15

In the early era of "portable" or luggable computers, such as the mains powered Osborne 1 and the Compaq Portable, 5 1/4 inch floppy drives were the standard storage medium. When battery-powered laptops came of age in the late 1980s, 3 1/2 inch floppy drives were generally used (see for example the IBM PC Convertible, which used two of them).

A few battery powered laptops, such as the Toshiba T1100, supported the use of an external 5 1/4 inch floppy drive. This allowed them to access data on these larger floppies, and transfer data to & from existing desktop machines.

Was there a battery-powered laptop computer that had a 5 1/4" floppy drive built into its chassis, instead of being a separate external add-on?

  • Not aware of any. The closest thing, while not exactly a laptop, no screen, and no battery power, featuring a 5 1/4" drive would be the Apple IIc. – tofro Apr 11 at 7:23
  • 2
    To my knowledge, there never existed a slim line form factor for 5 1/4" inch floppy drives (while it was available for CD-ROM drives). This would have helped to build laptops of acceptable size featuring 5 1/4" floppies - But their time had already passed when battery-powered laptops appeared. – tofro Apr 11 at 9:07
  • In the 1980s this form factor was very common. Such devices often even had 2x 5,25" floppy drives. – Martin Rosenau Apr 11 at 11:53
  • @MartinRosenau That's the "lunchbox" format discussed in comments to Raffzahn's answer. Not really a "laptop", IMHO – tofro Apr 11 at 14:08
  • 1
    @tofro Of course there where slim line 5.25 - after all, slim line is again one of these terms that changed and got reused over and over again. Full height is 3.25", half height is 1.625" and slim line 5.25 is 1" - and then there are the dual 5.25/5.25" and 5.25/3.5" drives with a combined height of 1.625" or 21mm per drive Much like a slim line 3.5" disk :) As usual, it helps looking past the most common computers. – Raffzahn Apr 12 at 22:51
10

As so often this depends on your definition of laptop - which is not an exact one either. There where many level of size and weight between a bulky schleppable like a Compaq Portable and a notebook sized computer. And only a few would work well on a lap. I wouldn't consider the T1100 be one of them.

Still, with the T1100 as cornerstone, I think the Morrow Pivot of 1984, and it's successor, the Pivot II of 1985, also sold as Zenith Z-171 would qualify. It's been a 8088 based PC clone with one or two 5.25" drives and could operate from an optional battery pack.

enter image description here

(Picture taken from Wikipedia)

Another candidate could be the Visual Commuter 1083 of 1983. While it looks more like a laptop, due the conventional style of opening the screen instead of keyboard, it's way bigger than the Morrow Pivot (*2). In fact, it's so wide (and quite low, less than half height), that it makes the 5.25" drives look like 3.5"

enter image description here

(Picture taken from Oldcomputers.net)

And then there is of course what could be called 'Lunchbox' format (*1), best known from the Compaq Portable III of 1987, but introduced already around 1985 by Taiwan manufacturers. Being somewhere more portable than the classic luggables and definitely more flexible due the large interior it was quite successful from the mid 80s to mid 90s, producing an endless stream of variations, many including 5.25" drives and batteries, even way into the 1990s.

enter image description here

(Taken from Oldcomputer.info)

They (the lunchboxes, not 5.25"s) cover a niche until today for special to type configuration (like for embedded systems maintenance) or portable high performance machines.


A somewhat stretched candidate would be an Apple IIc like Tofro mentioned in a comment. Unlike assumed, there was an LCD available (from Apple and third party), as well as battery-packs (third party). Still, it lacks the easy portability - at least before some glue (or a bag) is applied :)

enter image description here

(Taken from Obsolete Computer Museum)


*1 - According to Tofro :))

*2 - Sizes as width x height x depth

  • Morrow Pivot: 32 x 25 x 14 cm (12,8 x 9,8 x 5,5 inch)
  • Commuter 1083: 45 x 9 x 38 cm (18 x 3,5 x 15 inch)
  • Compaq Portable III : 41 x 25 x 20 cm (16 x 10 x 8 inch)
  • 1
    I wouldn't really consider the "lunchbox format" a laptop. I'd be scared having any of them on my laps... – tofro Apr 11 at 7:44
  • 1
    Erm, you may want to take a closer look, the Z171 is way smaller than the 'Lunchbox' format of that time. That would be a Compaq Portable III or alike. You're definitly right about the less than perfect fit for a 'laptop' computing. But so is the T1100 as well - explicit named in the question, isn't it? – Raffzahn Apr 11 at 7:59
  • 1
    I agree that it's hard to draw a neat line between portables and laptops, hence I took the internal battery as an arbitrary distinction between the two. Plus, the dimensions of a 5 1/4 floppy drive will naturally influence the size and form-factor of any computer designed around it. But the Morrow Pivot and its descendants seem to fit the bill nicely. – Kaz Apr 11 at 8:13
  • 2
    The linked Wikipedia article even mentions the Morrow/Z-171 as one of the first "lunchbox" computers. Probably depends on the size of your lunch... – tofro Apr 11 at 8:42
  • 1
    @Raffzahn (re: Compaq III) Granted, just trying to clarify things. :) – Kaz Apr 11 at 9:02
16

The closest thing to a modern laptop that I'm aware of featuring an internal 5 1/4 drive is the Findex of 1979 which had a fairly complete (optionally battery-powered) CP/M computer including a hard-sectored floppy drive, a 40 x 6 plasma display and even a printer in a package of about the size of a (quite large) travel typewriter, weighing 20 pounds.

enter image description here

I wouldn't exactly call it a laptop, but you can at least imagine it could be operated as such - I mean, literally on your laps, at least for a while... (It was designed as a portable computer and it did feature a carrying handle and optional battery - although apparently designed in more as UPS rather than operating power supply - and carrying case).

  • 5
    I had to dig as far as page 14 of the linked brochure, but it does specify an optional battery, giving "one hour plug-off work capability"! – Kaz Apr 11 at 8:19
  • 1
    Why don't laptops still have carry handles? A slightly thicker laptop (so that it's a bit more robust) + a pocket + a carry handle actually sounds pretty amazing 😍 . – David Mulder Apr 11 at 15:25
  • 1
    @DavidMulder Check out the Panasonic Toughbook. It's exactly what you want. The new ones are very expensive but used models can get down into reasonable territory. – JPhi1618 Apr 11 at 17:32
  • 2
    @DavidMulder More things in general should have carry handles. That was my favorite feature of the GameCube. – DarthFennec Apr 11 at 17:34
  • 1
    I stand corrected. I was just looking at the bubble memory model. – Matthew Barber Apr 12 at 0:58
13

If the definition sought after is very strictly speaking "integrated 5.25 inch floppy" and "battery powered", then I would like to enter the Kaypro II from August 1982:

enter image description here

Which is a luggable and has

Built In Media: Two 5.25'' SS/DD full-height floppies (190k)
Peripherals: 400 KB or 800 KB 5.25'' floppy drives, 10 MB hard disc, battery pack/charger

So instead of 5.25inch peripheral disks, we have here an external battery pack.

If for added fun we really want to stretch out this game of definitions, we might also take a look at what the military thought of as (trans-)portable computer that relies on batteries?

enter image description here enter image description here

CGS-100 AN/TYQ-63

California Microwave builds a case called the CGS-100, inside this huge , heavy box lives a ISA plane board, a LCD display and a integrated keyboard mouse.
This system has a signal board P1-166 64 Meg processor board, a APTI SCSI controller, Dolch video card with flat panel driver and network card that I have installed.
The system came with a dual 3.5/5 inch floppy that did not work so I replaced that with a standard 1.4, also you can see the SCSI CD rom I installed to put windows 98 on the system. their is a SCSI hard drive that I hung in the bay later. And you can see Windows 98 is still going strong around here.
This is maybe the heaviest computer I have bought today, what you don't see is the hard shell plastic shipping container it arrived in. a custom built shipping case for this system. everything together weighed over one hundred pounds!
Have discovered that this is a part of the AN/TYQ-63 communications system and ran NT as a operating system, I have NT but would rather run 98.

With such a toll in weight the battery was then conveniently stored on wheels, like that:

enter image description here (PDF)

But really a lot closer to what might be asked for would be the GRiD Case3 and later:

enter image description here
While the Compass 1101 had no internal floppy drive, later systems did, such as the GRiDCase3 seen above.

The rear panel of the GRiDCase3 also shows the battery compartment. Most GRiD systems released after the 1101 can run on battery-power. The internal power supply is ejected and a battery-pack is installed in its place.

  • 1
    All your pictures except the Kaypro show 3.5" floppy drives? – tofro Apr 11 at 18:12
  • 1
    @tofro, the picture doesn't show it, but the CGS-100 came with a dual 5.25"/3.5" drive, and the GRiDCase3 shows a 5.25" drive. – Mark Apr 11 at 20:09
  • 2
    The drive in the Grid 3 looks suspiciously like a 3.5" drive to me. – tofro Apr 11 at 20:26
  • Yeah, that's definitely a 3.5" internal drive. The oldcomputers link confirms it. There was a 5.25" drive for the system that's also shown there, but that's in an external module. +1 for the Kaypro though. – Matthew Barber Apr 11 at 23:45
  • 1
    +1 for the GRiDCase3, +0 for the rest. – snips-n-snails Apr 12 at 1:35
4

Nobody has mentioned the Xerox Notetaker yet, which I'd think has to be the earliest portable machine that's both battery powered and containing a 5.25" floppy drive.

However, at a bone crunching 22kg which is about twice the weight of the Osborne-1, it's somewhat stretching the definition of a laptop. Also, only ten prototypes were ever made.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.