New DOS PCs, In 2023?

It’s not likely that we’ll talk about a new PC here at Hackaday because where’s the news in yet another commodity computer? But today along comes not one but two new PCs courtesy of the ever bounteous hall of wonders at AliExpress, that are unusual enough to take a look at. If you have around $250 to spare, you can have a brand new, made in 2023, 80386sx plamtop PC capable of running Windows 95, or an 8088 laptop for DOS. Just what on earth is going on?

First of all, these PCs are not evidence of those aged chips going back into production. A close look at the photographs on the Ali listings shows chips with date codes more appropriate to the era when these chips were king, with a mid-1990s VGA chip and a 2000s-era 386-core SoC. These are the fruit of the chip recycling business, devices removed from their original boards, cleaned up, and sold on. Some canny Chinese designer has spotted a product niche, and run with it.

For your cash you get what would have been a high spec 386sx PC in the early 1990s and a pretty useful 8088 machine in the mid ’80s. Neither would have appeared in a palmtop or clamshell laptop form factor in their own eras, so they would both have been considered phenomenal machines when new. It’s debatable how good a Windows 95 machine the 386sx would be even with that 8 megabytes of RAM, but both of them will benefit from their solid-state CF card hard drives.

So, these machines are cool. Inestimably cool, and we have to admit a level of desire. But are they $250 levels of cool? Probably not, when the modern equivalent in a base model Steam Deck is about $450 and there are so many emulation options out there. Still, top effort!

Haven’t got $250 but must have a DOS PC? It’s five years since someone emulated one on an ESP8266.

Thanks to the many tipsters who came to us with this one.

85 thoughts on “New DOS PCs, In 2023?

    1. I’d rather have the handheld. Being able to use my DOS utilities and Windows 3.1 applications is worth it to me. Especially if old-school connectivity (serial, parallel) is available. I’m also running Norton Commander 1.x on my Android device, but it’s not as snappy as on my vintage systems. Oh, and being able to run MOD4Win and Ui-view on Windows 3.1x would be nice. Hopefully, this handheld has some soundchip with WSS or SB Pro compatibility. And an SVGA chip that’s either VBE compatible or old enough to be known by WfW 3.11 SVGA driver. 640×480 is okay, but I’d rather like to have 256c. 16c is a bit too little. ^^

      1. The refurbished i7 I got in 2016 had PS/2, serial and parallel.

        I don’t think that’s happening this time, but I never used serial and parallel on the current i7.

      2. This handheld doesn’t have serial or printer connections. You can add a PS/2 keyboard and mouse, that’s it.
        Too bad because there is a lot of DOS programs that control serial interfaces for programming loads of equipment and this would do just fine. But not this time.

    1. In my family, the main PC was a 40MHz 386PC with 16MB of RAM, modem, CD-ROM drive, printer etc.
      It ran business software just fine, including CompuServe (WinCIM) and Netscape 2.x.
      But I must say that this was in the early Windows 95 days, when 80% Windows software was still expecting Windows 3.x and using 16-Bit code.

        1. A real 386 PC (80386DX) needs to communicate with peripherals over ISA bus, however. Which is 16-/24-Bit.

          Ok, technically, there were 386 PCs with MCA, EISA, VLB or Opti bus that could make use of 32-Bit transfers. But they were less common. ISA (deskop) and EISA (server) were the two dominant buses as far as the 386 is considered.

    2. I don’t know…. throw enough modern memory and disk at it, and it’ll probably run better than you think (as long as it is a 386SX with the 387 coprocessor added on — otherwise, I’d ask for a 386DX).

      1. Windows needs memory, more than CPU power.
        16 Megabytes are a sane minimum for real work.
        Past 32 Megabyte, Windows 95 will stopp to excessively swap to HDD.
        I’ve been there in the 90s..

        Windows 98SE by comparison is a bit larger, but has a way more sophisticated memory management.
        It can execute programs from swap file directly, for example, if the EXE is correctly alligned (WinAlign, Walign utilities).

        Unfortunately, people in the 90s did rarely invest in proper RAM expansion.
        They rather wasted memory on fast CPUs and graphics cards, because they played games.

        That’s why they rarely ever had a proper understanding of memory requirements. And that’s why they had such a bad experience, I think.

        Rather than making things go smooth (slow CPU, big RAM), they opted for a fast stuttering experience (super fast CPU, and fast swapping to hard disk).

  1. Hey Jenny.
    Great!!! Run WIN95??? Wonder!! In the past, I used some soft on Win95 (APRS Ui-View, for example), but I can’t use them nowadays, due to the lack of (physical) DOS. And as for Win95, where will you be able to find the installer?

    1. winworldpc has a few older versions. Microsoft apparently asked for commercial versions of XP and Vista to be taken down (according to a Reddit thread) but there are prerelease versions of those too. There’s also versions of DOS and old versions of Linux releases and a few other things there.

      1. Somewhere in my software pile I have an original Windows OS on 5 1/4″ floppy. Not Win 3.1, but just “Windows”. Of course, I no longer have a PC with a 5 1/4″ drive, now.

    2. You didn’t keep your floppy and/or CD copies somewhere? Sorry…

      I’m one of those (un)fortunate souls that still has original media and the OEM install code burned into my memory (I did A LOT of installs back in the day). And, having used UI-View recently, I’ve had the need to get a win95 instance running…

      1. Ui-view runs on Windows 3.1 on a 286 PC. I tried that, seriously. Same PC in the shack has a PK-232 attached, so it made sense. Runs well, with at least 4MB of RAM. That’s an amount a classic 286 motherboard with SIMM sockets can handle in most cases.

        More RAM on Windows is better, of course, depending on the resolution/colour-depth of the maps used. On a 386 and up, Windows 3.1x can use virtual memory, too.

        That being said, Ui-view32 can easily be run on Windows 95 to XP. Maybe later versions, too. The current version is online, but Ui-view32 needs a registration code (free of charge).

        For SWLs, the original 16-Bit version is still worth a try, thus. It’s also fully usable these days, still.

        DOSBox+Windows 3.1 may do. Software TNCs like Direwolf, soundmodem or MixW2/MixW3 can talk to it via COM port. A null-modem driver or two VMs is all it needs. Or a physical null-modem (good for Linux users).

        Anyway, Ui-view is still fine in either version. It’s functionality can still be extended by plug-ins. Especially for the 32-Bit version, quite a few extensions exist.

        1. A thousand years in the future an archeologist will dig up an AOL CD, load it and find there are still free hours on it and.hear the voice say… “You’ve Got Mail !”

          1. Remember when you could download celebrity voices to replace the AOL voice? Much like downloading ringtones, now. Somewhere I think I even still have a file with all those sound bytes (or is it ‘bites’)

    1. Right? Like sure it’s a 386sx so maybe Doom and later shooters are out but there’s so much more. As long as you stay in DOS this is perfect. It has VGA and an OPL3 sound chip.

    1. Everyone has DOSBox. I’ve got it on my Android devices. The real hardware is still smoother in certain situations, though. The timings in DOSBox aren’t authentic, for example. They’re one cycle always, if I remember correctly.

      Then there’s VGA emulation, which still is not perfect. Try some demoscene productions from and you’ll see. The default OPL3 core is good, but not perfect, either. “Nuked OPL3” emulation tries to perfect OPL3 emulation. If you’re into Adlib Tracker II, a real OPL3 really is a wonderful thing.

      DOSBox is neat, don’t get me wrong. But playing on real hardware is a joy, too. It’s a bit akin to playing on a real NES vs. an emulator box. Sometimes you really like to experience the real thing, despite emulation being fascinating, too.

  2. I’d prefer it in a box with serial, parallel and and vga ports, on and a couple USBs just for keyboard and mouse, all in all, it would be cheaper and a fun little hardware dos box.

    1. You’ve never experienced the dark USB ages on Linux then. I’ve been there, when Linux PCs had no proper USB support.

      We users were told to simply get “good hardware” back then. Which in practice meant getting same PC hardware as found in the dumpster and on the road side of the day. Seriously!

      Centronics and serial ports simply worked, by comparison. It simply was a matter of setting jumpers or selecting resources/operation modes in CMOS Setup.

      These traditional ports were easy to diagnose in DOS via MSD (part of MS-DOS 6.x) or CheckIt! Updating the serial port FiFo from 16450 to a 16550A (or compatible) was a form of sports, too.

      Last but not least, serial and parallel ports never changed their device ID or numbering on their own. USB devices did/do.

      Whenever you installed same USB device in an other USB port, maybe by accident, it was detected as a new device. With all the tedious detection phase that comes with it.

    1. I’ve got a couple Vortex86 ‘SBC’ Thin clients. Pick speeds up to 900mhz. Maybe that’s what I should put in my Wii-U pad with the HDMI screen?

      🤔 Good post, got the gears turning.

      1. I use Descent by Paralax. Far superior. Better physics, 6 degrees of freedom (including 6dof controllers and maybe wven HMD?). 3d baddies, not sprites.

        I never played Doom as a kid 🤷‍♂️

        1. I was a fan of Descent, too. I sometimes played it with 3D shutter glasses back in the day. The OPL3 intro music of the shareware version was impressive. So much bass in that soundtrack on my SB16 (CT1740)!

      1. What would be interesting to know, if these computers are at least partially using the original chips, do they provide the easy direct hardware access that seems lacking on modern computers. Being able to toggle and read parallel port pins like a microcontroller but from dos, on a portable machine, would be great for a bit of nostalgic hobbyist robotics.

        1. The “OPL YMF262-M” seen on the PCB seems to be a real OPL3.

          It should be available at port 388h/389h, at least. That’s the Adlib’s default port address, which had an OPL2 mono synthesizer.

          That being said, your question is legit.
          On that port address, you get a mono/center audio. The registers for left channel/right channel are not covered by Adlib standard.

          So question is, is the OPL3 on the 386 handheld available at the classic SB Pro 2/SB16 addresses? There’s no Sound Blaster hardware installed there, after all.

          So the logic for adressing left/right sound channel *might* be missing (at worst). Thus, reducing the OPL3 to an OPL2 with 4-OP mode.

      2. Adding a sound blaster card could be doable, although perhaps neater as an external box, rather than trying to cram one into the case by replacing electrolytic capacitors.

  3. I need something like this with two serial ports, USB on a controller with DOS support for storage, VGA video, and able to do LIM 4.0 EMS memory. Need one serial for machine control, the other serial for an 800×600 ELO touch screen industrial monitor.

    1. Hm. Is a handheld really needed? You could get a Compaq Portable III clone or an Portable 486/66 and modify it..
      Or a Siemens Portable (looks like a Commodore C64 Portable).

      Alternatively, have a look at these portables used by military.
      Some are built like portables, too.

      Here’s a video of a laptop version (can’t find portable video):

      Alternatively, you also could modify or expand that 386 handheld. It has an 8-Bit ISA slot, after all.

      – a multi i/o card gives you 2x serial, game, 2x parallel
      – the Lo-Tech 2MB EMS card can provide hardware EMS (has LIM4 driver, EMS 3.2 hardware)

      By using an extension cable, you can use both externally. Or you can sandwich both together, internally. ISA is a parallel bus, after all. Since this is, a bit of old-school hacking doesn’t hurt, right? 🙂

  4. My $30 Compaq Armanda DOS laptop at computer shop. Won’t boot.

    Stored in unheated shed. Checked with battery recharge once a year.

    This year no boot. Hard disk click, click, …

    2023 focus on arm m and a, risc-v, x86, … platform portable c to machine language code.

    “Why I remember back in 1959 …” :(

    Us ElectroData programmers are living in 2023 … and trying to avoid 1960 assembler technologies.

    Purchasing sipeed risc-v, orange pi RK3588, ARM M and A, … sbcs.

    Not DOS machines.

    1. Thanks! 😃👍

      Though installing an NEC V20 is really recommend (has most 80286 Real-Mode instructions).
      The 8088 is a horrible CPU. Even it’s designers said it was an ‘castrated’ 8086. It’s 50% slower, too.

      1. It is much less than 50% slower for most workloads. The only thing that would be faster, in typical IBM PC implementation is 16-bit aligned memory and I/O accesses. Most of IBM PC 8088 applications were not specifically optimized for that. NEC V20 would have the same 8-bit bus limitation, although it is faster with some instructions, and, as you’ve correctly mentioned it does implement 80186+ instructions. Horrible or not, the 8088 is what was used in IBM PC. And it is much easier to implement an IBM PC compatible using 8088 vs. 8086

  5. Seems like the Toshiba Libretto is getting scarce 😂. But seriously the fact that there has to be a hipster subculture this is servicing is very interesting.

    Unless there is a good industrial use for compatible machines, like manufacturing, or /shudder/ ICBM controls. Maybe this is proof China is going to the moon 🤣

  6. If there was one of these types of things with at least a 486DX and two (I could get by with one) real ISA slots for a semi-reasonable price, I’d snap it up.

    It would mean I don’t need a big ol’ desktop PC to calibrate and adjust my TDS500/600/700 series Tek scopes.

    1. I agree in the real ISA slots.

      However, I can understand the focus on the 386SX rather a 486.
      Back in the 90s, some Baby-AT motherboards with 40MHz 386DX/SX CPUs were tiny, yet fully functional and had a couple of ISA slots. That level of miniaturization was never reached again in the 90s.

      Problem with the 486 is that you require a much better infrastructure on the motherboard, faster chipsets, more traces. You need lots of external cache, too, to not to bottleneck the 486. And VLB slots, ideally. Otherwise, the power of the 486 is wasted.

      Technically, a Cyrix 386/486 hybrid CPU with internal cache could have been used as an alternative here. However, those CPUs are rare by comparison and installing them for the giggles would be a waste. They’d be better kept in the hands of real vintage PC enthusiasts. Those 386SX chips are plentiful and cheap, by comparison. No one gets hurt if they’re being used up in such handheld systems.

  7. It would be interesting to see if this could be cloned and made for a much cheaper price, or improved upon. I have a stockpile of 8088, z80 and 68000 processors, the form factor is interesting. Its awesome that you can be running something that is pc compatible on something in your pocket like this.

  8. Sad is Linux removed i386 code from codebase.
    More interesting will be buy spare parts frame LCD keyboard caps
    and use opensource PCB with ARM/RISC-V based new motherboard
    Is it possible buy this “pocket pc” case part only?
    It will be great for portable terminal/console messanger projects!

    1. Or a good learning platform in a more svelte form factor – that era of hardware is simple enough you can comprehend pretty much every level at once, and all the details are out there for how they work. So you can read up everything you need to do whatever you want, potentially dipping into the baremetal level stuff at that step above the baby micro’s complexity level, but below the crazy level of complexity associated with modern hardware.

  9. FacePalmTop ! With SBEMU you can revive any old school laptop, notebook, or even netbook Asus Eee PC 1000. SBEMU gives a new life to any of your retro portable or not PC in a “wardrobe”.

  10. In 1993-4 I had an 8088 laptop, it had 2 floppies. I used to run the Novell test sims on it, and EZ-Plot for the physics class. I actually sat in the car running through the practice tests at the exam center. The thing is I got it at a hamfest for $80, so I’m reluctant to spend more than that now. And my EZ-plot floppy is long gone…..

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