back to article Naked at 30: Osborne 1 stripped to its chips

The Osborne 1 – the first mass-market portable computer – turns 30 years old this month. And what better way to celebrate than by tearing one apart? One problem: I couldn't get my hands on an original Osborne 1. But I was able to tear into the next best thing: the slightly remodeled follow-on to the original, also known as the …

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Coat

"...even though I'm not in the least bit an EE kinda guy..."

Shame, I prefer my hardware teardowns to be written by at least *slightly* EE kinda people...

But then, as Mr Page has amply demonstrated, you don't really have to know what you're talking about to get published by El Reg :-)

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Boffin

I still remember the one of these my dad had...

...which was the original model in the tan and black case

If I remember rightly, it experienced the same 'green line of death', but he could carry on using it with the external orange-screen monitor he had. he finally ditched it when one of the floppy drives gave up the ghost.

I later furtively opened the thing up and tried to get the other driove working on the Amstrad CPC 464 we had. Apparently the edge-connector on this, although being the right size and shape, had some of the pins swapped, so I never got it to work. I would have been about twelve at the time, so I get the points for trying anyway!

Seeing the insides of one of these again after so many years brings back fond memories. I wonder whatever happened to the one my dad had...

And @CJCox above; I too remember the shrill cacophony produced by daisy-wheel printers, which I think can best be described as someone dragging a hessian sack full of broken china back and forward across some iron railings.

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Heart

I miss my c-64

I saw a c-64 that looked a lot like this Osbourne 1.

I'll have to google and see if I can buy one.

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Happy

Commodore SX-64...

Yes, Commodore did a version of the C-64 in an Osborne-style case, called the SX-64. Like the Osborne, it had a 5-inch screen, although the Commodore's did colour. With one exception, I remember mine fondly, in a sad, geeky way.

The exception was the handle. The SX-64 was clearly designed to *look* portable, but it was also clearly designed in such a way as to discourage you from carrying it. The cylindrical full-width handle was decorated by a series of length-wise grooves that combined with the unit's considerable weight to leave grooves in your hand, and carrying it any distance was actually painful. Bah.

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Linux

The really amazing fact was....

...that the OS fitted on a single density 5.25 inch disk! What happened? Oh ya M$ happened, now you need >1Tb disk just to get started.

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Happy

Couple of thoughts...

First of all, thanks for an interesting article and exploration. Some years back, I rescued an Osborne 1 from "Curbside Discount" along with a bunch of software. Apart from a burnt out bulb in the power button, it worked quite well. I certainly did not go as far as you did in taking it apart, mainly out of fear of breaking it.

If you can find a copy of Peter A. McWilliams' Personal Computer In Business book, it will be an interesting trip down memory lane...and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Mr. McWilliams was none too fond of the Osborne 1 and made that perfectly clear. He felt the screen was too small, the fan too loud (of which more later) and the character font unclear. His description of the screen's phosphor color was also not to be missed--"several shades of orange, not unlike a punk rocker's hair" IIRC. He also disagreed with Adam Osborne about screen size--Peter's thought being that bigger screens were the way of the future while Adam insisted that smaller screens would be all you'd see. In their own ways, I think both men were right.

(If anyone out there still has the supplement to this book that is mentioned at the back--I'd love to know about it. Likewise, I think there was a much later version published in the 1990s that I can't seem to find now.)

I was surprised to see that your system had what appeared to be a green phosphor display, and found the lack of a cooling fan interesting as well. Every O1 I ever saw had the cooling fan underneath a sliding door in the handle. I don't think there was a black and white version of the display--I definitely did not expect to see a green one!

As for the display, it's probably fixable. You should turn down the brightness and contrast dials before the screen gets a permanent line or a "belly button" burned into it. I would bet that the failure is either bad solder or dried up capacitors that have drifted far from specifications over the years. Bad solder could be determined by poking at the CRT board with a **well insulated** object. If you're not comfortable around very high voltage electronics, see if you can get a knowledgeable friend to help--and maybe you could owe them a favor or buy them dinner?

Anyway...that's a pretty cool walkthrough of the system. Thanks again for doing it and sharing the result.

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Where it all started

The Osbourne 1 Rev A was my very first experience of computers. My company presented one to me in 1982, complete with external monitor, and the instruction, "See what you make of that". After that, I graduated to Geek and the rest is history.

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Anonymous Coward

The BBC B I took delivery of...

...is a series 7 board and is dated 1982. Wow. Technology made quite a jump in even that short space of time back then.

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Go

There's one here now

As I type this we have an Osborne of this vintage on the shelf next to me. We had some people move offices in 2010 and they abandon some equipment when they did so resulting in an Osborne being unceremoniously dumped into the IT area. When we first picked it up it shook and rattled like it was full of loose screws; which is was. Apparently someone had been dropping miscellaneous screws into the heat vents over the last 20 years or so. Popped off the hood, dumped them all out, and was surprised to find that it booted straight up into CP/M on the first go.

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Anonymous Coward

Fairchild, not Fuji

The MB8877 chip is probably made by Fairchild, not Fuji.

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/germaine68/arcade/logos/index.html

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Thank you!

I was sure that was a Fairchild.

I bookmarked that link so fast the mouse is still smoking.

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It is HPIB, not GPIB

For those Hewlett Packard diehards it was known as the HPIB (Hewlett Packard Interface Bus) long before it was known as GPIB or IEEE-488. And if you call it by its proper name, HPIB, I promise not to tell Simon it was you that scratched his car...oh, about an hour from now.

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National Instruments, too

I was still using GPIB in my last job in 2009. The daisy-chaining was cool (although the big-ass cables and connectors were cumbersome), but setting addresses via dip-switches or deep in instrument menus was not so cool. We used NI drivers because HP's didn't work for us.

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Remembers me of the Philips P2000C

Back in time we used a Philips P2000C which concept looks like quite similar to this one. Except for the bigger screen and 2 80 track floppies rightsided with an amazing 360 kb if remember correctly. With 80x25 lines, Wordstar,Calcstar and MBASIC it was a quite usefull computer albeit a little hefty to carry. Later on you even could get an MS-DOS co-powerboard and a 10 Mb HDD. Great machine!

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Joke

"...even though I'm not in the least bit an EE kinda guy..."

I nominate Mr Fry to do the next teardown. Even better, the machine should be on at the start of the teardown. It may take a few attempts for him to recognize the value of the off switch.

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Happy

I have one but...

Unfortunately the screen was damaged - the glass is actually cracked - whilst it was on its way to me.

Anyone know where I can get a replacement CRT? Or how I can actually hook up an external screen using that edge connector?

I do know that the computer itself actually worked (and I guess the review who wrote the article can try this too), because I hooked up a terminal to the serial port and used something like:

stat con:=tty:

It may not have been *exactly* that command, but it was something similar. Different CP/M boxes called their serial ports by different names.

Great article though. Please, someone, do one on the RML-380Z - I have a non-working one of those too :-(

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Alert

Danger, Will Robinson!

If the actual CRT is physically damaged, don't turn that thing back on until it's replaced!

Very Bad Things could happen!

After donning protective eyewear and gloves, take a look and see if there's a piece of glass in front of the screen, and if that's what's damaged.

Better yet, find a TV repair shop with someone who's been in the business for years to check it out.

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On that second to last picture...

...it looks like your're about to jab a fork into the electronics.

That would be fun.

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Fork in electrics

I've often said that.

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Jobs Halo

I have the following

I own a osborne 1, Service Manual, Software and External VDU. Sadly I ditched the printer that came with it but this was a star. It was used in my Father in laws business. I also own a signed copy of Hypergrowth by Adam Osborne. The Power supply in this pc/laptop was an Astec which was very common in the mid eightys.

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Coat

Why do I always have to be the one?

Real men don't have floppy disks.

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Anonymous Coward

It's not a logic board

It's only Apple that call these things "Logic Boards" - to the rest of the world they are Motherboards.

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Superb article - please keep them coming!

... thanks for yet another great article on homecomputer cambrian...

Even though I now do feel old considering I know DIP switches - I never had the pleasure of owning a Kaypro or Osborne, my portables were rather curious exotics such as the Epson HX20 or the Z88. Although I did own a Sanyo PC XT / 80186 portable, which was following much the same design as the Osborne...

CP/M wise I was always restricted to the robotron monsters of East German fame, sporting the U880, a Z80A clone. But good times nonetheless. WordStar, SuperCalc, dBII ... not to forget BASIC80 (basi?), TurboPascal, Ladder, Catchum ... and yes, POWER was the handiest piece of software in these days, as a matter of fact, it was so good, I think it wasn't until Norton Commander, that a software tool was such a versatile utility. I mean - come on! multiple file selection through sequential numbers - that was class! ;-)

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