This article possibly contains original research. (July 2008)
|History of computing|
|Timeline of computing|
|Glossary of computer science|
The history of laptops describes the efforts, begun in the 1970s, to build small, portable personal computers that combine the components, inputs, outputs and capabilities of a desktop computer in a small chassis.
The portable micro computer the "Portal" of the French company R2E Micral CCMC officially appeared in September 1980 at the Sicob show in Paris. The Portal was a portable microcomputer designed and marketed by the studies and developments department of the French firm R2E Micral in 1980 at the request of the company CCMC specializing in payroll and accounting. It was based on an Intel 8085 processor, 8-bit, clocked at 2 MHz. It was equipped with a central 64K byte RAM, a keyboard with 58 alphanumeric keys and 11 numeric keys (in separate blocks), a 32-character screen, a floppy disk (capacity - 140,000 characters), a thermal printer (speed - 28 characters/second), an asynchronous channel, a synchronous channel, and a 220-volt power supply. Designed for an operating temperature of 15-35 °C, it weighed 12 kg and its dimensions were 45 × 45 × 15 cm. It ran the Prologue operating system and provided total mobility.
The Osborne 1 is considered the first true mobile computer by most historians. Adam Osborne founded Osborne Computer and formed the Osborne 1 in 1981. The Osborne 1 had a five-inch screen, incorporating a modem port, two 5 1/4 floppy drives, and big collection of bundled software applications. An aftermarket battery pack was available. The computer company was a failure and did not last for very long. Although it was large and heavy compared to today's laptops, with a tiny 5" CRT monitor, it had a near-revolutionary impact on business, as professionals were able to take their computer and data with them for the first time. This and other "luggables" were inspired by what was probably the first portable computer, the Xerox NoteTaker. The Osborne was about the size of a portable sewing machine, and could be carried on commercial aircraft. The Osborne 1 weighed close to 11 kg and was priced at $1795.
The Compaq Portable was the first PC-compatible portable computer created in 1982. The first shipment was in March 1983 and was priced at $2,995. The Compaq Portable folded up into a luggable case the size of a portable sewing machine, similar in size to the Osbourne 1. The third model of this development, Compaq Portable II, featured high resolution graphics on its tube display. It was the first portable computer ready to be used on the shop floor, and for CAD and diagram display. It established Compaq as a major brand on the market.
The first significant development towards laptop computing was announced in 1981 and sold from July 1982, the 8/16-bit Epson HX-20. It featured a full-transit 68-key keyboard, rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries, a small (120×32-pixel) dot-matrix LCD with 4 lines of text, 20 characters per line text mode, a 24 column dot matrix printer, a Microsoft BASIC interpreter, and 16 KB of RAM (expandable to 32 KB). The HX-20's very limited screen, tiny internal memory and lack of mass storage support, made serious word-processing and spreadsheet applications impractical and the device was described as "primitive" by some.
The first laptop was made in 1982 Enclosed in a magnesium case, it introduced the now familiar clamshell design, in which the flat display folded shut against the keyboard. The computer was equipped with a 320×200-pixel electroluminescent display and 384 kilobyte bubble memory. It was not IBM-compatible, and its high price (US$8,000-10,000) limited it to specialized applications. However, it was used heavily by the U.S. military, and by NASA on the Space Shuttle during the 1980s. The GRiD's manufacturer subsequently earned significant returns on its patent rights as its innovations became commonplace. GRiD Systems Corp. was later bought by the Tandy (now RadioShack) Corporation. The Grid's portability was restricted as it had no internal battery pack and relied on mains power.
The first contender for true laptop computing was the 16-bit Dulmont Magnum, designed by David Irwin and John Blair of Dulmison, Australia, in 1982 and released in Australia in September 1983 by Dulmont. This battery-powered device included an 80 character × 8 line display in a lid that closed against the keyboard. The Dulmont was thus the first computer that could be taken anywhere and offered significant computing potential on the user's laptop (though weighing in at 4.8 kg). It was based on the MS-DOS operating system and applications stored in ROM (A:) and also supported removable modules in expansion slots (B: and C:) that could be custom programmed EPROM or standard word processing and spreadsheet applications. The Magnum could suspend and retain memory in battery-backed CMOS RAM, including a RAM Disk (D:). A separate expansion box provided dual 5.25-inch floppy or 10 MB hard disk storage. The product was marketed internationally from 1984 to 1986. Dulmont was eventually taken over by Time Office Computers, who relabeled the brand "Kookaburra" and marketed 16- and 25-line LCD display versions.
Two other noteworthy early laptops were the Sharp PC-5000 (similar in many respects to the Dulmont Magnum) and the Gavilan SC, announced in 1983 but first sold in 1984, Gavilan filing bankruptcy the same year. Both ran the 8/16-bit Intel 8088 CPU. The Gavilan was notably the first computer to be marketed as a "laptop". It was equipped with an internal floppy disk drive and a pioneering touchpad-like pointing device, installed on a panel above the keyboard. Like the GRiD Compass, the Gavilan and the Sharp were housed in clamshell cases, but they were partly IBM-compatible, although primarily running their own system software. Both had LCDs, and could connect to optional external printers.
The year 1983 also saw the launch of what was probably the biggest-selling early laptop, the 8-bit Kyocera Kyotronic 85. Owing much to the design of the previous Epson HX-20, and although at first a slow seller in Japan, it was quickly licensed by Tandy Corporation, Olivetti, and NEC, who recognised its potential and marketed it respectively as the TRS-80 Model 100 line (or Tandy 100), Olivetti M-10, and NEC PC-8201. The machines ran on standard AA batteries. The Tandy's built-in programs, including a BASIC interpreter, a text editor, and a terminal program, were supplied by Microsoft, and was written in part by Bill Gates himself. The computer was not a clamshell, but provided a tiltable 8 line × 40-character LCD screen above a full-travel keyboard. With its internal modem, it was a highly portable communications terminal. Due to its portability, good battery life (and ease of replacement), reliability (it had no moving parts), and low price (as little as US$300), the model was highly regarded, becoming a favorite among journalists. It weighed less than 2 kg with dimensions of 30×21.5×4.5 centimeters (12×8½×1¾ in). Initial specifications included 8 kilobytes of RAM (expandable to 24 KB) and a 3 MHz processor. The machine was in fact about the size of a paper notebook, but the term had yet to come into use and it was generally described as a "portable" computer.
Although it was not released until 1985, well after the decline of CP/M as a major operating system, the Bondwell 2 is one of only a handful of CP/M laptops. It used an 8-bit Z-80 CPU running at 4 MHz, had 64 KBs of RAM, and a 3.5" floppy disk drive built in, which was unusual for CP/M laptops. The flip-up LCD display's resolution was 640x200 pixels. Bondwell 2 also included MicroPro's complete line of CP/M software, including WordStar. The Bondwell 2 was capable of displaying bitmapped graphics. The price of the Bondwell 2 was listed at $995.
Possibly the first commercial IBM-compatible laptop was the 8/16-bit Kaypro 2000, introduced in 1985. With its brushed aluminum clamshell case, it was remarkably similar in design to modern laptops. It featured a 25 line by 80 character LCD, a detachable keyboard, and a pop-up 90 mm (3.5-inch) floppy drive.
Toshiba launched the 8/16-bit Toshiba T1100 in 1985, and has subsequently described it as "the world's first mass-market laptop computer". It did not have a hard drive, and ran entirely from floppy disks. The CPU was a 4.77 MHz Intel 80C88, a variation of the popular Intel 8088, and the display was a monochrome, text-only 640x200 LCD. It was followed in 1987 by the T1000 and T1200. Although limited floppy-based DOS machines, with the operating system stored in ROM, the Toshiba models were small and light enough to be carried in a backpack, and could be run from lead-acid batteries. They also introduced the now-standard "resume" feature to DOS-based machines: the computer could be paused between sessions without having to be restarted each time.
Also among the first commercial IBM-compatible laptops was the 8/16-bit IBM PC Convertible, introduced in 1986. It had a CGA-compatible LCD and 2 floppy drives.It weighed 13 pounds (5.9 kg).
The L3S was an early portable computer that ran MS-DOS and featured a parallel port.
The first laptops successful on a large scale came in large part due to a Request For Proposal (RFP) by the U.S. Air Force in 1987. This contract would eventually lead to the purchase of over 200,000 laptops. Competition to supply this contract was fierce and the major PC companies of the time; IBM Corporation, To shins, Compaq, NEC Corporation, and Zenith Data Systems (ZDS), rushed to develop laptops in an attempt to win this deal. ZDS, which had earlier won a landmark deal with the IRS for its Z-171, was awarded this contract for its Super sport series. The Super sport series was originally launched with an Intel 8086 processor, dual floppy disk drives, a backlight backlit, blue and white STN LCD screen, and a NiCd battery pack. Later models featured a 16-bit Intel 80286 processor and a 20 MB hard disk drive. On the strength of this deal, ZDS became the world's largest laptop supplier in 1987 and 1988. ZDS partnered with Tottori Sanyo in the design and manufacturing of these laptops. This relationship is notable because it was the first deal between a major brand and an Asian original equipment manufacturer.
In 1987, HP released a portable version of their 16-bit Vectra CS computer. It had the classic laptop configuration (keyboard and monitor closes up clam-shell style in order to carry), however, it was very heavy and fairly large. It had a full-size keyboard (with separate numeric keypad) and a large amber LCD screen. While it was offered with dual 3.5-inch floppy disk drives, the most common configuration was a 20 MB hard drive and a single floppy drive. It was one of the first machines with a 1.44 MB density 3.5-inch disk drive.
Another notable computer was the 8-bit Cambridge Z88, designed by Clive Sinclair, introduced in 1988. About the size of an A4 sheet of paper as well, it ran on standard batteries, and contained basic spreadsheet, word processing, and communications programs. It anticipated the future miniaturization of the portable computer, and as a ROM-based machine with a small display, can - like the TRS-80 Model 100 - also be seen as a forerunner of the personal digital assistant.
By the end of the 1980s, laptop computers were becoming popular among business people. The 16-bit COMPAQ SLT/286 debuted in October 1988, being the first battery-powered laptop to support an internal hard disk drive and a VGA compatible LCD screen. It weighed 14 lb (6.4 kg).
The NEC UltraLite, released in October 1988 , was perhaps the first "notebook" computer, weighing just 2 kg (4.4 lbs), which was achieved by obviating floppy or hard drive, it was powered by the NEC V30 16-bit CPU. The very restrictive 2 megabyte RAM drive cramped the product's utility. Although portable computers with clamshell LCD screens already existed at the time of its release, the Ultralite was the first computer in a notebook form-factor. It was significantly smaller than all earlier portable computers and could be carried like a notebook and its clamshell LCD folded over the body like a book cover.
Apple's first laptop product was the 16-bit lead-acid battery powered 7.2 kg Macintosh Portable released in September 1989. The Portable pioneered inclusion of a pointing device (a trackball) in the laptop/portable sphere.
The IBM PS/2 note was a first IBM laptop with clamshell design, and the 1992's CL57sx model was a first commercial laptop with color screen; the introduced options and features include the now-common peripherals-oriented PS/2 port as mobile device option, introduced the laptop BIOS and predecessor of laptop docking station (IBM Communications Cartridge).
Later PowerBooks featured optional color displays (PowerBook 165c, 1993), and first true touchpad (PowerBook 500 series, 1994), first 16-bit stereo audio, and first built-in Ethernet network adapter (PowerBook 500, 1994).
Introduced in 1992, IBM released its ThinkPad 700C, featuring a similar to PS/2 line clamshell design (though with a distinctive red TrackPoint pointing device). The ThinkPad laptop raised the new standard for business class of laptops, include modular design, durability standards and other productivity options, include first built-in camera (800 series, 1994), removable drive bays, secondary batteries and keyboard backlit.
Windows 3.1 was the first version of Windows to support APM, which was usually implemented with SMI in the BIOS (introduced with the Intel 80386SL). Windows 95 introduced standardized support for docking via the PnP BIOS (among other things). Prior to this point each brand used custom BIOS, drivers and in some cases, ASICs, to optimize the battery life of its machines. This move by Microsoft was controversial in the eyes of notebook designers because it greatly reduced their ability to innovate; however, it did serve its role in simplifying and stabilizing certain aspects of notebook design.
Windows 95 ushered in the importance of the CD-ROM drive in mobile computing, and helped the shift to the Intel Pentium processor as the base platform for notebooks. The Gateway Solo was the first notebook introduced with a Pentium processor and a CD-ROM. Also featuring a removable hard disk drive and floppy drive, the Solo was the first three-spindle (optical, floppy, and hard disk drive) notebook computer, and was extremely successful within the consumer segment of the market. In roughly the same time period the Dell Latitude, Toshiba Satellite, and IBM ThinkPad were reaching great success with Pentium-based two-spindle (hard disk and floppy disk drive) systems directed toward the corporate market.
Early laptop displays were so primitive that PC Magazine in 1986 published an article discussing them with the headline "Is It On Yet?". It said of the accompanying montage of nine portable computers, "Pictured at the right are two screens and seven elongated smudges". The article stated that "LCD screens still look to many observers like Etch-a-Sketch toys, or gray chalk on a dirty blackboard", and predicted that until displays improved, "laptops will continue to be a niche rather than a mainstream direction". As technology improved during the 1990s, the usefulness and popularity of laptops increased. Correspondingly prices went down. Several developments specific to laptops were quickly implemented, improving usability and performance. Among them were:
In June 2007, Asus announced the Eee PC 701 to be released in October, a small lightweight x86 Celeron-M ULV 353 powered laptop with 4 GB SDHC disk and a 7-inch screen. Despite previous attempts to launch small lightweight computers such as ultra-portable PC, the Eee was the first success story largely due to its low cost, small size, low weight and versatility. The term 'Netbook' was later dubbed by Intel. Asus then extended the Eee line with models with features such as a 9-inch screen and other brands, including Acer, MSI and Dell followed suit with similar devices, often built on the fledgling low-power Intel Atom processor architecture.