My first 'laptop' -- all 30 pounds of it

My first 'laptop' -- all 30 pounds of it

Summary: ZDNet's 20th anniversary: An incredible milestone in this business sends me careening down memory lane with abandon. My first laptop was a 30-pound behemoth.


The 20th anniversary of ZDNet, besides being an incredible milestone in this business, sends me careening down memory lane with abandon. I have been covering mobile tech for a long time, and using it even longer than ZDNet has been around. The tag line I've been using a long time is not an exaggeration:

...using mobile devices since they weighed 30 lbs.

The gadget that 30 pounds refers to is the first "laptop" I ever used, the Columbia Data Products VP. This steel box couldn't operate very far from a power outlet, about three feet if memory serves me correctly, but it had a handle for carrying from one place to another so the term "mobile" does apply.

It is rumored that Columbia got in trouble with IBM for cloning the PC, and it was this trouble that caused upstart Compaq to make sure they had a complete "clean room" reverse engineering of the IBM so their ROM would stand up to a legal fight. The VP was an indestructible steel monster, and for several years I carried this beast back and forth at least once a month between Caracas, Venezuela (where I was working at the time) and Houston.  In spite of being pure metal and silicon, it was too fragile to be checked as luggage on flights so it had to go into the overhead compartment on all flights.  If one of those flights had turbulence that caused the overhead door to open during a flight I guarantee you someone would have been killed when the VP came flying out!

The VP had a massive 5-inch green CRT that was a text display, and not one, but two floppy drives for data storage. The floppy disk storage area above the floppy drives was a benefit few other computers of that era offered.  The VP worked well as an IBM clone and I never had a lick of trouble with it.  It was a real workhorse and despite the sad specs I got a lot of work out of that behemoth.

The 30-pound weight is also the most likely reason for my eventually having two back surgeries later in life.  But the VP was mobile, and it was a computer, and it worked.  I remember the fun trying to run Ashton Tate’s Framework on the VP.  Framework was the software suite that integrated office apps (word processor, spreadsheet, etc.) into a windowing GUI-like environment under DOS.

Happy anniversary ZDNet, and thanks for the opportunity to contribute to such a fine organization. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, too. To the next 20 years!

» Return to ZDNet's 20th Anniversary Special

Topics: Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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  • RE: My first 'laptop' - all 30 pounds of it

    My first personal system was Apple IIe. and then I bought a PC XT. I felt XT was heavier than IIe. I used to tinker with motherboard of those two. I used to remember most of the mnemonics for both Rockwell 6502 and 8086/88 processors in addition to 8085. :-)
    Ram U
    • Memories!

      My first "laptop" (a Compaq portable) was the actual test unit that had been dropped down the stairwell after the formal shock testing. It had the scratches, but still worked!
  • RE: My first 'laptop' - all 30 pounds of it

    I had a Commodore SX-64 hand me down from my father when I was a kid. It weighed 23 pounds. I never took it anywhere. It just stayed in my room. But I did play plenty of video games on it.

  • RE: My first 'laptop' - all 30 pounds of it

    Kaypro 10. Only weighted 23 pounds.
  • My laptop solution from that era weighed considerable less

    Well, James, my mobile solution from 1988 to 1991 consisted of the Tandy 102 computer with all the options.

    I used an external 101 K floppy disk (hard 3.5" plastic outer shell design) along with Tandy's portable printer using thermal print paper technology.

    Software apps (MS Plan and Word) were incorporated into tiny ROM based plastic cartridges which the Tandy 102 could install inside itself .. sort of an early SD chip design, if you will.

    My trusty Tandy 102 is still active and sits plugged into an AC outlet to this day. I never had the heart to retire the old girl. Besides, it has all my address contact info from that time still recorded in its "Address app".

    All that mobile technology could fit inside a very small Tandy travel bag (which I still have and where I keep all the external optional equipment and manuals intact .. Although I doubt that the dial up modem would still work)

    BTW, installing the Tandy external disk drive file I/O driver was accomplished by running a BASIC program. When I first tried it, nothing happened. It took me three hours to go over that BASIC program "line by line" to discover an error in one of the lines of code. I corrected that line and shortly thereafter, my external disk drive was "talking" to my trusty Tandy. (This was my first ever "Hack".)

    All in all, the Tandy solution weighed considerable less than your Osborn clone although I do recall looking at both the Osborn and your Columbia Data Products VP at my local computer stores (remember those "mom and pop outlets") and lusting after them but both were priced way out of my league at the time.
  • I used to lug my computer home most weekends...

    My PCs Limited (Dell) 286. Unplug everything, drag it all out to the car (2 trips required) and bring it back in on Monday.
  • RE: My first 'laptop' - all 30 pounds of it

    My first computer, an Apple (1). With a home-built linear power supply, humping caterpillar memory chips (aka, a memory upgrade), and wires shoved into the metal case. It was not a portable, but we hauled it and the small TV up to the cottage.

    My father sold Kaypros. Am I ever glad he never gave me one. I could barely lift it.

    But my first portable was a Toshiba with an 8088 and one of those fancy LCD screens, smaller than what's on my current smart phone, in a case larger than a portable typewriter. Took a 5.25" disk on the side.