[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Zenith Laptops of Olde

April 27th, 2009 by Benj Edwards

Zenith Supersport 286e and Zenith Supersport SX Ad - 1990“Zenith Data Systems Innovates Again”

I’ve used my fair share of hefty laptops like the Zenith Supersport SX and 286e seen above. Their relatively large size by modern standards made them no less miraculous for their time.

Even in 1990, we’d come a long way from foot-breaking luggables like the Osborne 1, the Kaypro II, and the Compaq Portable. Gone were the bulky CRT displays; in their place sat thin LCD panels that would vastly expand in capability over the next 19 years. The LCDs in most early laptops started off monochrome with no backlighting, low contrast, poor viewing angles, and slow refresh rates, but that was worth suffering through if it meant you could have a full-powered PC on the go.

Interestingly enough, computers like those seen above — even with their display limitations — are not completely obsolete: I still use old monochrome laptops for writing outside because you can easily see the displays in full sunlight. If you try that with most modern laptops, you’ll see nothing but a dark blur.

[ From BYTE Magazine, October 1990 ]

Discussion topic of the week: What’s the largest portable computer you’ve ever used?

9 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Zenith Laptops of Olde”

  1. XCALIBR8 Says:

    I remember using my Aunt’s commodore 64 sx to play Karate Champ and Purple Heart. I remember she told me I could bring it out to the living room and my 5 year old arms could barely drag the behemoth in.

  2. Jurgi Says:

    Everyting may be portable, it depends on your strenght. 😉
    I remember taking the whole Atari XE system (comp, disk drive, monitor, joysticks, several boxes of software) for copy-parties. We were once even going on foot with all this hardware in the Czech mountains. 🙂

  3. Anachostic Says:

    “Circle 319 on Reader Service Card”

    Oh my god, I remember one year as a youngster circling every number on one of those cards. I got pounds and pounds of mail. The mailman must have HATED me.

    And it kept coming for years and years; long after I moved out of my parents house. On the plus side, sometimes I would get demos on floppy disks, which would be promptly formatted and reused.

  4. Geoff V. Says:

    I had a Gateway laptop in 1997 that was like carrying around a box of bricks.

  5. Ben Says:

    That distinction would go to the IBM 5140 “PC Convertible”
    It did have a built-in handle, so that made it a little better.
    Second in line would be an NEC MultiSpeed, with a rather pleasant blue/white display.

  6. Rockin' Kat Says:

    The largest portable computer I’ve ever used is my Commodore SX-64. I’ve never actually had a portable of any kind when it was actually new. I’m not that awesome.

    I got my SX-64 when I was in high school. I took it to school with me on the last day of Senior year , pluged it in under the stairs in the cafeteria, put out the joysticks and loaded a game on it, and watched as random students came up to check it out. It got played the whole lunch… and in the classes… since really who’s doing anythign on the last day of school?

    …yeah.. the last day of senior year… 2001-02.

    Other then that I have never had anything that I think would qualify as huge and portable. Other than the SX-64 all I have are old Mac Powerbooks, but they’re only really maybe double the thickness of more modern laptops.

  7. Moondog Says:

    When I started working for ZDS in 1990, I was issued a Supersport 286, which had a bluish supertwist lcd as opposed to the “page white” lcd offered on the “e.” I think it’s funny looking back, that 20 megs of space was pretty good for a portable!

  8. William Says:

    Moondog – I worked for ZDS Federal in Germany from 1993 – 1996! I have a Supersport in my possession like the one in this post. I also have a Z-Player and a Z-Noteflex! 🙂 Who are you and where in ZDS did you work?

  9. Cody Says:

    I remember VGA coming to laptops… I didn’t own one but I remember me and a friend used to crowd around his father’s laptop (I think he got it from work with a government science agency) playing Commander Keen and Captain Comic…

    Those were the days.

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