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Thread: I'm (mostly) done restoring an original Compaq Portable!

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2015
    Location
    Bay Area, California
    Posts
    51

    Default I'm (mostly) done restoring an original Compaq Portable!

    I thought I'd share a quick update about this Compaq Portable “luggable” computer I’ve been restoring. I bought it from the original owner who first purchased it brand-new in 1983 - he used it for a few months to complete a project, and then packed it away again until I bought it a few weeks ago. On one hand, the machine was in pristine condition, since it had barely been used at all. On the other hand, the passing decades had an effect - the tiny metallic foam pads that each key of the keyboard sits on had completely degraded to dust (rendering the keyboard totally useless), the grease in the floppy drives had turned to clay-like gunk, etc., so it definitely wasn't a "plug-and-play" machine. Similarly, it didn't have any way to transfer software or files from a modern machine over, which was a serious problem since it didn't come with any bootable diskettes. So, over the past few weeks, I've done the following:

    • Deep clean of the entire machine, inside-and-out
    • Disassembled the whole thing so I could extract the motherboard and determine which ROM revision it has (thankfully, it's a later revision with some critical bug-fixes!)
    • Re-seated the expansion cards it came to me with (the original floppy controller, the graphics board, and an "AST MegaPlus II" board which added 64k of additional RAM, a much-needed serial port, and a battery-powered clock)
    • Removed a Microsoft bus-mouse card (since I don't have the matching mouse)
    • Installed an "XT-IDE" card which lets me use a modern 1gig CompactFlash card as a high-speed 'hard drive'
    • Painstakingly replaced over 100 tiny foam keyboard pads so the keyboard would work again
    • Got my sweetie to fix the part of the keyboard I couldn't figure out
    • Carefully, carefully installed 27 tiny vintage RAM chips into the empty sockets on the AST board mentioned above - this lifted the total RAM of the system from 320 kilobytes to a whopping 512kb - that's half a meg!
    • Installed a homebrew patch for the AST MegaPlus II's realtime clock to correct a Y2K bug
    • Installed Microsoft DOS onto that CompactFlash card via my modern PC (this was WAY more complicated than I initally expected!)
    • Loaded the CompactFlash card with cool era-appropriate apps and games
    • Connected the machine to the Internet with a serial-to-WiFi adapter



    So, here she is in (mostly) finished form, booting up and loading a game that my younger sister and I used to play obsessively as kids. The machine is running like a champ now: the keyboard works perfectly, it boots in a blink from the CompactFlash card, and it can run tons of cool software from the earliest era of PC's. I hope you get a kick out of this summary!

    I should note: there is one more empty ISA slot in the machine, and just as nature abhors a vacuum, I abhor an unpopulated expansion slot. Any suggestions? I'm kinda leaning towards either a sound card or maybe another RAM expansion (for EMS memory) but I'd love any ideas you guys have...

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,701

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by wowbobwow View Post
    I should note: there is one more empty ISA slot in the machine, and just as nature abhors a vacuum, I abhor an unpopulated expansion slot. Any suggestions? I'm kinda leaning towards either a sound card or maybe another RAM expansion (for EMS memory) but I'd love any ideas you guys have...
    Maybe a RAM card, to top up your conventional memory to 640 KB, i.e. the card providing RAM in the address space of 512K to 640K.

    ( According to [here], the initial Compaq Portables had a BIOS limitation of 544 KB maximum conventional memory. A BIOS upgrade should overcome that. )

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