Laptops

Cracking open the Osborne 1: The original portable computer

All the parts

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

104 comments
billtebo
billtebo

Now I can clean the one I have. As well as a Chameleon with an extended memory board.

rbober2
rbober2

I used to carry one of those "portable" computers from my office to meetings. Going through an Airport, especially if you had a close connection was a real challenge. Thank goodness there was no TSA back then or that thing would have never made it through security. It was as big as a small suitcase and weighed in at around 30 lbs. It was a real dog to put in the overhead compartments. You had to have a power connection, as there was no batteries. It only ran DOS with no graphics or color screen. Even though there were all of those drawbacks, it was the best way for me to manage my business projects. It sure beat having to working on my Commodore 64.

ernwes
ernwes

I carried one of these around for a couple of years. My right arm is still longer than my left. It was a pretty good mahine for its time, but it was so heavy that it should have come with wheels.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

I worked at a company where the east coast division had Osbournes, and the west coast division had IBM's. The Osbournes were a LOT lighter when we hauled them along on an airplane. Use it in-flight? NOT! Thanks for the memories, Mark.

jdemontjoie
jdemontjoie

Great fun! Haven't booted it in a while though. Still recall playing very simple games on it and trying to understand CP/M.

sdavis4fun
sdavis4fun

It had a BIOS for a HD, but I blew the MB when I tried to install a 10 MB MFM supported by the BIOS. QBASIC and DOS 3.1, great memories.

walter
walter

I loved my OsbornI so much that I bought a second one! I also bought the later Osborn Executive, what a nice machine the Executive was. It was 1/3 the weight, 10 or 12" screen and high density floppy's. I surly hated to move on to the real world of PC DOS a few years later but time moved on. Our Osborn club, yes we had a real club with upwards of 500 members! The "First Rochester Osborne Group" or F.R.O.G. (of which I'm a past president) was a place of great learning as well as joint computer exploration. Now were the Rochester Computer Society.

bruce
bruce

The two chips from the Phillipines? 6821 PIA's (Peripheral Interface Adapters). These might be connected to parallel ports, such as for the printer, or possibly to another device on the board. It basically provides an electronically buffered point of connection to a particular set of addresses in the memory or I/O space.

bill-techrepublic
bill-techrepublic

Wow. When I saw your close-up of the ROM BIOS chip, I fumbled around on my desk at work to find the ROM BIOS chip that I had laying around as a novelty item for years. The label was character-for-character identical to the one in your picture, which surprised the heck out of me. Mine came out of a blue/gray case O1 when I replaced it with a new, official OCC upgrade ROM BIOS chip. I also had the technical manual (a thick 3-ring binder) that someone else mentioned. In addition to the schematics and lots of other cool info, it included a complete *commented* source code listing of the ROM BIOS. (IIRC, the technical manual cost me about $50 new from OCC.)

I had one of these and remember it well. Booting CPM from a floppy disk, bundled applications like WordPro and SuperCalc, and that tiny screen! It was a great first computer; Though I am grateful for Moores Law! Start a New Life, Not a New Job!? at http://Ex-Employee.com

Brendan P
Brendan P

My favorite was a HP Portable, and then the Portable+. It was light (almost even by modern standards), ALWAYS on (CMOS logic), did not crash and was all but bullet proof physically (drop tested to 3 feet. pick it up and keep on typing). It was a true laptop, when most "portables" were indeed "lugables." I can't find a modern laptop/operating system that meet those standards: now we have better GUI, more memory for bloat-ware yes... always on reliable, not any more.

kubwak
kubwak

"... mounted on a STEAL plate." dumbarse!

dries_dupreez
dries_dupreez

This machine was build in 1983. Look at the date stamps on the IC's. The replacement memory chip is also 1983 week 36

mark
mark

A beautiful piece for it's time and it ran on the CPM operating system, which, in my view was a better dos than IBM(MS) dos. I seem to recall that IBM were late for a meeting with a couple who "invented" CPM and so they scheduled a meeting with a bunch of dropouts who dazzled them with crap and we are still paying the price... long live Dos, unix, linux, pick and everything else not MS.....

ntra9236
ntra9236

I have a grey model in my shed that does not bootup anymore, were there power supply problems with this as with the new computers. i.e. caps drying out etc. I would like to get it going again

j_d_white_jr
j_d_white_jr

The Osborne 1 was not the first portable computer. I worked for Computer Devices in 1980 and I believe we had the first portable computer. It had a built-in thermal printer, either a phone coupler for 110 baud (boy that was fast) or an RJ-11C direct connect for 1200 baud (blow your sock off). It had 32k of RAM and 32k of ROM for the memory and used digital version of a transcription tape for offline storage. It was powered by a Motorola 6803 (don't remember the speed). Computer Devices was working on a 5 1/4" diskette based system that in addition to running Basic would also be able to run Pascal. I was the Product Support Specialist for the central US region and Canada based out of Chicago. One of the applications we were trying to sell was for insurance adjusters to be able to take the computer into the field and to be able to submit their reports directly into the system from the field. If there are any alumni reading this does anyone know what happened to John Kennedy, Garry Clark or Chip Stouffer?

firstaborean
firstaborean

Some points: (1) Yes, that was a heatsink. The device being cooled is in a TO-220 (plastic) case. (2) The 4000B series were CMOS IC's ranging in capacity from such as a quad two-input NOR gate to a 10-stage binary ripple counter. They ran well on anything from 3.0 volts to 15 volts DC. (3) The ...74LSxxxx series were Schottky-clamped low-power TTL IC's, generally in the same order of complexity as the CMOS ones, but faster (and hotter). They required 5.0 +/- 0.25 volts DC to operate. Like the CMOS devices in (2), these were called "glue logic" because they interfaced the large-scale devices, such as the BIOS ROM and the CPU, itself. (4) The mystery device in a couple of the photos was made by Fairchild Semiconductor, a company that disappeared decades ago. The legendary Bob Widlar worked for Fairchild, back in the 1960's. You think that this technology was primitive? I started working in electronics back in the days when DTL was new. RTL was still in use back then, in the mid-1960's. A single flip-flop could take up several square inches of PC board, back in 1963. My first job was for Hughes Aircraft, which made electronics, not aircraft. I remember designing my own digital-to-analog (and A to D) converters.

#1 Kenster
#1 Kenster

Image #8 - Hmmm, mounted on a "steal" plate? Was it really cheap?

gelfling6
gelfling6

For the record, the belt driven spindle was not looking for trouble. It was very reliable! a cloth reinforced neoprene belt on a PWM brush motor, using an induction coil as the reference pulse. the old Tandon drives IBM bought for the 5150's were the same way. Though, my Ducky has a pair of direct driven drives now.. I replaced both of the stock MPI drives, an hacked the side select (which was not used on the O1. Pin 32 was a clock signal.).. the Osborne disk controller was a custom board itself. power carried to the underside of the board also led to heat breakdown of the wave-soldered board.. (yes, +5V & +12V was carried along the ribbon cable.) (some used the extra power socket on the supply, for a fan. I used a custom wired floppy power cable.) brushless motors weren't cheap back then.. 1/2-height drives non-existant! There were a couple of companies who made custom double density boards too, which redirected the power to a cable, and added a side select to use standard Tandon drives...

miguel
miguel

LOL, back in the day, that was supposed to be one. Those little transistors (T1P110)get pretty hot in some sittuations, so depending on the load applied to it, it probably required some extra help to cool off. Pretty cool stuff. Remembrances of my youth. Cheers!

miguel
miguel

The chips from the Philippines (F6821P) are adapters for Parallel Peripheral Interfaces. Dang, it's been a while, I remember going to college and working with all those type of electronics. Cheers... Miguel Aguilar--Salt Lake City, UT. 84117. miguel@awconsultors.com

d.g.holm
d.g.holm

That "unknown" chip from the Philippines is Fairchild's version of the standard 6821 Parallel Interface Adapter (PIA).

borg_88
borg_88

On the part with "wings"--yes, that is a heat sink and it looks to be cooling a voltage regulator...

robertleeking
robertleeking

The "Unknown" Chips are Peripheral Interface adapter ICs. Most likely used for the display and Serial I/O on this system.

developer4700-subscriber
developer4700-subscriber

I still have my Ossie I sitting on top of my wardrobe - I actually got it to work (once) when I came to Australia in 1987. I also got a huge (3" ring binder)technical manual for it, with lots of fold-out schematics, etc. I suspect it's somewhere in the house, but I've been here for 20 years and haven't noticed it for at least a decade (black hole).

Hands0n
Hands0n

Its in the loft, still works just fine, been there over 17 years now :)

bobabrahams
bobabrahams

Now find an Osborne Executive to open up. 9" CRT, 128K of memory and CPM+ operating system! My oh my!

mrydesky
mrydesky

The Osborne was my FIRST! I thought I was set for life when I bought it. Two are stored in my garage - how could I part with it? Thankfully, personal porters became popular at the same time and the Osborne could be moved like luggage.

john.ogrady
john.ogrady

Cracking open is the right term.. I remember being refused to bring it on the plane as hand luggage and having to reluctantly place it in the hold,labelled liberally with fragile stickers much to my concern. Standing on the bus waiting to get back to the terminal after landing I was horrified to see my beloved Osborne plummet to the ground after the luggage hatch was openned. The Osborne was about as robust as Humpty Dumpty, but then what would survive a fall from at least 4 metres. Happy days!

htsui
htsui

This is the first computer that I did repair work. As I recalled, operation system was CP/M. Some model came with 10GB hard drive loaded with WordStar, SuperCalc, BASIC. Memory should be 64KBs. Some installed with 300 Baud rate modem. The CRT were either Amber or Green. Osborne I (1981) Specifications can be found: http://www.computermuseum.li/Testpage/Osborne1-Specifications.htm

Jon N
Jon N

Awesome. Great job of dissection. I remember when, & I'm getting up there, also. I still like the old tactile mechanical keyboards. The strange black thing with wings was a heat sink. Will you look at those gigantic capacitors! My TRS-80 Model I had big ones like that, too. Notice that the RAM is soldered to the MB. Now that's OLD!

maddoghall
maddoghall

I had my company purchase an Osborne in the early 1980s as a portable computer/terminal for my work as a systems administrator. As I left the job, I purchased one myself. A friend of mine just starting college at WPI asked "what type of computer should I buy?", and I recommended an Osborne, since his money was limited, and it provided everything he needed. Just after he bought it, Osborne announced "Chapter 11". I felt bad for my young friend, and myself. But what I found was that a lot of Osborne products (especially software) then went on "clearance sale". I bought copies for myself, and copies for him. He ended up with the word processor, spreadsheet, BASIC, FORTRAN, COBOL, LISP, a database engine, and several other tools. Not only did he use it, but his four roommates, and when he finished college he gave it to his younger sister. He never regretted buying the Osborne, and neither did I. Jon "maddog" Hall

rvoight
rvoight

By Golly someone needs more to their life if they are thinking about Osborne PC's. Hee Hee!

scorpion_saga
scorpion_saga

Wow, I remember a custoner giving me two of these things around 1997, even then they were a piece of history. Boot up time, seemed like a month. They weighed as much as my car. Like a lot of independent computer shops we used to get a lot of stuff donated by well meaning customers. And, yes, some of it came in very handy at times. Could not have enough of XT boards for a few years there. And these luggables were in a class all bny themselves. Good topics and galleries guys.

citizenperth
citizenperth

i had the portable commodore 64, loked very similar... ahhhh.. memories....

niccic
niccic

Wow I am a young buck. We have come a long ways.

bbodnar1
bbodnar1

The 6821 IC is a "Peripheral Interface Adaptor" (PIA)-a programmable parallel port chip originally designed by Motorola for use with the 6800 family of CPUs. BTW, the date code on the DRAM chips shows they were manufactured in 1983.

p.kappes
p.kappes

Osborne is also known for a classic marketing mistake introducing their next model. I still have a Kaypro 10 which was the first luggable with a 10MB (big for the time) hard drive. PMK

kstevedahl
kstevedahl

The port that you labeled the printer port was the serial port which was sometimes used as a printer port back then. The edge connector to the right of that port was the parallel printer port. I remember making many of those cables from scratch; Crimping and edge connector to a ribbon cable and then soldering the all of those wires eventually to a DB36.

robo_dev
robo_dev

80286 processor, whopping 20MB hard drive, 9" green screen. The thing weighed a good 30 lbs and I got in on sale for around $2,000.

hinckleyl
hinckleyl

The Exec had a 7"CRT, was a bit lighter, and had lots of goodies available. The one I still have has 512k ram, 40mb HD, DSHD drive, internal modem, ram based quick functions, and a very basic graphics capability. Of course most of those items were add-ins. Another ran my bbs (NYOUG) for a few years with two external 5" 40mb drives that held the entire PD software repository. And yes, we did have at least one UG meeting with 300 people attending... Seriously though, one of our folks delighted in showing us his Federal Tax SuperCalc spreadsheets that ran on his O-1 in 29k of memory. I think a landmark feature of the Osborne was its real usefulness for the normal user. With its transition to portable format with dual disk drives and excellent bundled software we could be productive and efficient. My O-1 and later the Exec went on the airplane with me, revising scripts and presentations on location when few people had anything close.

Barc777
Barc777

I had heard that the CP/M people ditched the meeting and went hang-gliding.

mikeholli
mikeholli

I challenge that, I happen to have owned an Osbourne one computer. It didn't have a built-in modem like that fancy one you described in your post! I had to go out and buy a 300baud external modem for my Osbourne one, and the processor speed on mine was an amazing 4 megahertz, no hard drive, and used 2 5 1/4 floppy drives. one held your program, and the other was to save your information. (example:A WordStar document). At that time I would of given my eye teeth to have the power you had.

vduber
vduber

1981 -to- 2008 and the belt is still intact. Granted this means that it was stored in a reasonablr environment, but even so, if it did break it was a $.10 fix and easy to do. Belt drive was always a great method because of the mechanical isolation. These days, in the throw away world, a belt will cost you $3-$10 if you find one. Why? Because they can. The one big enemy of the rubber belt, or any rubber, is the modern day ozone air "cleaners". Many a fine open reel tape deck have been destroyed by these "improvers" of life.

developer4700-subscriber
developer4700-subscriber

The manual is a BIG 3-ring binder full of schematics; etc. I move to Australia in 1987 and booted the Ozzy at least one time testing using it with voltage converters. It now is collecting dust on a shelf. I loved the software that came pre-packaged with it - one of (if not the) first computers to sell application software with the box. Got the manual for a project to time race-cars in Vancouver Canada; project fell through.

carpenter114
carpenter114

Original white case version with the cheap keyboard. Haven't powered it up in a few years. Mine has a weak power supply, and I have to use a battery to hold RTS high to use a modem. Are there any museums in need of an Ozzie-One? I.

pblatchford
pblatchford

I teach ICT and do a lesson each year when we strip a pc into bits and explain what each bit does. I was recently given a working Osbourne to help me with this. I was only 3 when they first came out.

mandyhill
mandyhill

I have 2 of the Ver 1 and 2 Executives which was 128 processor. Plus I have a 40 mg external hard drive. 8-) Fun, CPM