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The quest for the perfect retro laptop: a saga

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Reply 20 of 114, by bjwil1991

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That is true. My IBM ThinkPad R40 has an 802.11 abg card, however, it doesn't work with WPA/WPA2, only WEP and open for Windows 98SE. Also, my 802.11g Netgear WG511 v2 supports WPA, but, it doesn't like my network and it also depends on the wireless card, drivers, and software.

Discord: https://discord.gg/U5dJw7x
Systems from C64 to FX-6300.

Reply 21 of 114, by ragefury32

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keenmaster486 wrote:
I think, however, that I have figured one thing out: there is no perfect retro laptop that will fulfill ALL my needs all at once […]
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I think, however, that I have figured one thing out: there is no perfect retro laptop that will fulfill ALL my needs all at once.

So I have split it into two. Here they are:

The DOS/Win31/Win95 laptop
This will be capable of the following:

  • Perfect or near-perfect DOS video/sound compatibility
  • Not too large or too thick, of course this is all by 90's standards. The 365CD for example was fine. The 385XD was too large for me due to being 3-spindle.
  • Minimum of original Pentium speeds, for everything up to mid-late DOS era, think Duke3D or DOOM as a maximum.
  • Great keyboard touch
  • Can run DOS but also Windows 95 for writing, internet browsing, etc.
  • Ability to connect to Internet, and run browsers like Netscape

The Late DOS / Windows 98 / 2000 / Linux experimentation laptop

  • DOS compatibility sufficient for late DOS era games that require lots of speed
  • Can run Windows 98 / 2000 for millennium-era Windows productivity and internet things
  • Can also run some type of Linux for experimentation
  • Great keyboard touch
  • Connects to Internet and can run later browsers like RetroZilla well
  • Could also do things like play MPEG videos and DVDs

Hopefully I can finally converge on a good setup this way. It will be a lot of configuration and setting things up to get everything to work properly, but I expect it to be rewarding.

I'll document any further adventures in this thread.

No, there's generally no perfect retrogamer laptop out there. There's probably several machines each good for certain game/app types for a certain era, but definitely no silver bullet. No pre-AC97 audio support for anything past 2000, no fine grained multiplier support if it's not a AMD K6, and even amongst the oldies, there are certain machines that can support higher RAM ceilings than others.

If you want something that is good as a pure DOS/Win3.1/early Win95 machine, look for a Compaq Armada 77x0MT.
Pentium MMX, 144MB of EDO RAM max, S3 Aurora+ graphics, ESS Audiodrive (ES1878) sound for the 7730s and 7750s. You should be able to toss any PCMCIA/Cardbus based wireless or ethernet card onto the machine as you deem fit. The keyboard isn't too bad, and it's relatively small for 1996 standards. That being said, I don't play that much Commander Keen so I don't judge DOS compatibility based on it.

As for the second requirement....eh, that's even more difficult. If your definition of late era DOS games include something like US Navy Fighters, you'll need a laptop that allows you to turn off video shadowing on BIOS, and as far as I am concerned playing with Dell/IBM/Toshiba machines, nothing from that era has the option to do that...you'll need to be more specific what constitutes a late era DOS game. Something right before WinG/DirectX hit?

Example: Both Wing Commander 4 and TIE Fighter SVGA (The one that ran off a CDROM) worked fine in pure DOS for both my IBM Thinkpad T21 (S3 SavageIX) and Dell Latitude C600 (ATi Rage Mobility M4 - based on the Rage 128 chipset), both stutters in Microsoft Flight Simulator 5, and only the T21 worked with Rowan's Air Power: Battle In the Skies in SVGA mode (Rowan's SVGA drivers simply did not work with the M4). Lucasarts' Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe (SWOTL) worked great on the T21 but tends to lock up on the C600 - not sure why. Both have its good and bad in FM synthesis. The Crystal Soundfusion on the T21 is "decent" in most apps, works great in most, failing in stuff like Lemmings. The Thinkpad Hotkeys volume control works great in DOS with the loud onboard speakers, so playing Civilization/SWOTL on it is a good experience. The ESS Maestro 3i in the C600 sounds okay (sometimes better) in FM synthesis, but the Fn-hotkeys do not raise/lower audio volume in DOS, and with the tinny onboard speakers, confer a poor experience.

Keep in mind that:

a) Both Trident / C&T are both considered budget video chip makers by the end of the DOS era, so you typically won't find it on the slimmer chassis out there.

- Trident had the Cyber 9xxx and CyberBlade series, but they are mostly used in budget machines (when the vendor can't score an ATi, S3 or Neomagic onboard). A notable exception is the Thinkpad 560/560E series, which is a notable light machine that features the Cyber9385. Unfortunately they have a serious design issue which leads to their logic board/DC board junction cracking due to fatigue...so you won't see many of them on eBay nowadays.

The Cyber9397s are based on the 3DImage 975 and are found on the Thinkpad 770X/Z series. Those are not heavy machines, but the 3DImage 975 also have a reputation for being extremely buggy in Direct3D. The oldschool IBM docks do have Midi/Joystick port out, so it is technically possible to bypass their onboard audio (Crystal Soundfusion based) with a Roland MT32 (or run it through MUNT). It doesn't bother me that much.

- C&T's 65554 is a decent chip for Pentium/early PMMX, but Neomagic went in and ate their lunch. You would not find very many Pentium 150+ laptops with C&T graphics. C&T were bought out by Intel, combined with the Real3D assets Intel bought from Lockheed Martin, and that turned into...Intel Graphics.
An example of a machine fitting that description? Gateway Solo 2200/2300.

b) Neomagic were the king of the slim/mainstream mobile video during the MagicGraph 128/256AV era. Sure, they were mediocre in DOS, but good enough in DirectDraw - their power budget is great, the 256AV can do Xv/DVD video playback acceleration, and their performance is considered "good enough" in Windows 2D gaming like Transport Tycoon Deluxe, Diablo, Starcraft and Civilization 3. Hell, I played Quake 2 in software mode on a Dell Latitude CPi, and that was good enough.

c) Only Japanese makers put real Yamaha OPL cards onboard. Japanese vendors like Toshiba and Sony did pair their OPL cards with Neomagics, and later on, S3 Savage IX.
A good example would be a Toshiba Protege 3010CT, or the first Sony C1 Picturebooks.

d) S3 had the Aurora+, Trio+ and the VirgeMX, but the only serious takers are 2nd tier Taiwanese ODMs (like CTX) and...Toshiba for their budget lines. Not small machines. The Virge might have a reputation for not being fast in Direct3D, but their image quality during the resulting slideshow isn't complete crap, and they are "okay" in DOS. I still prefer a SavageMX, though.

e) If Neomagic was the mainstream for '97-98, ATi were the top...even though they were not that great in retrospect. Their early Rage Mobility line (Pro LT/M1/P) were neither fish nor fowl: not very good for Direct3D, but also not very good for DOS. Their 3D performance were not improved until the Rage128 Mobility and the Radeons came to being. DOS stuff is "okay" as long as you stick to VESA or bog standard VGA (like for Master of Orion). Anything running proprietary SVGA drivers? Eeeeeeeh, no. Just no. The Rage Mobility line does have good LCD expansion, dualhead support and Xv/DVD Acceleration (IDCT offloading) at a good power budget, which made the popular with OEMs for the more expensive offerings.
An example will be like the Compaq Armada M300 - decent P3 based subnotebook, Rage Pro LT/8MB with an ESS1978 audio chip.

f) Modern Linux on 32 bit x86 generally look for PAE and NX bit support in their CPUs, so you want at least a Dothan Pentium-M, and more realistically, a Yonah Core Solo/Duo (Lenovo Thinkpad T60 and the like). Those machines don't do pre-AC97 audio, and hunting down drivers for their devices in Win98/2K will be...fun. You could look for older Linux, but you can do that on a Pentium II or III with something like DamnedSmall LInux. For Win2K or XP, I wouldn't run it on anything less than 256/320MB of RAM. That's 440MX/ZX chipset territory.

Reply 22 of 114, by keenmaster486

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The Thinkpad 760XL has been arrived to the emergency room in critical condition. The patient's condition has quickly worsened. Going in for surgery soon. Pray for steady hands and healing...

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

Reply 23 of 114, by Bruninho

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The only laptop I had with MSDOS/Win 3.x/Win 95 era was an Acer Extensa 710T. It never failed on me... but I killed it 30 years later, when I attempted to turn it on again for the first time in 30 years, heh. To be fair, it was in a very bad condition, except, the keyboard was still incredibly perfect. It could've been a good lesson to Apple and its butterfly keyboard if I hadn't killed it.

There are no other Acer laptops from that era? I know you prefere IBM Thinkpads, but... wouldn't hurt to look elsewhere too.

"Design isn't just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."
JOBS, Steve.

Reply 24 of 114, by Bruninho

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keenmaster486 wrote:

The Thinkpad 760XL has been arrived to the emergency room in critical condition. The patient's condition has quickly worsened. Going in for surgery soon. Pray for steady hands and healing...

Good luck! Hopefully the patient can be saved!

"Design isn't just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."
JOBS, Steve.

Reply 25 of 114, by ragefury32

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keenmaster486 wrote:

The Thinkpad 760XL has been arrived to the emergency room in critical condition. The patient's condition has quickly worsened. Going in for surgery soon. Pray for steady hands and healing...

...What happened to it?

Reply 26 of 114, by keenmaster486

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The patient is still in surgery.

The operating table is strewn with parts.

So what happened was, I discovered upon opening the laptop that it had a supervisor password set. ARGH!

There is only one way to get rid of these supervisor passwords. They are not stored on the hard drive (that's the HDD password), they are not stored in the CMOS (that's the power on password) -- they are stored on an EEPROM chip somewhere on the mainboard.

So you have to find that EEPROM chip, short out the data in/out pins so it can't tell that there is a password, and then go into the BIOS and set your own password to override it.

On this particular laptop, the EEPROM chip is on the underside of the system board. Now, there are 4 layers of circuit boards under the keyboard. The system board is the bottom one. Which means I had to disassemble the ENTIRE laptop before I finally found the chip I was looking for.

I have succeeded so far exactly once in getting to the "Easy Setup" screen where I can change the password. I tried to set it to nothing, an empty string, which did NOT work, probably because it didn't think there was anything on the EEPROM chip to begin with, so it didn't attempt to write to it.

I have since discovered that you have to remove the backup batteries (yes, there are two of them) to clear out the CMOS settings before doing this. It won't let you into Easy Setup any other way -- it just gives you "bad EEPROM" errors and refuses to go any further.

So I've tried twice since then (takes a while for the settings to clear out), and both times it has skipped past the date/time set screen directly to rebooting -- drat!! I need to figure out what I did the first time that got me to the Easy Setup screen instead of just rebooting. I will post updates as I go along.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

Reply 27 of 114, by Bruninho

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Meanwhile...
images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQ8GRrFg1ad6RzNXsOlntz39zQL1GJ0xE7PukHzaEis0fE4OHNB&s

"Design isn't just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."
JOBS, Steve.

Reply 28 of 114, by keenmaster486

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After two or three more tries, I still cannot get back into Easy Setup.

I can successfully short the pins on the EEPROM chip and get it to give me the Date and Time setting page after having cleared the CMOS settings.

But I cannot get it to go into Easy Setup any more.

It happened the first time I shorted the pins! But not any subsequent time. This is really frustrating.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

Reply 29 of 114, by Bruninho

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Of course this is for a different model, but would this be helpful for you?
https://htr3n.github.io/2019/06/t430s-supervi … ssword-removal/

https://www.reddit.com/r/thinkpad/comments/4z … or_password_on/

"Design isn't just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."
JOBS, Steve.

Reply 30 of 114, by keenmaster486

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A moment of silence for the fallen Thinkpad 760XL.

This is the first laptop I've bought that's been a complete and utter bust.

After fiddling with it for hours, the EEPROM chip finally quit -- just moments after I had decided to bite the bullet, attempt to desolder it and read the contents rather than shorting the pins.

Now, besides this, I have a complaint to make about this computer.

The keyboard SUCKS. Seriously, it is the worst designed keyboard of any Thinkpad I have owned, even the A20m. The keys stick in place, due to plastic plungers in these sort of "cylinders" that are supposed to hit the rubber domes which are under the cylinders -- and of course the plastic always binds against itself unless you strike the key dead on center and straight down. I think it could be improved with a good cleaning and maybe some dry lubrication, but come on IBM -- you're better than that. No wonder they stopped making them that way.

So in other news, I have set this laptop aside as somewhat of a loss, but a parts machine for future adventures.

And I have purchased in its stead a Thinkpad 755C, found on eBay once again, with NO supervisor password as far as I can tell (at least there had better not be), and which also fulfills the rest of my requirements for DOS/Win31 work. Here we go again 😜 😜 😜

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

Reply 31 of 114, by Bruninho

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Rest In Peace, Thinkpad 760XL. You served its duty.

I remember using Windows 95 on my old dead Acer Extensa 710T, but I can't remember anything above that and neither Windows 98. I had switched to a HP Pavillion years later, presumably using Windows Vista - The Extensa was used by my father, while I never had a laptop until around 2002.

"Design isn't just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."
JOBS, Steve.

Reply 32 of 114, by keenmaster486

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In other news, did I mention the Thinkpad 365CD had a serious hinge problem?

The 365xx family of machines has a design flaw whereby the screen plastic will crack open where the hinge lies under it. This was happening on both sides of my 365CD's screen, and one side burst completely open, leaving the screen unmovable without firmly grasping the base of the hinge and manually pushing it back and forth.

I experimented with dissolving the plastic back onto itself with acetone, with limited results (i.e. it didn't work).

So I went for the nuclear method -- the soldering iron. I just melted the plastic back together.

Voila, instant fix! Works great. A little sandpaper and it doesn't look too bad. If I were to paint it, I would not be able to tell the difference.

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

Reply 33 of 114, by Violett'Blossom

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Hello,
I found another laptop you might like :

Texas Instruments Extensa 510T
Pentium 100
640x480 TFT screen
ESS 1688 audio (mono speaker)
Decent build quality.
Keyboard is somewhat decent

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Retro gaming : Compaq Armada E500
Portable : MacBook Air 2012
Hackingtosh : I5 6500 8GB DDR4 RX480 8GB

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Reply 35 of 114, by Intel486dx33

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The IBM 755 is easy to repair because the keyboard flips open to expose the hard-drive, batteries, and ram. but they are getting scarce so an IBM 380 would be a better choice. They are NOT so easy to upgrade as you have to remove screws and open them up. But parts are plenty full and easy to find.

The IBM 755 is limited in upgrades
32mb ram
170mb hard-drive
2x cdrom
Nicad batteries are hard to find.

The IBM 380 upgrades
48mb ram
500mb hard-drive
4x cdrom
Better display

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Reply 37 of 114, by Bruninho

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tenor.gif?itemid=10206784

"Design isn't just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."
JOBS, Steve.

Reply 38 of 114, by keenmaster486

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I should follow my own advice. Read the whole thread again and noticed the post where dx33 himself recommended a 755 to me — and now that I’m getting one he says the 380 is better for me and I should get that instead, never mind that I already had one and rejected it as mentioned in the OP.

while (true)
{
lol()
}

I flermmed the plootash just like you asked.

Reply 39 of 114, by Bruninho

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keenmaster486 wrote:
I should follow my own advice. Read the whole thread again and noticed the post where dx33 himself recommended a 755 to me — and […]
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I should follow my own advice. Read the whole thread again and noticed the post where dx33 himself recommended a 755 to me — and now that I’m getting one he says the 380 is better for me and I should get that instead, never mind that I already had one and rejected it as mentioned in the OP.

while (true)
{
lol()
}

giphy.gif

L O L!

"Design isn't just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."
JOBS, Steve.