The Book8088 Gets A Post-Hype Review

Last year, a couple of rather unusual computers emerged from China: a 386sx-based palmtop and an 8088-based mini-laptop. The average person isn’t exactly clamoring for a DOS machine these days, but they attracted quite a bit of interest among the retrocomputing scene. Now the dust has settled, [The Retro Shack] has taken a Book 8088 and given it an honest review. Do you need portable 1980s computing in your life, and if so it this the machine to give you it?

The first impression of the machine is just how svelte it is, being like a small but chunky netbook. He explores the hardware and finds as expected an NEC V20 instead of the Intel part running the show, and what would have been a hugely expanded DOS PC back in the day with its VGA and sound card, not to mention a solid state hard drive.

We’re overcome with a bit of nostalgia here at the sight of DOS running Lemmings, and on a machine we’d have given anything to own back in the 1980s. His final conclusion is that it’s a very nice little PC but around $160 seems a little much for what is essentially a toy. We have sadly to agree with him though we really want one, though noting that such a machine would have retailed for a huge amount more than that in 1980s dollars and we’d have considered it a huge bargain then.

If you’re still curious, we covered the arrival of these machines last year.

22 thoughts on “The Book8088 Gets A Post-Hype Review

  1. let me know when they do a 486 retro thingy for less, the 90’s is the golden era, when all the buds from the 80’s blossomed into the garden before being clipped, trimmed & nerfed after the 00’s

    1. Too late, I assume. The 486 nostalgia wave was in the 2000s/early 2010s.
      That’s when people re-built their beloved 486DX2-66 or 486DX4-100 PCs from the 90s.
      Now it’s all about XTs and CGA and the 80s.

      Btw, in China/Japan/Korea etc building functional miniatures is a thing.
      It’s a hobby like making model trains or little sculptures.

      These miniatures aren’t supposed to be used on a daily basis.
      The Book8088 really is a positive exception here, which is notable.

      Here’s an hackaday.com article about such a miniature.

      https://hackaday.com/2017/08/14/a-tiny-sharp-mz-80k-that-really-works/

      Tipl: You can still re-create an authentic 486 in PCem/86Box.
      There are several motherboard types to choose from.
      One supports WinBIOS even, for that mid-90s feel.

      If you’re into real 486 hardware, be prepared to save up some money.
      They’re rare by now, most have been scrapped already.
      By comparison, later 586 PC hardware is easier to acquire, still. Socket 7 or Super Socket 7.

  2. A small 486DX machine with an ISA slot (ideally two) is all I need to build a compact device for calibrating Tektronix TDS500, 600 and 700 series scopes.

    The single-use retro desktop PC I have now is just too bulky for the lab…

    1. Too bad, because some bigger 286 era laptops still had such 8 or 16-Bit expansion slots.

      By 486 times, they had made way for PCMCIA slots already.

      Also, I think you’re not very humble if you’re asking for “a small 486DX machine”. 😂

      In todays world that sounds to me like the equivalent to “a simple Ryzen sub notebook will do”. ;)

      Seriously, 386/486 laptops in the early 90s often had laptop proccessors, for cooling and battery life reasons.

      They had an 386SL or i486SL, rather than a full blown 486DX.

      No offense, though. Just found it a bit amusing. 😃

      But if it really has to be a full grown 486DX, you may want to have a look Compaq Portable 486. It has your ISA slots.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compaq_Portable_486

      Good luck. 🙂👍

      1. No ISA slots, but I have two Digital HiNote 486 notebooks, at least one of which has a 66MHz DX2 CPU, and I believe they could be bought with a DX4 100 back in the day. The CPU is even on a small daughter board accessible from the bottom through a hatch (yet the much more often upgraded HDD is buried under the keyboard 🤦‍♂️).

        1. Maybe it’s a 3.3v model then?

          It appeared around the time of 486DX2, along with the Socket 3.

          Earlier 8086 to i386 CPUs were mostly 5v, usually – but they simultaneously had a lower transistor count and a lower operating frequency than the original i486 chip design (which is used for 486DX and DX2, I think).

          Also, an AMD am386DX-40 had a static CMOS design and some of the more moder 80286 and NEC V20/V30 CPUs were made in CMOS, too, as opposed to NMOS.

          Together with their low transistor count and speeds up to ~16 MHz they were way less power hungry than a powerful 486DX33 or 486DX40.

          The internal cache, co-processor and the more complex pipeling were quite an addition to the x86 die.

          So yeah, it’s hard to say. It depends..
          It’s just that the higher speed 486 processors with 5v were a bit of a special case.

          A bit like Pentium IV, we may say. Just not nearly as hot. 😅

          Then there notebook/embedded processors with SMBIOS support and other energy savings features.

          There was a lot of technological progress in the 90s..

    1. FPGA is emulation territory already.
      It’s usually being combined with a RISC core.

      The technology is overly complex and a far cry from the original technology it aims to functionally replace.

      PALs, GALs and CPLDs can be discussed, though.

      CPLDs are ROM based and relate to FPGAs (RAM based) in a similar way that parallel EPROMs relate to Flash ROMs.

      Personally, I don’t like the idea of replacing 20th century era technology with overkill technology of today.

      The result may look same and acts same as the original, but I know its not.
      This awareness alone ruins it for me.

      I don’t want the idea that 10 million transistors must work hard just to simulate a 1000 transistor logic.

      If that’s fine to you, okay go ahead.
      I still don’t like that. It’s a waste in my eyes.

      If there’s a replica of old hardware, then please using same technology.
      Otherwise, I can use an emulator, just as well.

      In fact, the software emulator is honest, at least. It doesn’t hide the fact it’s an real emulation.

      What I’m looking forward to is “lithography at home”.
      So we can “print” our own chips eventually, using photographs of original chip dies.

      The technology isn’t there yet, of course.
      But maybe it will be in 20 years in the future.

      Just like 3D printers are a recent development and weren’t available 20 years in the past.

      1. FPGAs can not only use less power than the legacy hardware they replace. FPGAs might even, under specfic design cases, use lower power than an equivalent software emulator grinding on an SoC.

        Also, don’t forget that many legacy logic ICs have been obsoleted for a while now… so unless you have a surplus of old parts lying around your choices for future retro projects may be limited (or just stick with DOSBox as you’ve hinted – nothing wrong with that BTW :-D).

        Just my $0.02

        Oh, and as for useful CMOS logic ICs printed at home for pennies, I hope that I live long enough to see it happen but I’m not holding my breath.

        1. Sir, please read my comment again.
          To me, it wasn’t about cost effectiveness or functionality, but the very principle.

          Believe it or not, there are people who prefer a real vintage hardware over an FPGA or emulation box.

          Let’s take another 8-Bit system, like the Famicom for example.

          There are users/players who do prefer an inaccurate Famiclone over a perfect FPGA replica.

          They may simply like the idea that a true 1980s technology is at work, even if it’s an imperfect copy of the original Famicom chipset.

          If they could, they would reproduce such a Famiclone chipset, like the Chinese did for about 20 years.

          They managed to fabricate NOACs (NES on a chip), even.
          Using custom ASICs, I suppose or other technologies.
          These NOACs are little black blobs of plastic containing the NES/Famicom hardware.

          If Chinese no-name companies can produce something like that under difficult conditions, we might be able to achieve something similar at home in the future.
          I still hope for printed circuits on glass/plastic. 🙂

          Best regards,

      2. Lol, what nasty FPGA bullied you as a kid? 😂 Not only have you clearly no idea what an FPGA is or does, there is absolutely no “overkill” there, unless you use multi $1000 ones. PALs and GALs where used in the 80s als well, CPLDs are too small to emulate a full system, but can be used for simple single chips. FPGAs however are ideal, as they can emulate an entire system. Without any overkill!

      3. Joshua wrote “FPGA is emulation territory already.”

        Incorrect. FPGA is PROGRAMMING the chip at the hardware level through software to do whatever you want it to do. Field Programmable Gate Arrays. Hence the name “Programmable” in it. It’s not difficult to understand. You want BBC microcomputer graphics (Mode 0 to 7)? Then program the chip to behave exactly the same way as a real BBC video chip does. To all the connecting hardware around it, it *IS* a BBC video chip. It’s not emulation at all. It’s hardware CUSTOMIZATION. You’re confusing the 2 very different things.

  3. I am happy enough compiling in Linux to exe and using dosbox or wine for running them. If I really wanted to be dropped into the DOS woods to see if I could survive, I would most assuredly use a virtual machine on a modern machine.

    1. Hi, you can also try PCem/86Box.
      They support real BIOSes and a variety of old graphics and sound devices.
      An NE2000 network card, too.

      They’re much more faithful to the DOS days than DOSBox.
      I’m not saying that DOSBox is bad whatsoever, it’s just that DOSBox always had been taken shortcuts in emulation.

      It was aimed at performance, rather than accuracy.
      DOSBox-X isn’t much different here, but makes things up through quantity.

      In PCem/86Box, all the tricky things may work less troublesome.
      OS/2 or QEMM may run as expected, for example.

      With VM software things can work, too but it’s not always being guaranteed.
      These virtualizers usually focus on supporting Windows 2000 and beyond, rather than DOS.

      But even here, full software emulation might be worth a try.
      3D support for Windows XP had been removed beginning with VBox 6.1, for example.

      In PCem/86Box, you still can have that, even if it’s just a Voodoo emulation.
      With the appropriate drivers, this gives basic Direct3D support, too.

      Again, I’m not saying that VBox is bad, either. You can use it for 98SE with SoftGPU package, for example.
      But that requires VBox 7, I believe.

      The problem with VM software products is that they rely on the host processor.

      So compatibility is hit and miss, depending on the CPU (not long ago Ryzen had messed up VME/Enhanced V86).

      Good luck trying to run something hacky like Win32s on a recent VM software.
      (It once worked for me in Virtual PC 2007 with AMD-V being enabled, but that was years ago.)

      Btw, back in the 2000s, VM software still had an interpreter/recompiler for Real-Mode code, also. It didn’t require VTx/AMDV, either. HW assisted virzualization was still optional at the time.

      Anyway, just saying.

      Good luck! 🙂

    2. I forgot to mention, you can also use DOSemu or DOSemu 2 on *nix.
      PCem v17 runs via WINE, too.

      There are also many XT emulators for various OSes.
      PCE, UniPCEmu, Marty PC, vb8086, QB8086, PC-Ditto, VirtualXT, 8086 Tiny Plus, 8086tiny, ScriptPC, Fake86, PocketDOS, Insignia SoftPC/SoftAT, XTM PC/XT Emulator etc. Just to name a few. 😁

      Bochs and Qemu are also available, of course..

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