[Autuin] found a Compaq Portable III destined for the scrap bin at Free Geek Vancouver. Upon seeing it he realized that it could still fight; fight against the tyranny of hipsters and their shiny Macbook Pros at his local coffee shop. Unfortunately, being a 286, the computer couldn’t do much. He could take the usual route; which is to remove all the internals, and use the vast amount of space to fit a more modern computer inside. However, he decided to go a different path and save the internals, leaving it in original working order. The computer didn’t have enough power to browse the web, but it had just enough room to fit a small single-board computer inside; to which he could connect through serial. He hasn’t taken it down to the coffee shop yet, but we’re hoping for a few horrified hipsters and a full mission report when he does.
[Sent in by Alec Smecher]
36 thoughts on “Compaq Portable III Rises Again For A Noble Cause”
I think you meant to write, “The 80286 isn’t fast enough to support today’s web applications.” That is both more correct and less inflammatory.
If you turn graphics off (for speed) Arachne will run on a ‘286 just fine. It wants: DOS and a modem.
I don’t know what would be required for a modern smartphone (other than incredible amounts of irony) but older phones typically had “serial port” pins on the chunky bottom connector if someone wanted to use that Compaq portable with wireless internet!
i’m glad to see other people are concerned about the local increase in hipster population. good work sir
There is an arachne browser, which runs on DOS, and if I remember correctly – it can run on 8086 and 286.
The more acute problem is power consumption of plasma display and internet connection for that beastie (I do not know of any wifi cards for isa bus with dos drivers).
Humm. Can you run X11 on freedos?
Also just for fun you could replace hard driver with a CF card and possibly fit something like a Beagle board or Gumstix in the space where the old hard drive was. Get X11 running and you could have WiFi and Bluetooth.
The one who lugs a 286 down to the coffee shop in order to show up hipsters…is the most hipster of all.
It’s a Compaq Portable III, you’ve probably never heard of it.
Why not use the 286 as a VNC-client for the built-in single-board computer? A quick Google turned out e.g. this project: http://arcady.chem.anrb.ru/vncdos/
Haha macegr, that’s what I was thinking.
And boy do I like that machine… That screen is amazing. I remember looking at network analyzer computers, which have a similar form factor, and the same sort of screen. It’s nice to know there’s a general purpose machine of that style.
I really like the idea of putting a more powerful SBC in there. I may have to try my own take on this.
I really want one of those plasma displays
i’ve got an original 8088 compaq portable (look them up, they are way cooler than this), and what i did with that was take a WRT54G and install dd-wrt, and mounted it inside the compaq, powering it from the 5 volt rail from one of the molex connectors.
i use an NE1000 ISA ethernet card, and it’s connected to the router.. and of course, i have a DOS telnet client so basically the portable just acts a terminal to a moderately powerful wireless-capable ARM linux box.
it’s epic win, etc.
My 386SX @16mhz is powerful enough to browse the internet, and a 386SX is pretty much just a “souped-up” 286. Text only, but hey, it’s the internet.
Hey all — glad you enjoyed the hack. miker00lz, I had one of those too and would love to put one together an older brother for the Portable III; the original portable has a standard Hercules display, so I’d probably tear out the old computer entirely. But yes, I thought about using OpenWRT for this but didn’t have a spare router lying around.
macegr, yeah, a friend of mine already pointed that out. What instead? Take it to a job interview?
Munch: True. What I probably meant is “I want it to run Linux.”
Regarding VNC and the like, it’s possible, but over a 286’s 8250-based serial port it would be horrendous.
I used to use one of those. Thought it was rather cool at the time.
Love the idea! Almost a Steampunk-Cyberpunk thing going on here.
Autuin, do you happen to know if the screen has a standard VGA interface?
vmspionage: No, unfortunately. There’s a non-standard ribbon cable (20 pins OTOH) between the display controller and the plasma panel, and a non-standard bus interface between the motherboard and the display controller. And of course the display controller is non-standard too. The whole thing resembles CGA from the software side, but supposedly offers a non-standard 640×400 monochrome mode.
OK, thanks for the info. I’ve been poking around google for a controller datasheet but I’m thinking that’s unlikely given the age and oem-ness of the application.
So far I found the display part number (Panasonic MD400F640PD5) and controller part number (M400F640BDT02) but that’s about it.
I have to admit, I would have gone the ‘typical’ route of re-componenting it, but I would have stayed to a laptop-ish form factor…
And filled the rest of that incredibly huge volume with SLA or LI-PO.
the attraction of an 80 pound battery powered luggable is that it’s completely impractical.
I’ve actually restored three of these Compaq Portable IIIs. I use my my main system frequently — as in a couple of days a week — and it’s an absolute workhorse if there is DOS software you like.
The orange gas plasma display is simply beautiful, very easy to read, and doesn’t cause eye strain (no blue light is emitted). These PCs are the size of a small sewing machine, not a suitcase. They weight 20 pounds, only half the size and weight as the Compaq Portable. They were a marvel of miniaturization and reliability.
When the Portable III was released in 1987, it was the BEST portable PC-compatible computer available, regardless of price, and configurations could exceed $10,000. If you wanted a PC with a handle, you couldn’t do better. Until Compaq ungraded it to a 386 motherboard and introduced it as the first 386 PC called the “Portable 386”.
The case is made of ABS plastic that really holds up well, and it is rare to see a damaged case. The entire case is lined with copper foil to control RFI, and there is an internal metal cage with rubber mounts for the drives.
100% of these computers have two problems — the keyboard cable has dry-rotted, and the real-time clock backup battery has died. You need to have a working floppy drive and a system disk to boot them up if the CMOS settings aren’t correct. The BIOS config software was supplied on a floppy, not in ROM.
And there is no usable “huge volume” inside — very little empty space unless you i) gut them, or ii) replace the memory expansion and modem cards, or iii) locate new components in the air cooling tunnel which could block the air flow. Since Compaq had their own proprietary driver card for the gas plasma display (it could emulate both CGA and monochrome displays under software control), you will probably need to keep it.
Personally, I don’t go online with mine. That’s a big part of the appeal; they are secure! If I wanted to go online, I would prefer to leave a beautiful retrocomputer unmolested, and instead find some sort of external WiFi to serial port adapter box and run a DOS terminal emulator.
I know that’s going against the grain for this community, but retrocomputers are becoming rarer by the day, and are the only source of original parts for restorers. Love them for what they are!
When he DOES go back to the coffee shop dragging that thing behind him, please, PLEASE carry a “brick” cell phone also!!
Haha that’s great…I’m from Vancouver so I know first hand the threat that hipters pose! I’ve always wanted to lug an old Macintosh Classic into a coffee shop and start playing some Oregon Trail…and sip my latte, of course!
@Pilotgeek .. That is not accurate. While the 386sx only had a 16 bit address bus, it was 32 bits internally, so it can run Linux and Windows 3.11.
i wonder if there’s enough room in my IBM PS/2 laptop to do a similar hack, i guess i could use the battery compartment and make a more modern battery pack for it.
I’m fairly certain tht I have one or more Linksys WRT54G routers laying about, if you want one for the project.
The only cost would be in mailing it.
HeyAllen, thanks for the offer, but I can probably scare them up from Free Geek Vancouver for less than the cost of shipping. (If you’re not familiar with the Free Geek concept, google it up. It’s awesome and there might be one near you.) I’ve got a couple fun OpenWRT projects I’ll blog about soon. Thanks, though!
AWESOME! I have one of these beauties. I upgraded it from a 286 to a 386, traded the 5 1/4″ disk drive for a 3 1/2″, and gave it a hard drive. I successfully booted Linux on it using floppies.
I agree: The reason why the proud owner will crush all the Hipsters and reduce them to tears is that all their carefully selected accessories are fly-shit in comparison to the crown-jewel belonging to the Hipster King.
And on a note to Microguys’ longing for a cellphone brick: There has to be bluetooth inside and be hooked up to Skype, while his IPhone lies at home, forwarding all calls to his Skype Account.
and YES, I am really jealous.
I love this. I’ve been looking for a Portable III myself. In the meantime, I’ve restored a Portable II and I now use it to chat on IRC…
Project log -> http://www.dutchforce.com/~eforum/index.php?showtopic=33219
Bridge off the wifi from the single board PC, and use lynx (links?) in dos. Don’t know how possible to do so but hey
I had a Cannon Navigator back when these were hip. Monochrome touch screen and all.
There is a way to get wifi on an ISA system.
ISA to PCMCIA adapter, and a PCMCIA Orinoco Gold will work nicely, if WEP is all you need. (And that supports all the variants of WEP, too.)
There should be a national day for this and flash mob a Starbucks at a Barnes and nobles with old pc’s like my Olivetti portable. or be really funny and take a apple newton and a apple 2c and setup shop talk about strange looks.
Nice! I inherited a Compaq Portable PCIII a while ago, which turned out to have had its original guts replaced with a Tyan S1590S Trinity Super7 mobo running a Cyrix K6-2 CPU. I swapped the 3.5″ HDD for a 2.5″ and added a USB 2.0 and wi-fi card, then installed Win 98SE and managed to get onto Facebook:
I also had a blast playing Prince of Persia, Keen, Megablast, Dune2, etc and running Impulse Tracker and watching a bunch of old demos.
Unfortunately it’s currently bricked following a failed BIOS update. The existing K6-2 has to be underclocked to avoid overheating and I wanted to fit a K6-2+ instead. The mobo doesn’t support these but I found a custom BIOS image that claimed to do the job. Either it was bad or I screwed up. Tyan say they will re-flash the BIOS chip for a nominal cost. It’s been on my todo list for a couple of years now…
I´ve looking for the MD400F640PD5 plasma display data sheet for over 15 years since my Portable III released its magic smoke …
I´d love to make that display work again … any help ?
It would be a step forward if someone could check the display voltages. There is a small diagram near the power supply connector:
I´m guessing the voltages should be:
-HV  to +HV : ~ 200V
-HV  to -LVCC : 5V
+HV  to GND : 5V
GND  to -HV: (-200V) – (+5V) = ~ +195V
Wow..I just got one myself tonight (also here in Vancouver). However, I paid $40CDN for it but I think it is well worth it. It will join my other collection of retro compuers such as OsborneI, AppleII and Commodore PET2001.
I frequent FreeGeek but never had seen any like that. However I picked up old Commodore Amigas.
I makes me crinch when I see people just throw them now into the rcycle bin (being a Govt very big initiative). It is getting harder now to find old retro comoputers.
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