making use of any mouse, icons, or graphics. All data was seen as a long “stream” of text broken into several pages. Instead of using a traditional command line interface or menu system, the Cat made use of its special keyboard, with commands being activated by holding down a “Use Front” key and pressing another key. The Cat also used special “Leap keys” which, when held down, allowed the user to incrementally search for strings of characters.

The machine’s hardware consisted of a 9 inch (229 mm) black-and-white monitor, a single 3½ inch 256 KB floppy disk drive and an IBM Selectric-compatible keyboard. It used a Motorola 68000 CPU (like the Macintosh, Lisa and Amiga) running at 5 MHz, had 256 KB of RAM, and an internal 300/1200 bit/s modem. Setup and user preference data was stored in 8 KB of non-volatile (battery backed-up) RAM. The Cat’s array of I/O interfaces encompassed one Centronics parallel port, one RS-232C serial port (DB-25), and two RJ11 telephone jacks for the modem loop. The total weight of the system was 17 pounds (7.7 kg).

An extensive range of application software was built into 256 KB of ROM: standard office suite programs, communications, a 90,000 word spelling dictionary, and user programming toolchains for Forth and assembly language.


Commodore 128D (USA Release 1987, Europe 1985) – Commodore Business Machines (CBM)

Commodore 128D Computer (USA release 1987) s - Commodore Business Machines - Attribution Rama

Commodore 128D Computer – Attribution: Rama

Late in 1985, Commodore released to the European market a new version of the C128 with a redesigned chassis resembling the Amiga 1000. Called the Commodore 128D, this new European model featured a plastic chassis with a carrying handle on the side, incorporated a 1571 disk drive into the main chassis, replaced the built-in keyboard with a detachable one, and added a cooling fan. The keyboard featured two folding legs for changing the typing angle.

In the latter part of 1986, Commodore released a version of the C128D in North America and Europe referred to as the C128DCR (“cost reduced”). The DCR model featured a stamped steel chassis in place of the plastic version of the C128D (with no carrying handle), a modular switched-mode power supply similar to that of the C128D, as well as a removable keyboard and internal 1571 floppy drive. On the mainboard, Commodore consolidated some of the components to save production costs and replaced the 8563 video controller with the more technically advanced MOS Technology 8568 (which was also fitted to a few D-models). As a cost-saving measure, the cooling fan that was fitted to the D model was removed, although the mounting provisions on the power supply subchassis were retained.

Inside, the C128DCR ROMs, the “1986 ROMs,” so-named from the copyright date displayed on the startup screen, contained fixes for several bugs —including an infamous off by one error where the ‘Q’ character would remain lowercase when CAPS LOCK was active—and the 8568 VDC was equipped with 64 kB of video RAM—the maximum amount addressable by the chip, equal to four times that of the original C128. The increase in video RAM made it possible, among other things, to generate higher-resolution graphics with a more flexible color palette, although little commercial software took advantage of this capability.

Despite the improvement in the RGB video capabilities, Commodore did not enhance BASIC 7.0 with the ability to manipulate RGB graphics. Driving the VDC in graphics mode continued to require the use of calls to screen editor ROM primitives (or their assembly language equivalents), or by using third-party BASIC language extensions. The most popular such toolkit was Free Spirit Software’s “BASIC 8”, which added high-resolution VDC graphics commands to BASIC 7.0. BASIC 8 was available on two disks (editor disk and runtime disk) and with a ROM chip for installation in the C128’s internal Function ROM socket.


Compaq Portable III (1987) – Compaq Computer Corporation

Compaq Portable III Computer (1987) - Compaq Computer Corporation - Photograph by Rwallmow

Compaq Portable III Computer – Photograph: Rwallmow

The Compaq Portable III is a computer released by Compaq Computer Corporation in 1987. It was advertised as being much smaller and lighter than the previous portable x86-PCs, however it was still quite large by today’s standards. Its street price upon its release was 4999 USD for a model equipped with an 12 MHz Intel 80286 CPU, 640 kB RAM, 1.2 MB 5.25″ floppy, 20 MB hard disk (type 2), and a 10″ amber colored gas-plasma display or 5799 USD with the upgraded 40 MB hard disk. There was also an optional ISA Expansion chassis allowed for 2 full length 16-bit ISA add-in cards for 199 USD. Power is supplied using a mains electricity outlet, no battery exists.


Apple IIc Plus (1988) – Apple Computer

Apple IIc Plus Computer (1988) - Apple Computer

Apple IIc Plus Computer

The Apple IIc Plus is the sixth and final model in the Apple II line of personal computers, produced by Apple Computer. The “Plus” in the name was a reference to the additional features it offered over the original portable Apple IIc, such as greater storage capacity (a built-in 3.5-inch floppy drive replacing the classic 5.25-inch), increased processing speed, and a general standardization of the system components. In a notable change of direction, the Apple IIc Plus, for the most part, did not introduce new technology or any further evolutionary contributions to the Apple II series, instead merely integrating existing peripherals into the original Apple IIc design. The development of the 8-bit machine was criticized by quarters more interested in the significantly more advanced 16-bit Apple IIGS.


Atari Portfolio (1989) – Atari Corporation

Atari Portfolio Computer (1989) - Photo by Evan-Amos

Atari Portfolio Computer – Photo by Evan-Amos

The Atari Portfolio is a PC-compatible palmtop computer, and was released by Atari Corporation in 1989, making it the world’s first palmtop computer.

DIP Research Ltd. based in Guildford, Surrey, UK released a product in the UK called the DIP Pocket PC in 1989. Soon after its release, DIP licensed this product to Atari for sale as the Portfolio in the UK and US. DIP officially stood for “Distributed Information Processing”, although secretly it actually stood for “David, Ian and Peter”, the three founding members of the company, all ex-Psion. The original founder of the company (first called “Crushproof Software”) was Ian Cullimore, and the other two David Frodsham and Peter Baldwin. Ian Cullimore was involved in designing the early Organiser products at Psion before the DIP Pocket PC project. DIP Research was later acquired by Phoenix Technologies in 1994.


Macintosh Portable (1989) – Apple Inc.

Macintosh Portable Computer (1989) - Apple Inc.

Macintosh Portable Computer

The Macintosh Portable is Apple Inc.’s first battery-powered portable Macintosh personal computer. It was also the first commercial off-the-shelf portable computer used in space and the first to send an email from space, in 1991 aboard Space Shuttle mission STS-43.

Released on September 20, 1989, it was received with excitement from most critics but consumer sales were quite low. It featured a fast, sharp, and expensive black and white active matrix LCD screen in a hinged design that covered the keyboard when the machine was not in use. The Portable was perhaps the first consumer laptop to employ an active matrix panel, and only the most expensive of the initial Powerbook line, the Powerbook 170, used one, due to the high cost. The cursor pointing function was handled by a built-in trackball that could be removed and located on either side of the keyboard. It used expensive SRAM in an effort to maximize battery life and to provide an “instant on” low power sleep mode. The machine was designed to be high-performance, at the cost of price and weight.


Outbound (1989) – Outbound Systems Inc.

Outbound Computer (1989) - Outbound Systems Inc. Model 2000

Outbound Computer

The Outbound Laptop was an Apple Macintosh-compatible laptop computer. It was powered by a 15-MHz Motorola 68000 processor. Later versions increased the clock speed to 20 MHz.

Outbound Systems Inc. was located in Boulder, Colorado; but, due to their kangaroo logo, many believed that it was an Australian company.

The Outbound Laptop was introduced in 1989 and was significantly lighter, at just over 4 kg, and easier to carry than Apple’s own Macintosh Portable released at around the same time. Due to Apple’s refusal to license the Macintosh Toolbox in read-only memory (ROM), Outbound users had to install a Mac ROM to make the computer work. The ROM was typically removed from an older Mac, a process that would render the donor Mac unusable. Even with this additional cost, a typical price of US $4,000 compared favorably to that of the Mac Portable.

The Outbound featured a built-in pointing device located below the keyboard; it was a cylinder that scrolled up and down and slid left and right. It ran on standard camcorder batteries, rather than the expensive custom batteries commonly found in most portable computers around this time.


Poqet PC (1990) – Poqet Computer Corporation

Poqet PC Computer (1990) - Poqet Computer Corporation - Photo by John Bäckstrand

Poqet PC Computer

The Poqet PC is a very small, portable IBM PC compatible computer, introduced in 1989 by Poqet Computer Corporation with a price of $2000. The computer was discontinued after Fujitsu Ltd. bought Poqet Computer Corp. It was the first subnotebook form factor IBM-PC compatible computer that ranMS-DOS. The Poqet PC is powered by two AA-size batteries. Through the use of aggressive power management, which includes stopping the CPUbetween keystrokes, the batteries are able to power the computer for anywhere between a couple of weeks and a couple of months, depending on usage. The computer also uses an “instant on” feature, such that after powering it down, it can be used again immediately without having to go through a full booting sequence. The Poqet PC is comparable to the HP 95LX/HP 100LX/HP 200LX and the Atari Portfolio handheld computers.

Three variants were produced. The Poqet PC was the first to be introduced and the Poqet PC Prime followed shortly after. (The original version was subsequently renamed the Poqet PC “Classic”). Several years later, the Poqet PC Plus was introduced. The main difference between the Poqet PC Classic and the Prime was the expansion of RAM from 512 to 640 KB and enhancement of the power management features.


Atari TT030 (1990) – Atari Corporation

Atari TT030 Computer (1990) - Photograph by Tjlazer

Atari TT030 Computer – Photograph by Tjlazer

The Atari TT030 is a member of the Atari ST family, originally intended to be a high end Unix workstation, however Atari took two years to release a port of Unix SVR4 for the TT, which prevented the TT from being seriously considered in its intended workstation market.

The then nascent open source movement eventually filled the void. Thanks to open hardware documentation, the Atari TT, along with the Amiga and Atari Falcon, were the first non-Intel machines to have Linux ported to them, though this work did not stabilize until after the TT had already been discontinued by Atari. By 1995 NetBSD had also been ported to the Atari TT.

In 1992 the TT was replaced by the Atari Falcon, a low cost consumer oriented machine with greatly improved graphics and sound capability, but with a slower and severely bottle-necked CPU. The Falcon possessed only a fraction of the TT’s raw CPU performance.

Though well priced for a workstation machine, the TT’s high cost kept it mostly out of reach of the existing Atari ST market until after the TT was discontinued and sold at discount.


Amiga 3000 (1990) – Commodore International

Amiga 3000 Computer (1990) - Commodore International - Photograph by Joeinwap

Amiga 3000 Computer – Photograph by Joeinwap

The Commodore Amiga 3000, or A3000, was the third major release in the Amiga computer family. Released in June 1990, it features improved processing speed, improved rendering of graphics, and a new revision of the operating system. It is the successor to the Amiga 2000.

Its predecessors, the Amiga 500, 1000 and 2000, shared the same fundamental system architecture and consequently performed without much variation in processing speed despite considerable variation in purchase price. The A3000 however, was entirely reworked and rethought as a high-end workstation. The new Motorola 32-bit 68030 CPU, 68882 math co-processor, and 32-bit system memory increase the “integer” processing speed by a factor of 5 to 18, and the “floating point” processing speed by a factor of 7 to 200 times. The new 32-bit Zorro III expansion slots provide for faster and more powerful expansion capabilities.


CDTV (1991) – Commodore International

Commodore CDTV Computer (1990) - Commodore International

Commodore CDTV Computer with Accessories

The CDTV (an acronym for “Commodore Dynamic Total Vision”, a backronym of an acronym for “Compact Disc Television”, giving it a double meaning) was a multimedia platform developed by Commodore International and launched in 1991. On a technological level it was essentially a Commodore Amiga 500 home computer in a Hi-Fi style case with a single-speed CD-ROM drive. Commodore marketed the machine as an all-in-one home multimedia appliance rather than a computer. As such, it targeted the same market as the Philips CD-i. Unfortunately for both Commodore and Philips, the expected market for multimedia appliances did not materialise, and neither machine met with any real commercial success. Though the CDTV was based entirely on Amiga hardware it was marketed strictly as a CDTV, with the Amiga name omitted from product branding.

The CDTV debuted in North America in March 1991 (CES, Las Vegas) and in the UK (World of Commodore 1991 at Earls Court, London). It was advertised at £499 for the CDTV unit, remote control and two titles. Commodore chose Amiga enthusiast magazines as its chief advertising channel, but the Amiga community on the whole avoided the CDTV in the expectation of an add-on CD-ROM drive for the Amiga, which eventually came in the form of the A570. This further hurt sales of the CDTV, as both it and an A570-equipped A500 were the same electronically, and could both run CDTV software, so there was very little motivation to buy it. Commodore would rectify this with CDTV’s successor, the A1200-based Amiga CD32, by adding the Akiko chip. This would enable CD32 games to be playable only on the CD32.


HP 95LX (1991) – Hewlett-Packard and Lotus Development Corporation

HP 95LX Pocket Computer (1991) - Photograph W. T. Shymanski

HP 95LX Pocket Computer – Photograph: W. T. Shymanski

The HP 95LX (also known as Project Jaguar) was the first MS-DOS pocket computer or personal digital assistant, introduced by Hewlett-Packard in April 1991 in collaboration with Lotus Development Corporation.

The HP 95LX had an NEC V20 CPU (an Intel 8088 clone running at 5.37 MHz) with an Intel Corporation System on a chip (SoC) device. It cannot be considered completely PC-compatible because of its quarter-CGA resolution LCD screen. It ran Microsoft’s MS-DOS version 3.22 and had Lotus 1-2-3built in. Other software in read-only memory (ROM) included a calculator, an appointment calendar, a telecommunications program, and a simple text editor. It also included a CR 2032 lithium coin cell for memory backup when the two AA main batteries run out. For mass storage, the HP 95LX had a single PCMCIA slot which could hold a static RAM card (which had its own CR 2025 back-up coin cell). An RS-232-compatible serial port was provided, as well as an infrared port for printing on compatible models of Hewlett Packard printers. In character mode, the display showed 16 lines of 40 characters and had no back light.


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