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Thread: TI TravelMate LT286/12 revival

  1. #1

    Cool TI TravelMate LT286/12 revival

    I have found another 286 laptop I like very much. It's the Texas Instruments TravelMate LT286/12, which was introduced in 1989. I saw one on eBay a few weeks ago that was way too expensive, but was in awe at how small it was for a full-fledged 286 PC. It's what I like to call a "mini" laptop. I wouldn't really call it a "notebook," as it's a little thick for that classification. It's still a nice and chunky laptop with full-height keys like the bigger machines, such as the Toshiba T3100e.


    I found one on eBay untested for $29, which appeared complete except for the battery and battery door.


    While it was on the way I did some more research. Turns out it has DOS 3.3 and LapLink in ROM! Very cool! This was one of the features I was excited about on that Toshiba T1000LE I bought that turned out to be a massive piece of shit... I have learned my lesson about those early pre-386-era beige Toshiba laptops.


    I also discovered it uses a Conner CP-2022 20MB 2.5" IDE hard drive with a specially-oriented IDE connector that goes straight down. This does make using a different hard drive somewhat of a challenge, but it's just a regular IDE connector, so it could be done. The old Conners are usually pretty easy to repair though, so I wasn't too concerned about this.


    Also, from what I could see of the motherboard in the pics I saw online, it looked very well-made and appeared to use all solid-state capacitors, so things were looking good for this being a solid laptop, rather than a box of anguish like that damned T1000LE.


    Well, I got the machine yesterday, and to make a log story short, it's everything I hoped it would be! It fired right up with my universal laptop power supply. The LCD is bright and crisp too!

    Here's a few pics:


    IMG_5964.jpgIMG_5962.jpgIMG_5963.jpg


    Pretty cool looking laptop.


    Here's the two boards that stack and make up the motherboard:


    IMG_5959.jpg


    You can also see that the hard drive mounts directly to the board, which is interesting.


    And here is the Conner CP-3022 hard drive:


    IMG_5957.jpgIMG_5958.jpgIMG_5956.jpg


    Notice that unusually oriented IDE connector. This one needed all of the usual repairs (melted gasket and sticky rubber bumbers). It seems to mostly work now, though it gives a "Sector not found" error occasionally, so I will be doing a full surface scan on it to see how healthy it is. If it turns out to be a bust, I have a CP-2024 (from that Toshiba T1000LE, funnily enough) that does work, so I should be able to put the PCB from the 2022 on it and make a good drive. The 2022 and 2024 are basically identical spec-wise I think.


    This laptop is also incredibly easy to take apart. I could probably have to fully torn down in a couple of minutes now that I am familiar with how it is constructed.


    I will be copying PC Tools over to it tomorrow to test the hard drive. I also will get an early version of Windows on it! It's also worth noting that this machine doesn't have an integrated floppy drive. There was an external one available however, which I will have to find someday.


    That's all I have to report on this for now!
    Compaq - “It simply works better”

  2. #2

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    It is also worth noting that the frame of the hard drive (which can be seen in the third pic of it with the cover removed) is not metal! It seems to be some sort of fiber-reinforced plastic or something. Never seen that on a hard drive before. Maybe it was for sound dampening? The CP-2024 I have is not like this and uses a conventional metal frame. I first noticed this because the metal mounting standoffs on the drive appeared to be separate pieces from the frame, and they indeed were! On the CP-2024 the standoffs and frame are all one, cast metal piece.

    I just figured I’d point this out as I’m sure others would find it interesting as well. I am a Compaq fan so I can’t help but notice Conner drives, as Compaq made heavy use of them from the late ‘80s to the mid ‘90s. I always get excited when I see a new model of Conner I haven’t heard of before. The unique sounds a Conner makes are also something I really enjoy. I literally took out an upgraded 120MB Conner drive out of my main SLT/286 not too long ago and installed an original 40MB Conner in its place just to have that distinct spindle whine back!
    Compaq - “It simply works better”

  3. #3

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    Here is a size comparison of the TravelMate with my trusty Compaq SLT/286, which was already quite a Compaq unit for its time:

    IMG_5965.jpgIMG_5966.jpg
    Compaq - “It simply works better”

  4. #4

    Default

    Damn, the Conner CP-2024 I have also has that weird plastic-like frame. I thought it was metal too...
    Compaq - “It simply works better”

  5. #5

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    Well I was finally able to get laplink working through serial, which allowed me to copy FastWire II (which is the transfer utility I use) so I could use parallel instead of serial, which was kind of work, but I was getting continuous write errors which seemed to get worse, and then after one last restart, the hard drive won’t boot to DOS anymore. I can still hear it seeking, so I don’t think it’s completely toast, but it’s definitely got some massive data corruption for sure. I am going to pull the drive back out, plug it into my EPSON ActionNote and attempt to re-partition/format it.
    Compaq - “It simply works better”

  6. #6

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by compaqportableplus View Post
    Here is a size comparison of the TravelMate with my trusty Compaq SLT/286, which was already quite a Compaq unit for its time:

    IMG_5965.jpgIMG_5966.jpg
    Hah, I typed “Compaq” unit, when I meant to type “compact.”


    Well, I’ve determined that the original hard drive is toast. Lots of bad sectors and it seems to be getting worse. It still won’t boot even after reformatting and putting a fresh copy of DOS back on it.


    So I’m gonna use my 2024 (which I fully tested and found to be in perfect health) with the PCB from the 2022, however, the circuit board does not mount the same way on the two. The 2022 uses a more crude and primitive mounting setup, as I believe this was Conner’s very first 2.5” drive. The 2022’s circuit board plugs into the 2024 and works fine, but it can’t be secured down. It probably would be “fine” once plugged in and mounted in the laptop, but that would kind of bug me. So, since the mounting hardware for the PCB is on the metal cover of the drive, I’m going to carefully swap the lid from the 2022 onto the 2024 (the covers definitely mount the same way). Unfortunately, I have already cleaned up the old, melted gasket from the 2024 and resealed it with silicone, but it shouldn’t be too hard to get back off. And I’ve already had the drive open, so I don’t think it’s going to hurt much.


    What’s also cool is that it will retain the look of the original drive this way, since I’m reusing the old lid.


    Postponed another day, damnit! I was really hoping to have it done yesterday. It’ll be done tomorrow for sure though.
    Compaq - “It simply works better”

  7. #7

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    The TravelMate is now fully working! Got the hard drive all reassembled/installed and it works great.


    Here it is running Windows/286:


    IMG_5973.jpg


    And here is DeskMate running on it as well:


    IMG_5974.jpg


    I'm very satisfied with the features and build-quality of this laptop. The form factor is also great. Seems like a fairly reliable unit as well.


    Don't really have anything bad to say about it. I think the only really awkward thing about it is the unusually positioned IDE connector, which would make using hard drives other than the original Conner CP-2022 quite difficult without modification. But that's a pretty mild issue I think.


    I will probably do a review on it eventually.
    Last edited by compaqportableplus; September 20th, 2020 at 09:56 PM.
    Compaq - “It simply works better”

  8. #8

    Default

    The TI looks quite interesting, I especially like the blue back lit screen. Is that a PCMCIA slot I can see on the mainboard ?
    Why don't you just stick a 512MB CF card and adpater in place of the hard drive, it would be alot less hassle than trying to source
    a working ide disk that will work with that machine. And if you do, my guess it would soon fail after some use.

    BTW. The drive cases are not metal because of the strong magnet inside them.

  9. #9

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by rimmeruk View Post
    The TI looks quite interesting, I especially like the blue back lit screen. Is that a PCMCIA slot I can see on the mainboard ?
    Why don't you just stick a 512MB CF card and adpater in place of the hard drive, it would be alot less hassle than trying to source
    a working ide disk that will work with that machine. And if you do, my guess it would soon fail after some use.

    BTW. The drive cases are not metal because of the strong magnet inside them.
    It is a really cool laptop for sure! That slot is for a proprietary RAM expansion card, although it does look like a PCMCIA slot.

    I have nothing against modern, solid-state solutions for hard drives, but I only use them when I absolutely have no other choice (like my PS/2 Model 25 for example). I like the fully-authentic authentic experience of a real drive. For example, I use real MFM hard drives in all of my IBM PCs and XTs. Wouldn’t even consider removing them for a CF card. If they fail, I will use one of my spares, or source a replacement. I try not to “modernize” my vintage PCs, but rather make them as close to original as possible.

    I have been using some very old drives I have repaired for years now with no issues to report. Some of these old drives are incredibly reliable.

    Also, most hard drives frames are made out of a type of non-magnetic metal alloy, not this weird plastic-like material these early Conners are.
    Compaq - “It simply works better”

  10. #10

    Thumbs up

    I understand the pleasing sounds of the clunking and chattering an old disk drive makes, but consider the speed increase in file access times.
    You'd be able to boot to DOS and get a game of QBasic's Goriila running in less than a minute! Actually, waht PC can even do that today
    Besides, I don't know anyone who didn't want their PC to run quicker back in the day I spent nothing but trying to improve the speed of my
    286/386 laptops with defragging and Norton's speed disk. I can't even think of anything I have ever purchased for the purpose of making it work better.
    It was like the adverts in shops were selling you this $1,000 laptop with a free copy Norton Utilities to fix it

    Well, at least all those bygone sounds let you know the thing is powered on and doing something or about to fail on you during the weekly backup

    Back to the TI and the use of a CF ide adapter, those large chunky 2.5" IDE disks consume quite alot of power in use and using a low powered solid state
    device would put less strain on the power circuit and other components. The machine could be using upto 1.5A less current without the Connor disk drive
    powered on. Think about that. The mechanical disk drive has a working life of around 10 years, yes could probably extend this or if you are lucky find
    a really good one that will chunk on and on. But like your post, you will just have problems with them in the long run and end up wasting time trying to
    repair them.

    It's not as simple as replacing the caps to restore failed logic and power boards when it comes to mechaninal disk drives, the magnetic platters and
    spindle motors deteriorate making the repair near impossible or very time consuming swapping out parts with other old parts. Although the drives that
    can be fully low-leveled formatted like the MFM and CHS disks, do usually last much longer than the post 90's LBA drives. If you enjoy that, then
    that's great, I certainly don't want to say you shouldn't do that.
    Last edited by rimmeruk; September 28th, 2020 at 03:01 PM.

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