$20 for one of the best laptops money could buy 20 years ago: is it worth it?

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/03/13/20-for-one-of-the-best-laptop.html


I’ve wanted some day to pick up (or inherit, I think my dad has one) a G3 Pismo. Couldn’t do much with it obvs, but I think it was the pinnacle of laptop design at the time. And that keyboard… drools


I am wondering, what are these “dos drivers” of which the person in the video speaks? Each DOS app came with its own drivers built in, because DOS itself provided essentially nothing. If the sound card didn’t know how to pretend to be one of the 4-6 common sound cards that a particular game knew about, you were SOL.


I always wonder about the battery/thickness thing, having worked with a ToughBook myself. Perfectly portable, too, in a very specific way

.When working deep in the African bush, with the next power generator about 70km away, no cell phone reception (but an Iridium uplink which could receive text messages free of charge and send text messages for about 0.23€), and a power converter connected to two car batteries and square meters of large super-inefficient solar panels. The Brick, as I called it sometimes, had whipping 11h of working time on one battery in the beginning. Sadly, it’s now hard to get proper batteries, and none of the replacements so far ever came close to this. Regarding portability, it even has a handle!

It’s much fun at any airport security check, BTW.
Always raised eyebrows, and GC/MS swipes at airports which have those are the usual treatment…

BTW, I am still working on one of those sometimes, which now is ten years old.


Memory drivers for that tricky mix of extended/expanded memory?


The refurb charity place here in seattle had a $25 special awhile ago. Not quite that old but I got a Latitude Dsomething.
Only a 32bit processor on it. Happily running mint with an xfce desktop. It plays youtube and tunes for me just fine.


i loved my Thinkpad 600.

the only annoying thing was that it was just short of having enough horsepower to decode and play a DVD in realtime, this being the fashion of the day.

still, i got a lot of work (and play) done on that little machine.

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Nope, EMS/XMS drivers were built into DOS.

The video specifically asks for people to send him sound card drivers for DOS, which I am pretty sure do not exist – this was from an era when your built in made for Windows sound card either emulated a standard DOS sound card for DOS games, or it didn’t.

If it didn’t, then sound in DOS games was impossible unless you ran them in Windows and engaged in jiggery-pokey with the DOS machine settings in Windows. I could be wrong, it’s been a long time, but that’s what I remember.

I can mail you one if you want it. It doesn’t work but I can give you the deets of what went wrong (to do with the power board), and you can still find parts for the things. I never threw it out because I liked it so much as a thing.

I also have a turn-of-the-century ThinkPad T42, same story.

it depends; a lot of cards used a TSR hack to provide MIDI since it was cheaper than proper hardware support. games didn’t tend to require MIDI (though some did, and many had optional support), but it was useful for musicians. wow, i’d forgotten that back then, instrument sounds were stored on the card in a sample table! music would actually sound totally different on different cards, since the card was a rudimentary synthesizer, and the game would just tell the card “play Grand Piano at 440Hz for 0.5 seconds”.

i’m pretty sure that certain really low-end knock-off cards did require TSRs to trick apps into thinking they were actually the name-brand, but i’m not sure.


I picked up a Pismo for a working computer when the kids were small. Oh man did I ever love that thing to death! It looked like The BatMan just took a techno shart on your desk, had a zillion ports, two expansion bays, a keyboard that makes these modern day atrocities cry like babies and a stunning G3 processor (yowzal!) A solid computer for the time.

I have a MacBook Pro that we bought for my wife’s work that is coming up on 10 years old and we still use it every day. Core2Duo, 5GB, upgraded drives and a battery that needs to be plugged in all the time. It had the Radeon 8600 that had a delamitation problem and they replaced the mobo for free when it started acting funny in the first three years. The replacement boards were paid for by ATI iirc and they must have baked those suckers like crazy (mb that is why it lasted so long). It is way out of date and Chrome won’t upgrade so it is slowly becoming more useless by the day, but it still rocks. $1600 well spent I’d say!


Time for some real talk about Linux: if you’re buying a 20-year-old ThinkPad with the thought of running a modern Linux distribution, the bad news is that mainstream Linux distributions are starting to phase out 32-bit builds, which means that before long your choices will be to use something less mainstream, or stick to processors made after 2003.

Yes, really, that’s how long past the introduction of x86_64 we are.


P.S. I know many will disagree, but I found those old Thinkpads perfectly portable

Just about everything is portable given the right mode of transportation. However, I certainly don’t miss these big clunkers. Nor do I miss their prices.

A couple of years ago I found a 1993 vintage Gateway 2000 Colorbook at the local Goodwill for $5. I couldn’t resist the challenge. Battery and power adapter were long gone, so I hacked together a power supply, as well as a replacement CMOS battery from spare NiCds. HDD had been upgraded to a whopping 2GB and was still intact with Windows 95 installed. No USB, but a built-in floppy drive and PCMCIA slots, so I was able to upgrade it to Windows 98 and install a wireless card. I figured sending tweets with it was about as far as it could go.


My first laptop I bought for my term abroad in college. It was the Toshiba Tecra 780/DVD. I think I spent $850 total on it, with all the accessories, which included a docking station that you could put ISA and PCI cards into. So baller!

There was also a proprietary port for a webcam (Such luxury!), which took awful video. And of course a hardware renderer for the DVD drive. It also resembled the tank from Thundercats, and so I sanded off the Toshiba logos and added Thundercats stickers.

Alas, it eventually died. Even if it could be resurrected, I’m not sure what I could do with it today that I couldn’t do with DOXBox.


I had a ThinkPad ages ago. You could take the back of the LCD screen off so you could use it on an overhead projector. This left the rest of your laptop dangling off the OHP, inviting disaster. Hower, if you had a window seat, you could also stick some white paper in, and use the sun as your backlight.

I used it up to about 2008.


No, not where I live. Old computers are free, you just have to keep your eyes open.


Eventually, but not before a whole sub-industry grew up to service that need: Maximizer, QEMM, etc. All them crushed when Microsoft rolled over.


I have a Thinkpad. I loved that laptop so much. I keep meaning to try to fire it up and check if I have any photos on the hard drive. Not sure if it’ll run or not.

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Yup. There used to be HP laptops which also had a composite video input port, just in case you had a VCR or nintendo with you on the go, and no TV.

Older laptops were totally throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what stuck. Many cool features of old hardware that never caught on.