Compaq 286 Laptop Gets Raspberry Transfusion

We know, we know. A lot of you don’t like projects that consist of gutting a vintage computer (or anything else, for that matter) and replacing its internals with modern electronics. But can you really look at the clunky Compaq LTE 286 laptop that [Dmitry Brant] hacked a Raspberry Pi into and honestly say it’s a machine worthy of historical preservation? The 30+ year old laptop had all the design cues of a saltine cracker, and the performance to match. At least now with a Pi under the hood, you can play some newer games on the thing.

Besides, [Dmitry] says the machine was damaged beyond the point of economical repair anyway. The only stock hardware that’s left beyond the case itself is the keyboard, which he was able to get talking USB thanks to a Teensy microcontroller. It’s not immediately clear if any attempt has been made to get the switches above the keyboard working, but we imagine it wouldn’t be too hard to tie them into some spare GPIO pins on the MCU for a bit of added authenticity.

The bottom half of the machine was cleared out to the point of it literally being a husk of its former self, which gave him plenty of room to hold the Pi 3B and the HDMI driver board that controls the new 9-inch TFT display. Speaking of which, the new panel was a close enough match to the original’s aspect ratio that only minor bezel modifications were required to get it to fit. The modern LCD makes for a massive improvement over the original, without looking too conspicuous.

While there’s still plenty of available space inside the Compaq, [Dmitry] has opted not to include an onboard battery at this time. Instead, power is provided to the Pi and associated hardware through a bulkhead mount USB connector on the side of the machine. It looks like it wouldn’t be too much trouble to add support for an off-the-shelf USB battery bank, as we recently saw with a particularly well engineered retro-futuristic folding cyberdeck, but far from us to tell a hacker what they should do with their bespoke computer.

27 thoughts on “Compaq 286 Laptop Gets Raspberry Transfusion

  1. That’s fine, wasn’t a pretty model anyway and the Pi 3 he sacrificed is dated, too. 🙂 Let’s just hope that guy saved the heart of the machine – the good old 80286 CPU itself. ❤️

    1. Let’s see your projects so we can sh!t all over them in a pointless attempt to seem edgy too! The ones who shout the loudest about what other people do with their time and money are often the same group who play the victim when someone tries to do the same to them.

      1. If this was your project, please know that when you post anything online, you’re going to see some not necessarily positive comments. I agree with the OP, I honestly love the 286 with all its silly quirks. I’d hope it got put on a shelf or something. It’s not an attack, the Pi is fine.

  2. I wouldn’t comment on what is or isn’t “a proper project” for “the skills” of someone I’ve never met.
    I wouldn’t apologize for something I was deliberately going to do anyway. It’s an insincere way of dealing with what I knew was a wrong thing to do. Apologizing twice, doubly so.
    Comments like this are one reason I never post my projects here.
    I’m not thin skinned. I just don’t like to feed folk like this.

    Nice project btw Liking the Gag Halfrunt reference too.

    1. If this is in reply to Joshua above then I whole heatedly agree. Gatekeepers like that need to get a life and worry more about themselves than what some stranger does with their own time, property and money.

      1. It was in reply to some other comment, which has been deleted. Interesting, usually when a comment is deleted the child comments also get deleted (regardless of how good they are) – guess there was an update to the moderation system.

        The original comment was yet-another-gatekeeper claiming this wasn’t “a proper project”.

        Those that engage in gatekeeping generally have insecurity issues, hence the need to put down other people’s work, or claim somebody doesn’t meet the bar for hacker/programmer/maker/HAM/etc… Also, I do wish HaD staff would stop gatekeeping, even doing it in jest just validates other gatekeepers…

  3. Nice work! You can always add to the project now as you have ‘lots’ of room in there. Now I wish I would have kept around an old grey laptop (don’t remember brand) that ran DOS that was given to me long ago. Instead, I gave it away to the recyclers a few years ago…. Having a nice thick base to work with would be great. Anyway, nice to see the ‘shell’ being reused :) .

  4. What would be ideal for that Teensy USB keyboard converter is to install a small PC SBC into the expansion bay of a Tandy 1000 HX then be able to switch between it and the still functional Tandy 1000. The trick would be how to switch the keyboard back and forth? What could make it possible is the Tandy’s keyboard controller is on its main board, the keyboard connects to the board via a wire ribbon cable.

    Imagine lugging a T1000 HX to a LAN party then plugging an Ethernet cable into its expansion bay.

  5. The original screen was absolutely terrible, but I would have liked to see him figure out how to connect the RPi to it. Even if the conclusion was just “who wants a blue-and-white backlit slow STN screen anyway”

    1. “who wants a blue-and-white backlit slow STN screen anyway”

      Me. I liked those 486 era LCD screens with ghosting, actually ..
      They had something graceful to them, making them look professional.
      And their contrast was very high, too.
      Not exactly suited for gaming, except GNU Chess, maybe.

      About everyone: If you’ve got no talent, use a Pi.
      If you have no clue how a CRT works, replace it by a cheap color LCD. If you have no understanding of your ancestors tech, replace and make yourselve believe it was beyond repair.

      1. “If you’ve got no talent, use a Pi.”

        What does a person with talent use? Another SBC? How does that make one any more talented? Design your own motherboard to fit the case with modern components? That’s a very high bar to set indeed!

        “If you have no clue how a CRT works, replace it by a cheap color LCD.”

        There never was a CRT here. Also, another good reason to replace a CRT.. by modern standards they are power hungry and heavy. As for the original screen that was in the case.. those old ones from before 2000 something or other were electrically a lot more “one off” than today’s. You aren’t going to just buy a controller off the internet like you can for newer displays. To reuse it would be a pretty advanced reverse engineering task. You couldn’t even tell yourself it’s worth it because now everyone else with an old laptop can re-use your work. It would only be usable for people with that exact same screen. So again, re-using the screen would be a pretty high bar to set for determining “talent”. And the result would just be a crappier image!

        “you have no understanding of your ancestors tech, replace and make yourselve believe it was beyond repair.”

        Perhaps. But seriously, if you do understand that era of tech what do you think it is so useful for? Playing DOS games that probably run just the same on it now via DOSBox? Generating more CO2 with energy inefficient hardware? Maybe thinking it’s so useful shows you don’t understand “your ancestor’s tech” either. Think of it this way, what would the person who first bought that 286 laptop have chosen at the time given the original or unmodified version? No doubt they would take the Pi!

        When old junk like this becomes rare then it will make sense to preserve a few. It’s still just back-closet filler though today.

      2. If you have nothing better to do with your time complain about what a stranger does with their own property and cry about it in an anonymous comment while doing nothing constructive yourself! Hurray.

  6. A worthy repurpose of the box. Not exactly a vintage DEC or Altair. I found a MIL version of a laptop for $15 US at the TRW swap meet (Los Angeles) to use for just such an adventure. This gives me the courage and inspiration to move ahead.

    1. Or instead of a “working” floppy drive set it up to play tunes using it’s stepper. What if a DOSBox driver could be written for it to make the floppy step in as the PC speaker. Then run some old DOS games with good chip tunes.

  7. I love things like this. I’ve been thinking of my own similar project: Someday I’m gonna stick a RISC-V board in a broken Thinkpad x60 shell, and it’ll be the perfect computing device. Gotta wait for the RISC-V ecosystem to mature a little bit first, though.

  8. I love the retro rocket feel of this. (Even if it’s really just a simple shell swap) It’s a bit silly, but fun.
    Sometimes the only preservation you can do is the last 10% of working parts.

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