Restoring The Coolest Laptop Ever

Well-seasoned readers will no doubt remember GRiD laptops, the once and always tacti-cool computers that dominated the military market for decades. GRiDs were the first laptops to go to space, and they were coveted for their sleek (for the time) good looks and reputation as indestructible machines.

The GRiDs went through many iterations, and even though their military roots make them nearly unobtanium, [Simon] scored a GRiD laptop and set about restoring it. His theme was the 1986 movie Aliens, which featured a few GRiD Compass computers as props. [Simon]’s 1550SX came a little later than the Compass 2, but documents with the machine reveal it was a Royal Air Force machine that had been deemed unserviceable for reasons unknown.

[Simon] carefully tore it down – pay close attention to the video below and you’ll hear the telltale plink of the magnesium case parts rather than the dull thud of plastic; they don’t make them like that anymore – and cleaned it up. He replaced the original display with a PiMoroni 10″ retro game display to keep the original 4:3 aspect ratio. A Raspberry Pi 4 went inside, along with a Teensy to take care of adapting the GRiD keyboard to USB and lighting up some front-panel LEDs. A second Teeny allows the original IsoPoint mouse to be used, which is a real gem. With the addition of appropriate graphics, the machine looks like it would be at home on a Colonial Marines dropship.

We love the retro feel of [Simon]’s build, and the movie nostalgia. We’re just glad he didn’t include a LiPo battery, which might not get along with the magnesium case. Game over, man!

Thanks to [Simon]’s friend [Frank] for the tip.

47 thoughts on “Restoring The Coolest Laptop Ever

      1. In the US military, they have an estimated life-cycle, basically an expiration date, and even if it is still usable it is considered unserviceable once it hits that date, a replacement unit is issued.
        There is a list that is issued from the Pentagon to the technicians of when a certain unit/device becomes unserviceable and that is written in stone.

    1. Although I’m not bothered by restore, because the end result was functioning laptop computer. If I where play semantics, I’d use repurposed. but even that really doesn’t work either.

    1. That was the sadist part of the video that or not doing some troubleshooting to try to get it to run as is then after some fun doing a conversion. Those screens can be pretty expensive at least in the repair market for cnc milling machines. Very pretty screens and wonderful contrast in my opinion.

      1. Chill your tits guys, this is a later model with crappy BW LCD, they pop on scambay from time to time at $50-100 and rarely sell.
        How come ‘it belongs in the museum’ screaming lot never does anything themselves to preserve all this “precious” garbage?

        1. One would hope that, being a serious reader of HAD, you are not of the opinion that what was done to this computer-case (and only the computer case) bears the slightest resemblance to preserving, or a yet even worse characterization–“preserving–a ‘GRiD’ computer.

          But then again, some readers think–like the well-worn humorous saying about duct tape–“…I can fix anything; just give me a Raspberry Pi.”

          1. It does a good job of preserving the style of the machine. I’d have liked to see an attempt or mention of why the hardware wasn’t redeemable before going to such lengths but when old electronics are ‘restored’ like this its still a better thing for preserving history of computing than just letting it go to landfill. With a little work it can make a very good facsimile of it in use originally, while still being able to do modern tasks if you want it to. (Also these things don’t see all that rare, its not like he cut up that one of three NASA super-computer from the early days or anything)

        2. I hate to see a vintage computer like this get hacked up, but…it’s not yours. This dude bought it and he can do whatever he wants with it and nobody can stop him. So, just enjoy it for what it is. At least he didn’t convert it into a chia pet.

        1. The only one I came across in the flesh was a grid pad with transflective LCD with resistive touch. Almost put me off the idea of solid state disks for life. It had about a megabyte of something that seemed slower than floppy.

          1. Yah, it’s possible it had been in government service so had been sold used with zero storage and the owner just got the only PCMCIA type 1 card he could find or would work at all.

    2. AFAIK restroom originated in Street Rodding. Define by largely keeping an older car’s body appearance appearce as manufacture, whil using modern drive trains, while adding modern safety component lis brake steering, and as far as door latches no prone to popping open in an accident. The result being a vehicle that can be driven to most any State in all of North America, reliably, safely, with a fair chance that a major component can be repaired easily, quickly. Where this computer meets all that it is a restromod. IMO preferable, to gateing dust in a shed or barn for years somewhere

  1. I briefly worked at a Tandy Business Products Center (they sold the bigger computers and PBX phone equipment that wasn’t sold at regular Radio Shack stores)

    We had a few GRiD’s on the floor, and I have to say, the IsoPoint mouse was an interesting thing to use.
    I wish more laptops had something like it.

  2. Makes me almost miss the IBM mod 70P that was the on-call machine for the one place I worked back in the early 90’s. Better than a Compaq portable, but still a boat anchor. Grid machines were drool worthy back then.

    1. Sorry, I might have clicked “Report” on this when I was going to reply.

      IBM also had some magnesium chassie tough computers, I got a friend who had one, it had the IBM nipple in the keyboard style of mouse, it also had a removable harddrive that he had to lock up at work every day I think.

      I don’t know if they were consumer avalible, he got his from work

  3. Fair warning then, I intend to hang, draw and quarter, vivisect, dissect, cannibalise and graverob an AST Premium Exec, IBM Portable PC, and a Toshiba T-5100 at some point…. I don’t like the way the Speak’N’Math looks at me either…. none of those are museum pieces though, just grungy beat to crap systems with $300 worth of problems to solve to make them worth $100.

      1. The tosh may get a reprieve, I just noticed that the service manuals turned up online. However, it has been in hiding since I last moved the workshop around. Though I just got an inkling that it’s kind of lining the bottom of a large box that is otherwise filled with ancient software.

  4. This reminds me of what we used to call “Red Seats” back at EDS, TEMPEST shielded laptops.

    Sadly it’s another in a long line of “Put a Raspberry Pi or Arduino into it” articles. Put some Tussin on it!

    If I bring home a new television does that count as restoring my house?

  5. “pay close attention to the video below and you’ll hear the telltale plink of the magnesium case parts rather than the dull thud of plastic; they don’t make them like that anymore”

    My 3 Panasonic Toughbooks would beg to differ.

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