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C > COMPAQ > Portable   


Announced November 1982, the unit was actually shipped in January of 1983 (300 of them). This was arguably the system that destroyed IBM's monopoly on the PC market and created the situation we see today. It WAS the first compatible system that was LEGALLY made, though Columbia first copied the IBM BIOS and later paid the fatal price.

The system's BIOS was developed from scratch by using a team of 18 persons (only one guy was "dirty" and he was not allowed to do any part of the code and could only answer vaguely to questions). They took IBM's BIOS apart and made notes of the system calls contained within it. That way, Compaq was able to develop a PC compatible without any risk of a lawsuit from IBM, since the code was written from scratch (reverse engineering). It cost them $1 million to do it.

The system itself weighs a hefty 34 pounds and was dubbed a 'luggable' computer rather than a true portable. It contained a 9" green phosphor CRT display and both serial and parallel ports. The system did MDA graphics as well as CGA by switching the scan frequencies of the monitor (a first that is the basis for VGA).

The only difference between the standard and 'Plus' models was that the latter had a single 5.25" floppy drive and a 10Mb hard disk, while the original model had two 5.25" drives. All units supported two 5.25'' floppies at 160 KB, 320 KB and 360 KB. All units could have 10, 20, or 30 MB hard drives but Compaq only shipped 10MB Rhodime ruggedized drives (good for 40 G shock!). Some models also had a 20/40 MB tape drive. Compaq also shipped a brown nylon or brown leather carrying case and ONE blue case (Rod Canions unit).

In its first year of trading, Compaq took more than $111 million on this single product, which was a US business record. During that year (1983), more than 53,000 units were sold.

Museum entry added by David Wyn Davies
Thanks to the Computer Closet Museum for the picture.

Dave (Compaq insider) reports:
The portable was the first unit and had silver logo plates. It had the standard 1 or 2 floppy drives. The Plus was the unit with the Rhodime 10MB fixed disk and had gold labels. Many folks get them confused as the Portable was easily upgradable to a Plus and many thousands were. Just check the label color.

Oh here's a tidbit - to remove the case cover, simply lay the unit flat (fold up the bottom feet) and press your elbow into the middle of the top cover and the rear edge of that cover will pop out enough to grab and lift off. One of the test ladies taught me that and we were all muscling it around - she simply figures out how to use what she has.

The power supply can be a bugger to remove also. It had a special wrench to remove the lower lock screw and the whole thing kinda slides out where you can then remove the connectors.

My unit had 2 1/2 ht 20 Mg drives and 2 1/2 ht floppy drives. I later swapped a floppy for a tape drive. It is presently in the Compaq internal museum (the "hall of fame").

Paul Dixon (another Compaq insider) replies:
The cover actually can be removed with one hand if you know exactly where to slap the heel of your hand onto the cover and then catch the edge as it pops out with your fingers.
Graphic modes are shown here as CGA and MDA. Actualy can MDA be described as a graphics mode? I suppose if you count lines produced in text mode then it could be. However the Compaq portable did NOT support MDA (or Mode 7). It emulated MDA in CGA mode 3 which is the text mode for CGA.

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I believe the comment about CGA/MDA is incorrect. The portable does indeed have MDA (9x14 text mode). The difference is obvious when you are in MDA mode, there are more than 8 pixels per character. The IBM-5155 however did not have MDA mode.

Saturday 19th February 2022

The keyboard had KeyTronic contact “foam and foil” mylar pads: Apple Lisa 1 and 2, AVL Eagle K69, Compaq Portable, Compaq Deskpro 286 AT keyboard, Compaq Enhanced Keyboard, Curvus Concept, Datapoint, DEC, Franklin Ace 1000/1100/1200, GenRad, IBM PCjr (some), Kaypro II, Key Tronic Model F clone series, Macintosh XL, Miniterm 1203, Northstar Advantage, Sirius 1, Sol-20, Sol-220, SUN Type 4, Tandberg Data TDV 2115C, Tandy TRS-80, Tektronix 4107, Unisys F420800, Victor 9000, Visual Technology 1050, and more. Also found in old BTC keyboards. People tend to either hate this style of keyboard or love them, but the foam does disintegrate. It''s not as nice and not nearly as rugged as the contemporary IBM Model M''s or F''s. "Foam and foil" both respond to light keystrokes, and give cushion and a tiny bit more travel for hard keystrokes. Which is a big part of the appeal. Sorry this is so late, John Hunter! Texelec is the only place I know with replacement pads.

Saturday 27th March 2021
Christopher (United States)

Hi does anyone have a schematic for the compaq portable III power supply

Tuesday 18th September 2018
Jason (Australia)


NAME  Portable
TYPE  Transportable
YEAR  January 1983 (April 1984 European Release)
KEYBOARD  Full-stroke detachable keyboard with function keys and numeric keypad
CPU  Intel 8088
SPEED  4.77 Mhz
CO-PROCESSOR  Optional 8087 math coprocessor
RAM  128 kb, up to 256 kb (and even 640k via IBM PC bus cards)
TEXT MODES  80x25, 40x25 - 9'' Mono CRT Display Built-in
COLORS  green phosphor monitor
SIZE / WEIGHT  34 lbs
I/O PORTS  Parallel Port, RS-232 Serial Port, CGA and composite video output, 5 x 8-bit ISA expansion slots
BUILT IN MEDIA  2 x 5.25'' floppies at 160 KB, 320 KB, and 360 KB.
OS  MS-DOS 1.1
POWER SUPPLY  Built-in PSU, 130 Watt power supply (the smallest and most powerful per cubic inch made to that date)
PRICE  US$2995

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