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Zenith Z-181 - My Review

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    Zenith Z-181 - My Review

    Finally got one of these after years of wanting one. I've pretty much wanted one of these since I started collecting.

    It's the classic Zenith ZFL-181, which was released in 1986 and competed directly with the IBM PC Convertible. This particular one is the -93 variant, made in 1987, so it has a 4.77/8Mhz switchable-speed 80C88 CPU and slightly different port arrangement than the original -92 variant.


    IMG_5639.jpgIMG_5635.jpgIMG_5633.jpgIMG_5636.jpgIMG_5637.jpg


    Of course, I have already crammed Windows 1.01 onto some 720KB disks to run on it! Runs just fine on here. Can even launch DOS apps from within Windows just fine.


    For the OS I'm running the original Zenith MS-DOS 3.2, which I found the image of on Winworld.


    The most unique feature about this laptop is the "pup-up" 3.5" floppy drives. They look so cool! The are not belt-driven either, so they are pretty robust.


    The battery mine came with is stone-dead, and makes the side of the machine get EXTREMELY hot! This must be why the side of these gets melted sometimes. I have unplugged the battery and left it in the unit. I would recommend anyone else that has one of these with a dead battery to do the same, as a melted case is no fun, and it could be a potential fire hazard if it was left plugged in unattended. I may rebuild my pack at some point.


    It's also worth mentioning that these came with the full 640KB of RAM from the factory, unlike the convertible and others that typically had 128 or 256KB, which is practically useless in my opinion. My absolute bare-minimum for a PC is 512KB, as I actually like to use my PCs, not just sit them on a shelf.


    So, what are my thoughts on it? It's kick-ass! It has a nice blue, 10", CGA compatible display, great feeling keyboard (layout is slightly non-standard, but you adjust to it fairly quickly; at least I do). It has cool pop-up disk drives and is an overall nice looking and very functional XT-class laptop.


    I would highly recommend this machine to anyone looking for a nice, early dual-floppy laptop. It's a bit more practical than some of the other early laptops in my opinion, and has everything you need to use it built-in. They also aren't worth much at all, so they aren't hard to get.


    I've found Zenith laptops to be some of the more robust and reliable vintage laptops, and overall I'm a big fan of them. I've had a SuperSport 8088 for 5-years now, and it's never given me any trouble. Even the funky Alps 20MB hard drive still works perfectly. Perhaps that'll be the next one I review.


    I give it a 10 out of 10 once again. I don't really see any problems with its design. Definitely one of my favorites now. Next one I want to find is the ZWL-183, which looks very similar, but it slightly larger, and has a built-in 10MB hard drive.


    Happy computing!
    Compaq - It simply works better

    #2
    Also, I might swap the 80C88 out for a V20, but not certain about that yet. It’s plenty fast, so I may leave it, but I do like the V20 a lot. It’s just gives that extra little bit of muscle without making it feel unlike an XT. I can get an 8MHz rated V20 from eBay shipped from the US for just under $10, so it wouldn’t be an expensive upgrade. The ones I already have are all the 5MHz rated part, so I’d rather not use those.

    I also forgot to mention my unit does have the 2400 baud internal modem, which is pretty cool. It’s a Zenith OEM part with 1987 date codes, so I think it was purchased with the machine and not installed later.

    It sure looks cool sitting next to my IBM XT as well!
    Compaq - It simply works better

    Comment


      #3
      Got Windows 2.03 running on it also!


      IMG_5645.jpg


      This was the last version that could be run from floppies.
      Compaq - It simply works better

      Comment


        #4
        I have managed to stuff a very minimal Windows 3.0 on to a 720k (or perhaps 800k dynamically formated) 3.5" floppy disk before, but it is not useful for anything.

        BTW, the Kaypro 2000 uses the same kind of floppy drive.

        Comment


          #5
          Originally posted by SomeGuy View Post
          I have managed to stuff a very minimal Windows 3.0 on to a 720k (or perhaps 800k dynamically formated) 3.5" floppy disk before, but it is not useful for anything.

          BTW, the Kaypro 2000 uses the same kind of floppy drive.
          I’ve thought about attempting that before, but never have. Would be hilarious, but, as you said, pretty much useless.

          Yeah, I noticed that the Kaypro 2000 used the same drive. Pretty cool. Don’t you have one? I would love to see what Windows 1 or 2 looked like on that teeny little LCD!
          Compaq - It simply works better

          Comment


            #6
            I've got an old version of WIN 3.0 on a 1.44 disk. It's running Usher by George Browning.
            PM me if you're looking for 3½" or 5¼" floppy disks. EMail “ ” For everything else, Take Another Step

            Comment


              #7
              Originally posted by compaqportableplus View Post
              Yeah, I noticed that the Kaypro 2000 used the same drive. Pretty cool. Don’t you have one? I would love to see what Windows 1 or 2 looked like on that teeny little LCD!
              Yea, but the last time I tried powering it up, it did nothing. Hopefully it is just something loose, haven't had a chance to take a look at it yet.

              It did run that 720k Windows 3.0 disk, but oddly it would freeze when loading Windows 1 or 2. Some kind of compatibility issue, but I never got to the bottom of that.

              Unfortunately, with only one floppy drive, and no hard drive, that makes using most applications a headache.

              Comment


                #8
                Very nice - I used to want a Toshiba T1100 plus so bad until I saw these. I *love* that the display is the correct aspect ratio and that blue on white is fantastic compared to LCD gray. You might be able to get a place like interstate batteries or batteries plus to make you a new battery. Sometimes I go in there and chat it up and ask them if they will just arc tab the batteries together and I'll finish taping and wrapping it and they will hardly charge me anything to do that part of it.

                Comment


                  #9
                  Does it have a parallel port in the back? If so, a V20 + Zip100 would give it even more functionality.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Stone, yeah, Windows 3.0 would definitely fit better on a 1.44MB disk.


                    SomeGuy, ah, that sucks. Hope you can fix it. Wow, you got 3.0 running on that thing?! That’s insane. Weird about Windows 1 and 2 freezing. And yeah, just having one drive would make it a pain to use for much.


                    alank2, yeah, from my experience the Zenith laptop are way better than Toshibas early laptop. Those early Toshibas (specifically the battery-powered units, not the ac-powered ones) have really unreliable power supply circuitry, and I’ve never been able to fix one. As far as the battery, I could easily put it together myself, so that’s not a problem for me.


                    resman, yes, it has a parallel, so a Zip drive would work, but I’ve found parallel Zip drives to be far too slow to be useful as a hard drive substitute. They are agonizingly slow. What I would like to have is the optional 20MB external hard drive the made for this unit.
                    Compaq - It simply works better

                    Comment


                      #11
                      I've got one of these with a dead hdd as well. Got all the complete documentation- MS Dos 3.21 disk, Quick ref, User guide and ref as well as the Owners Manual. Makes a good serial terminal. Personally I wouldn't run any version of MS Windows on . Any below 3.0 suck big time. PC Geos is another matter altogether.....

                      I think I have a thread about it on here somewhere.
                      Thomas Byers (DRI)- "You'll have a million people using the A> [MS-DOS prompt] forever. You'll have five million using [nongraphic] menu systems such as Topview, Concurrent PC-DOS, Desq, and those types. But there'll be 50 to 100 million using the iconic-based interfaces."

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Originally posted by Caluser2000 View Post
                        I've got one of these with a dead hdd as well. Got all the complete documentation- MS Dos 3.21 disk, Quick ref, User guide and ref as well as the Owners Manual. Makes a good serial terminal. Personally I wouldn't run any version of MS Windows on . Any below 3.0 suck big time. PC Geos is another matter altogether.....

                        I think I have a thread about it on here somewhere.
                        You have the ZWL-183, which is actually a completely different machine, although it does look similar.

                        I like early versions of Windows. Period. Nobody’s gonna change that opinion. It’s a must for me on any old system. I even set-up PIF files for my DOS programs, so I can launch most of my stuff right from Windows. Works fine for me. I like it.
                        Compaq - It simply works better

                        Comment


                          #13
                          There is not much difference at all. The manual is for the complete Z-180 series...ie covers all models in that series..Has wiring diagrams Component specifications and a lot more......MS Windows before version 3 still sucks......All you are using it for is a glorified Dos menu....Wasting precious conventional memory....
                          Last edited by Caluser2000; May 7, 2020, 11:35 PM.
                          Thomas Byers (DRI)- "You'll have a million people using the A> [MS-DOS prompt] forever. You'll have five million using [nongraphic] menu systems such as Topview, Concurrent PC-DOS, Desq, and those types. But there'll be 50 to 100 million using the iconic-based interfaces."

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Originally posted by Caluser2000 View Post
                            There is not much difference at all. The manual is for the complete Z-180 series...ie covers all models in that series..Has wiring diagrams Component specifications and a lot more......MS Windows before version 3 still sucks......All you are using it for is a glorified Dos menu....Wasting precious conventional memory....
                            There is a LOT of difference in the way they are constructed. They use completely different components on the inside (as in not interchangeable with the ZFL-181), and are assembled very differently. The disassembly process for the two are completely different, I can absolutely tell without any doubt by the internal pictures I have seen of the ZWL-181. And I have had my ZFL-181 apart, so I know exactly how it comes apart.

                            They *look* similar, but they are two completely different machines. Just because one manual covers them both doesn’t mean they are the same...


                            And, about Windows, most business apps from the era will run fine from within Windows. Every one I have tried so far does. Games can be a little trickier, but I don’t think they really planned on you using Windows for games, considering all of the included PIF files are for business apps. Fine by me, as I like my vintage business software, and I can easily run my games from the DOS prompt anyways.


                            As I said above, I’m not just going to start hating Windows 1 and 2 all of the sudden because someone tells me they don’t like it. I don’t care if everyone on the forum tells me that Windows 1 and 2 “suck,” It’ll still remain on all of my vintage PCs. These versions of Windows have worked out fine for me, so I have no reason to hate them.


                            I should also mention that I did upgrade the CPU to an NEC V20, which went very smoothly.
                            Last edited by compaqportableplus; May 9, 2020, 04:57 AM.
                            Compaq - It simply works better

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Originally posted by compaqportableplus View Post
                              There is a LOT of difference in the way they are constructed. They use completely different components on the inside (as in not interchangeable with the ZFL-181), and are assembled very differently. The disassembly process for the two are completely different, I can absolutely tell without any doubt by the internal pictures I have seen of the ZWL-181. And I have had my ZFL-181 apart, so I know exactly how it comes apart.

                              They *look* similar, but they are two completely different machines. Just because one manual covers them both doesn’t mean they are the same...


                              And, about Windows, most business apps from the era will run fine from within Windows. Every one I have tried so far does. Games can be a little trickier, but I don’t think they really planned on you using Windows for games, considering all of the included PIF files are for business apps. Fine by me, as I like my vintage business software, and I can easily run my games from the DOS prompt anyways.


                              As I said above, I’m not just going to start hating Windows 1 and 2 all of the sudden because someone tells me they don’t like it. I don’t care if everyone on the forum tells me that Windows 1 and 2 “suck,” It’ll still remain on all of my vintage PCs. These versions of Windows have worked out fine for me, so I have no reason to hate them.


                              I should also mention that I did upgrade the CPU to an NEC V20, which went very smoothly.
                              You are imagining things..../ They share the same case, screen, Keyboard etc....And a lot of the innards....Modem'.......

                              Good to sewe you put a V20 in it. That is a plane I have for mine....
                              Thomas Byers (DRI)- "You'll have a million people using the A> [MS-DOS prompt] forever. You'll have five million using [nongraphic] menu systems such as Topview, Concurrent PC-DOS, Desq, and those types. But there'll be 50 to 100 million using the iconic-based interfaces."

                              Comment

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