Today, computers are separated into basically two categories: desktops and laptops. But back in the early 1980s, when this ideological line in the sand was still a bit blurry, consumer’s had a third choice. Known as “portable computers” at the time, and often lovingly referred to as luggables by modern collectors, these machines were technically small enough to take with you on a plane or in the car.
In the video after the break, [Dave] walks us through some of the highlights of his luggable build, such as the fold-down mechanical keyboard, gloriously clunky mechanical power switches, and the integrated touch screen. We also really like the side-mounted touch pad, which actually looks perfectly usable given the largely keyboard driven software environment [Dave] has going on the internal Raspberry Pi 4. With a removable 30,000 mAh battery pack slotted into the back of the machine, he’ll have plenty of juice for his faux-retro adventures.
[Dave] mentions that eventually he’s looking to add support for “cartridges” which will allow the user to easily slot in new hardware that connects to the Pi’s GPIO pins. This would allow for a lot of interesting expansion possibilities, and fits in perfectly with the Reviiser’s vintage aesthetic. It would also go a long way towards justifying the considerable bulk of the machine; perhaps even ushering in a revival of sorts for the luggable computer thanks to hardware hackers who want a mobile workstation with all the bells and whistles.
The modern laptop has its origins in the mid to late 1980s, when shrinking computer hardware and improvements to battery technology finally made mobile computing practical. But before the now iconic clamshell form factor became the standard, there was a market for so-called “portable” computers. These machines often resembled pieces of luggage with keyboards attached, and even at their peak, they were nowhere near as practical as today’s ultra-thin notebook computers. But for the more nostalgic among us, these vintage portables do have a special sort of charm about them.
Looking to recapture some of that magic with modern components, [davedarko] has started working on his own Raspberry Pi portable computer. Just like those machines of yore, his build is designed to be a self-contained computing experience that you can lug around, but not exactly something you’d be popping open on the train. Its extruded aluminum frame holds the display, power supply, and audio hardware, with plenty of room to spare for additional hardware should he decide to pack in a couple hard drives or something more exotic.
We particularly like the 3D printed hinge and lock mechanism he designed that holds the keyboard closed against the front of the frame. Sufficiently old experienced readers will recall this particular feature being a defining characteristic of portables such as the Osborne 1 and Compaq Portable, and it’s great to see it included here. All it needs now is a leather handle on the side to complete the look.
[davedarko] still has some work ahead of him, as ultimately he’d like to completely enclose his computer’s frame with laser cut panels. But the build is certainly progressing nicely, and frankly, it’s already at the point where we’d have no problem pulling it out at the next hackerspace meetup. Between builds like this and the growing collection of cyberdecks we’ve covered recently, it looks as though 1980s design aesthetic is alive and well within the hacker community.
Playing classic games on the real hardware is an experience many of us enjoy, but sometimes the hardware is just a bit too retro for modern sensibilities. A case in point is the miserable monochrome LCD that was originally installed in the Amstrad PPC640 portable 8086 PC that [Drygol] recently picked up. He decided that his portable Amstrad sessions would be far more enjoyable if he swapped it out for a display that didn’t have 30+ years on the clock.
To quell the complaints of any of the vintage hardware aficionados out there, it’s worth mentioning that the original LCD was actually damaged and needed to be replaced anyway. Granted [Drygol] could have tried to find a contemporary panel to replace it with, but looking at the incredible before and after shots of the modded PPC640, it’s hard to argue he didn’t make the right decision by throwing a modern display into the otherwise largely original computer.
[Drygol] says he picked up a cheap 4:3 LCD TV on eBay, and as luck would have it, found that the new panel dropped perfectly into the original frame. Getting it buttoned back up required the removal of the RF can and all the female connections on the TV’s PCB, plus he had to cut some holes in the back of the display enclosure to mount the LCD’s controls, but overall it looks very stock.
Of course, getting the new LCD display in the original frame was only half the battle, it still needs to be connected up to the computer somehow. To get everyone playing nicely with each other, [Drygol] is using a commercially available MDA/CGA/EGA to VGA converter that is installed where the batteries would have gone originally. Wired to the PPC640’s external monitor connector, it allows him to drive the new display without having to use the original LCD interface.
[Drygol] has made something of a name for himself by performing some of the most impressive restorations and modifications of retro hardware in recent memory. From the unbelievable work that went into repairing a smashed Atari 800XL case to his gorgeous custom Amiga A500, his projects are sure to please the retro hardware lovers in the audience.
Like many hackers, [Tom Szolyga] has soft spot for the venerable Z80. The number of instructions and registers made it relatively easy to program in ASM, and he still has fond memories of the refreshingly straightforward CP/M operating system he used to run on them back in the day. In fact, he loves Z80 computers so much he decided to build one that he could carry around in his pocket.
The result is the Minty Z80, so-called because it lives inside a tin formerly inhabited by every hacker’s favorite curiously strong mint. But the goal of this build wasn’t just to make it small, but also make it convenient to work with. [Tom] is using a ATmega32A to help interface the Z84C0008 microprocessor with the modern world, which allows for niceties such as support for a micro SD card. There’s no onboard USB-to-serial capability, but with an external adapter connected to the Minty’s header, it’s easy to use log into this microcosm of classic computing with a terminal emulator running on a computer or mobile device.
[Tom] has provided the schematics and Bill of Materials for the Minty Z80 on the project’s Hackaday.io page, but as of the latest update, he’s holding off on releasing the board files until he’s sure that all the bugs have been worked out. There’s no word yet if he found any show stoppers in the first iteration of the board design, but he’s posted a picture of the fully assembled miniature retrocomputer in all its glory which seems like a good sign.
The design of the Minty Z80 is similar to that of the Z80-MBC2 by [Just4Fun], but on an even smaller scale. It’s encouraging to see several projects leveraging modern design and components to prevent classic computing from becoming little more than a distant memory.
If you have an eye for obscure Microsoft products, you may be aware of the Microsoft PixelSense, a table-sized horizontal touchscreen designed as a collaborative workspace. It’s a multi-user computer with no traditional keyboard or mouse, instead multiple users work with documents and other files as though they were real documents on a table. It’s an impressive piece of technology, and it was the first thing that came to mind when we saw [Anitomicals C]’s dual screen portable computer. It has a form factor similar to a large laptop, in which the touchscreen folds upwards to reveal not a conventional keyboard and trackpad, but another identical touchscreen. The entire surface of the computer is a touch display with a desktop propagated across it, and in a similar way to the Microsoft product the user can work exclusively in the touch environment without some of the limitations of a tablet.
He freely admits that it is a prototype and proof of concept, and that is obvious from its large size and extensive use of desktop components. But he has brought it together in a very tidy Perspex case serving as an interesting class in creating a portable computer with well-chosen desktop components, even though with no battery it does not pretend to fit the same niche as a laptop. We’d be interested to see the same interface produced as a less bulky desktop-only version with solely the two monitors, because the horizontal touch screen is what sets this machine apart from other home-made ones.