1983 Compaq Portable
CGS6210 - Microcomputer Hardware (901 : Fall 03) Wes Tilson
University of South
Compaq Portable Stats
It was introduced in November 1982
released in March 1983
Its price was US$3590 for a two floppy system
53,000 were produced and sold in its first year, 1983
Its weight was 28
CPU: Intel 8088, 4.77MHz
RAM: 128K, 640K max
monochrome monitor built-in
25 X 80 text
Color graphic card
Storage: Two 320KB 5-1/4" disk drives
Ports: 2 parallel, 1 serial
Operating System: MS-DOS
The 1983 Compaq Portable was the beginning of the end of IBM's hardware
monopoly, the start of a multi-billion dollar industry, and the start of the
explosion of the Information Age.
Compaq Computer Corporation was founded in February 1982 by Rod Canion, Jim
Harris and Bill Murto. They had been senior managers, but they left Texas
Instruments and formed their own company. Their initial investment was $1,000
each. Their first target was "Big Blue".
The Compaq Portable was the
first portable personal computer able to run all of the software being developed
then for the IBM PC.
Thus; it was the first 100% compatible IBM computer
The IBM PC was extremely popular, and was taken very seriously by
businesses looking for a computer system.
Other computers of the day
were not considered feasible for business, and business was where the biggest
market was to be found.
According to legend, the idea for the Compaq Portable was first sketched on
a paper place mat in a Houston House of Pies pie shop.
Many members of
the design team had experience in military computers, so they built the Compaq
Portable to be very durable.
According to legend, there are stories of
cars running over the Compaq Portable leaving the data unaffected. It is rumored
that the prototype was tested for ruggedness by throwing it down a hallway into
In his book "Accidental Empires" Bob Cringely tells a story of
how the president of Compaq sold the idea of the Portable while it was balanced
on the toilet in his hotel room bathroom. That was the only room that had an AC
IBM's Acorn (PC) team had sourced off-the-shelf parts for the PC in order to
reduce costs and keep the time it took to make a PC to a minimum.
Theoretically anyone could put the same peices to gather and duplicate
The problem was that Compaq couldn't legally copy IBM's
BIOS to make the new computer guaranteed IBM compatible.
published the source code for their BIOS. They could prove that anyone who
produced another BIOS had infringed on IBM's copyrights.
solution was to reverse-engineer IBM's BIOS.
Compaq used two sets of
programmers. one group had access to IBM's published source code. The second
knew nothing about it.
The first group listed everything the IBM BIOS
did for a specific set of inputs while carefully avoiding any mention of the
The second group took the notes and created a BIOS that
performed exactly the same as IBM's from scratch without contamination from
Steve Flannigan, Compaq employee No. 10 and one of a few
engineers left at the company was tasked with writing the ROM BIOS because he
had not seen inside an IBM PC.
The process took one year. The cost was
around a million dollars
The second group had created a legal BIOS
identical in operation to that of the IBM computer.
The result was that
the machine was very successful, and the company took in $111 million in its
first year. At the time this was a record in American business.
The Compaq Portable offered added value. It was transportable
and designed to be taken aboard an airliner as carry-on luggage.
twenty-eight pounds, it earned the monickers "The Sewing Machine" and
Equipped with padded handle. It also came with a soft-sided
Port and power plug access were through panels on either
To open, an access panel was pressed in at the bottom. Then it
slid down inside the case.
To remove the case cover, a user would lay
the unit flat (fold up the bottom feet) and press their elbow into the middle of
the top cover. The rear edge of that cover would pop out enough to grab and lift
The power supply had a special wrench to remove the lower lock
screw. Then the power supply would slide out where the connectors could then be
In January 1983, BYTE magazine published a review of the Compaq
Rod Canion, a Compaq founder realized that compatibility with the IBM PC
would not be adequate to ensure success.
He needed a killer application
for the Compaq Portable that would show buyers that they needed it.
also needed a means of getting it to market quickly.
Compaq decided to
work with Lotus 1-2-3 creator Mitch Kapor for the application and with Sears
Business Centers to distribute the Portable.
Later in 1983, Compaq released the Portable Plus. It had an internal hard
In 1986, Compaq released the Portable II. It's improvements
included an internal hard drive and a 80286 microprocessor.
In 1987, Compaq
released the Portable III. It was an even smaller portable with a faster CPU and
a flat panel, gas-plasma screen.
History of the Compaq Computer Corporation
Source: Chronology of
Events in the History of Microcomputers
1982: February - Compaq Computer
Corporation is founded by Rod Canion, Jim Harris, and Bill Murto, all former
senior managers of Texas Instruments who were unhappy with how TI was running
it's computer business and they thought they could do a better job.
1982: November - Compaq Computer introduces the Compaq Portable PC.
1983: March - Compaq Computer begins shipping the Compaq Portable PC.
1983: October - Compaq Computer introduces the Portable Plus.
1983: December - Compaq Computer makes its first public stock offering,
raising US$67 million.
1986: February - Compaq Computer introduces the
Compaq Portable II.
1986: April - Compaq Computer joins the Fortune 500
list faster than any company in history.
1986: April - Compaq Computer
ships its 500,000th personal computer.
1986: September - Compaq Computer
introduces the first 16-MHz Intel 80386-based PC, the Compaq Deskpro 386.
1987: October - Compaq Computer introduces the Compaq Deskpro 386/20.
1987: October - Compaq Computer introduces the 20-MHz Compaq Portable
1987: November - Compaq Computer makes its 1 millionth personal
1988: February - Compaq Computer reports sales for the year
reach US$1.2 billion, setting the record as the fastest company to reach that
Compaq Portable at Obsolete Computer Museum
Compaq Portable at PC Museum
First IBM compatible
The machine that forever altered the computer industry