So how come so much of this blog/YT channel/posts have been focused on the NEC Versa line of laptops as of late? Here's why....

Grab some coffee....this is going to be a long one....

My history with laptops was that I wanted to get one as early as 2002 - so in 2003 I started buying old cheap 486 laptops. At that time, I did look at higher end models, NEC Versa, IBM ThinkPad, Compaq LTE, and Toshiba Sattelite, and had a HARD time finding any that were cheap enough on e-bay. At that time, a good laptop from the 1990's still had some life in it. Skip ahead to 2019, I'd not owned a vintage laptop PC since 2007 and I wanted to do it right this time. By that point I'd had NanTans, AT&Ts (Samsung Sens), IBM ThinkPads, at least one MacBook from the 90's, and knew I wanted something that would last, had good parts availiblity, had an active matrix screen, and a trackball or trackpad, and was $50 or under.

Well, thanks to laptops gaining ground as a retro-gaming platform due to their small size, even a LTE, ThinkPad, or Satellite was out of reach. So I looked for an AT&T Globalyst 200 or Safari 3151 - no Safaris, except a 3180 that looked oddly familiar going for $30 and known not working, and appeared to be DTSN and/or monochrome. I looked for months - starting in December 2018 - and at first not even thinking to buy, just curious. So I looked at everything - Thinkpad 755CD's like the one I loved and had in 2006 - nope, $370, and no LiIon upgrade batteries available - I looked at Compaq LTE's going for $150+, I looked at Toshibas, most were over $100. I was getting discouraged - then I remembered a thread here at VCFED from sometime circa 2005....

I used to have an AT&T Safari 3151 - a poster here said "that's a good quality unit - NCR made those, who also made laptops for NEC who were almost parallel to IBM" - or something like that. So I looked at those - $150+, and the one that was tested was in ENGLAND. So forget it, shipping (and my wife) would kill me. But I remembered him mentioning NCR - and NEC - and I remembered the 3180 that looked familiar. I remembered that odd beveled/rounded top corner of the screen right away - that's an NEC laptop of some kind rebadged as an NCR. So I looked up "NEC 486 Laptop" - and up pops what I got first - a 1994 NEC Versa 40EC PC-440-1531. Turns out it was the other way around - NEC made laptops for NCR, who got bought out by AT&T in 1993, and thusly why AT&T and NCR BOTH had Safari models. It appears that the NCR branded Versas came right after the merger in early 1993, before AT&T applied their own badges. The PC-440 was going for less than $50, so of course I snagged it up for as little a bid as I Could nab, and it came with a power supply. Looking up parts availibility, I Could still buy brand new/refurbished batteries for these, and memory cards were everywhere on e-bay in all capacities for rather cheap if I looked hard enough.

That's when I got the NEC Versa 40EC and I was quite satisfied with it. But I knew it might be wise to pick up at least a couple more, maybe in different models to explore a bit, maybe even get sound. I liked the fact these laptops came with active matrix screens as standard equipment, and the Versa Trak was probably my favorite trackball on a PC laptop.

That's when I bought the M/75 with the AAC and Touch Screen, which, despite WSS being a major disappointment, it became my #1 favorite, so much when I picked up a P/75 in December 2020, the P/75 - a Pentium with an ESS688 sound card - kept a backseat as I experimented in hot-rodding the WSS beyond anything the NEC engineers ever dreamed of it being. And the AAC Voice Synth has become a new tool for writing and recording music thanks to the power of modern technology - AutoTune!

Around the time of the M/75, I picked up an AT&T DS Docking Station - the AT&T Branded version of the NEC Versa Dock II - and now I Could use these as desktops if I liked.

The P/75 then took over as favorite around February 2021 when I fixed a short in the replacement battery it had in it when I got it and now I had a battery with 2 hours run time suddenly for both the P/75 and M/75, when the first M/75 crumbled apart, and I decided to pick up 2 more - an original Ultralite in 25MHz (Ultralite Versa 25C), and a M/75TC - the like new one with the weird screen assembly which I only this past week found out was a "True Color" screen that now has been upgraded to a 800x600 panel N.O.S. The Ultralite was dead and crumbled to pieces upon arrival, and smelled like it died via someone's clam dinner. The M/75 was DOA too - but because of a bad graphics subsystem - I used the parts from the othe rM/75 to fix it at first, then upgraded that one to 800x600 later on because 640x480 panels are so bloody expensive.

Then I've been doing all this reading on Google Books PC Mag and Infoworld articles on these laptops and while super-expensive in their time (were talking laptops that cost $3000-6000 here) - their history is very interesting - starting out with the original and highly influential Ultralite in 1988, continuing through the 386SL series 1991-1993, starting with the "Ultralite Versa" in 1993, and ending as late as early 1996 with 10.4" versions of the P/75, M/100, and M/75 that were likely all 800x600. The AAC lead me down an interesting path of learning about Stephen Hawking helping Words+ start in the 80's - and I may even have tracked down the original owner of the first M/75 I had on accident through reading all the Words+ articles. It's just made for a very interesting journey with vintage hardware because of all the stories, crazy killer benchmarks early on - the original Ultralite was eating the lunch of every major laptop maker in early 1993 with graphics performance per PC Mag.

Lastly, it's shocking how far these things can go into being tweeners - were talking nearly 30 year old hardware here designed for an early 90's executive who dialed up from a hotel room via a 14.4K modem on a business trip - and it's running around on modern WiFi networks via my cell hotspot, surfing TLS 1.2 enabled websites, chatting on a revived "AIM Phoenix" network, and babbling on IRC. I've been ripping CD's, DVD's, running visualized ISO files on them in FreeDOS - playing The 7th Guest or Under a Killing Moon without a CD-ROM Drive, and being able to fire at will when I need to reinstall my O/S without even having to plug into the dock or bring a CD-ROM with me....when only a few years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of doing everything with a vintage laptop that I do with my vintage 486 DX4 desktop which now still is top of the heap in performance of it's vintage, but the Versas are VERY close behind. But it's nice to have a backup army that fits in a neat row on a shelf and is ready to go at any time.

That said, I still do a lot with the desktops, but I've had those so well dialed in for so long, there's just nothing to buy, not much to do with them, except enjoy them. It's been a bit fun learning a new sector of the vintage computer world that I'm not as familiar with.