My Portable Computing Adventures from the Stone Age to the Space Age
I was reflecting this morning what a marvel of engineering the Surface Pro 3 is. I’ve never owned anything like it. Light, fast, powerful. Versatile and comfortable to hold. Expandable.
And then I got to thinking about the various “portables” I’ve owned, especially the early ones. I’ve always been a laptop person, although the definition of ‘portable’ has certainly changed over the years. And I started thinking about the hardware I’ve owned. And decided to post a short walk through those ancient devices I’ve owned over the years.
My first portable was a Tandy 1400FD, circa 1989
This was a beast that weighed about 14 lbs as I recall. Equipped with a whopping 768K of RAM, it had a switchable clock speed of 4.77/8.16 MHz and an 8026/7 Intel 8 MHz processor.
The MS DOS operating system and applications ran off dual 720K floppy drives. In addition to MS-DOS 3.20, it ran a text based under interface called Deskmate with built in applications for drawing and word processing. The screen was a backlit LCD that reminded me of an Etch-a-Sketch toy. Hard on the eyes, so I printed out everything on a dot matrix printer.
Just two years later, circa 1991, I purchased a 6.7 lb. slightly more powerful Tandy 2810 laptop (it even had a 20 meg hard drive). With 16 shades of grey, 1 meg of RAM, MS-DOS 5.0 and an 80C286 processor, I ran Windows 3.0 in “Standard” mode. This was the first computer I seriously traveled with as it had a 2400 bps modem and in addition to local hobbyist BBSing, I’d added Prodigy, Genie, and CompuServe to my lifestyle.
Just six months later, I sold the 2810 to an online friend and purchased an AST Premium Exec 386/25SX.
This technological wonder ran Windows 3.1 in Enhanced mode, and included 4 Megs of RAM and a 20 meg hard drive. Video was significantly improved at 256 shades of grey and with a 386 SX25 processor, it was the fastest machine I’d ever seen. This was the last portable I owned that required a separate, add-on mouse and I jumped on the ballpoint mouse (predecessor of the built in trackball) bandwagon.
I quickly graduated to my first color laptop, a passive matrix Compaq Contura 425c (a 486/25sx).
From there, I moved on to an Ambra (offered by IBM as a separate non-IBM/ThinkPad brand) 486/DX4 100. I couldn’t believe how fast and colorful my mobile computing world was getting. Both included built-in trackball mouse support. Although each was initially purchased with Windows 3.1 or Windows 3.11, I upgraded to Windows 95. While neither originally came equipped with a CD ROM drive, I purchased one separately, a 2X pcmcia external drive. This was the bleeding edge. I thought I was all set for years to come.
Next came a store brand Pentium 120 laptop pre-installed with Windows 95. This machine died, the store (actually a small chain) had gone out of business, and I was about to enter what I considered to be the age of modern laptops.
I had always considered the IBM ThinkPad the ultimate portable machine (and a very expensive luxury) and one day while visiting a CompUSA store I caved, and bought a consumer 385XD Pentium II 266 MHz ThinkPad with 64 megs of RAM and a 4 GIG hard drive.
I loved the track point style mouse. Later that year, I injured my back and suddenly needed a very light weight machine and purchased a ThinkPad 570 Pentium II 366 MHz machine, equipped with 128 megs RAM, a 5.1 GIG hard drive and it weighed under 4.5 lbs.
At the time, I thought it was the ultimate “thin and light” laptop. But it was really the clever “slice” dock that enabled IBM to slim down and lighten up the 570. And I was definitely hooked on ThinkPad’s. Rock solid, and with the best keyboard to be found anywhere.
While beta testing Windows 2000, I treated myself to a ThinkPad 600X, a 500 MHz Pentium machine with 128 megs of RAM, 12 GIG hard drive and 4 megs video RAM (and my first DVD drive). I added a full docking station, full size monitor, and all the trimmings. This was a perfect Windows 2000 machine, and it was a good Windows XP Professional one as well.
I bought an IBM ThinkPad T22. It boasted an Intel Speed Step processor, 384 megs of 100 MHz PC RAM, 8 megs of video RAM, a 20 gig hard drive and a 8x DVD. I added a long list of add-on peripherals, including 802.11b, firewire, and SCSI pcmcia cards, web cams, USB scanner, printer and a docking station. Again, I thought I was on top of the world, over the bleeding edge, set for years to come.
Upgraded to new ThinkPad “T” models. These were incremental upgrades. Stronger, faster, better.
In 2007. by some strange alignment of the planets, I hooked up with some folks at HP who sent me a TX1000 tablet to play around with.
This had limited touch capabilities (by today’s standards) and was a laptop convertible. You’d twist the thing around to a tablet like configuration. It was pretty awkward, but it was my first hands on experience with a tablet like laptop. The experience got incrementally better a little less than a year later.
HP followed up the TX1000 with a TX2000 and sent one along for me to try out. It cane fitted out with:
Turion 64 X2 TL66 (2.3 GHz 512+512 L2 Cache)
4 GB DDR2 System Memory
Fingerprint Reader + Webcam + Microphone
Wireless a/b/g/n (draft) + Bluetooth
250 GB SATA 5400 RPM hard drive
LightScribe 8x DVD+/-RW Double Layer
Wireless Remote Control (for Windows Media Center and Quick Play)
6 cell & 8 cell Lithium-Ion batteries
Tablet Pen Digitizer and Cord
12.1” (1280 x800) WXGA Nvidia Go6150 powered graphics (shared memory)
2 sets earbuds
In 2011 I bought a MacBook Air (mostly to run Windows). It was, at the time, the thinnest, lightest “ultrabook” available.Enough said.
I was first in line at the nearest Microsoft Store to Purchase the original Surface Pro.
Which brings us to today. I love my Surface Pro 3. It’s been quite the journey. Can’t wait to see what’s next!