A “retro-review” – Joe
Summary: A retro review of an early laptop computer.
During the holiday, I dedicated myself to cleaning up my office. Much to my surprise, as I peeled away layers of stuff, tucked away in a remote corner was my old Compaq LTE 286 laptop – computer archeology!
I bought this in 1991 for about $1,000 – a good price at the time, considering that this laptop cost $4,500 when it first came out! Turns out you can still do a lot with these older machines – go HERE for an example.
I removed it from the case, plugged in the power supply and it booted (the internal battery is history)! The CMOS battery bit the dust, but it still was possible to boot into DOS 3.3 – talk about a flash from the past! I thought it would be interesting to take a fresh look at what was THE hot machine back in computer’s stone age.
- Intel 80C286 – 12 MHz CPU
- 640K base RAM, additional 1 – 4 MB using proprietary memory cards
- 40 MB HD, <29 ms seek time
- 1.44 MB floppy drive
- Accessory Jack for external tape drives, floppies, etc.
- Monochrome CGA 640 x 200 display (80/40 x 25 lines, 4 shades of gray) with separate CGA video output
- User adjustable brightness and contrast
- Parallel and serial ports
- Internal 2400 bps modem (Hayes)
- AC Adapter, Nicad Battery Pack
- Weight 6.7 pounds
- Maximum battery power – 9.2 watts
- System Manuals, Diagnostic and User Program diskettes
I did some searching on the internet and found that there are still places where you can get batteries, memory cards and modems for it – the good stuff never dies.
The keyboard has the look and feel of a standard IBM keyboard less the number pad. One the left side you’ll find LEDs for Scroll Lock, Num Lock, Caps Lock and Standby. There is a button which, when pushed, send the machine into standby state; push again and it’s out. On the extreme right side
are slide switches for Brightness, Contrast and the On/Off switch, with a green LED to indicate power; this also flashes when the battery is low. There is a back panel which, when opened,
reveals ports for (left to right) serial, parallel, external CGA monitor, External “storage module”, external numeric keypad and power plug (note that the power plug has four inputs).
On the left side
is the battery compartment – the battery is rated at 4.8 volts, 5.0 a/h; some say that you can use four “D” cells, but I never did that (they do fit, but you have to strap the back to maintain contact).
On the right side is an “Options Compartment – this is where you insert peripherals such as the memory expansion cards. The metal cover is removed
to reveal two slots.
On the front left side is the hard drive compartment,
with the 1.44 MB floppy drive on the right side:
The battery is quite large – about the size of four “D” cells. The AC Adapter has a series of slots in it to cool its transformer.
The LTE 286 ships with three comprehensive manuals:
- Getting Started – a quick start guide
- System Overview – a detailed look at features and hardware; shows you how to replace the CMOS battery
- User Programs Reference – basically DOS features
Also included is a Diagnostic diskette used to set system parameters (for example, when changing the CMOS battery) and “User Programs” – basically DOS 3.3 disks.
Powering up the laptop gets you into DOS:
On this system I have WordStar, Lotus 123, Modem software (SCOM), Norton Utilities and a war game simulation called Patton vs Rommel (PVR) – notice I used “bat” files to launch programs. Running Norton Utilities
reveals the system’s essentials – note that this laptop is 11.5 times faster that an XT – what a hot machine!
In its day, the Compaq LTE was a ground breaking machine – the first laptop. I ran WordStar and Lotus – after a while, it started to come back. The old guys in the crowd remember using command line shortcuts (control – alt – Q, etc) to speed things up. While an obvious relic compared to what’s available today, the basic word processing and spreadsheet programs are still viable.
I thought about keeping it, but I think there’s someone out there who might give this more of a home than I will (maybe a museum?), so it’s going on eBay shortly – if you’re interested, drop me a line.
PS: I think I still have the Compaq “luggable” up in the attic – next cleaning project.
NOTE: Software for this unit can be found HERE.