Retro hardware repackaging: 30-year-old laptop works again


Everything always revolves around shopping, whether it’s Black Friday, Christmas or Easter. But why not just repair and reuse instead of always buying something new? This is the subject of our “Repair and Recycle” series of articles.

In 1990, the standard PC operating system was still called MS-DOS, the Windows 3.1 graphical user interface ran on seven floppy disks, and laptops were heavy and expensive. Back then, they typically cost several thousand D-Marks, so I couldn’t resist the offer of the table to grab at a wholesale market: a 368 – a real DX! – with 20 MHz, 2 MB of RAM (expandable), a monochrome VGA LCD screen, a 40 MB hard disk and a 3.5 inch floppy disk drive. Interface equipment, including VGA output, could compete with desktop PCs, there was even a slot for a short 8-bit ISA card. In addition, there were a lot of accessories with an external numeric keypad and a removable 5¼ inch floppy disk drive.

The “Highscreen” label was stuck on the case, which obviously explains the low price. Highscreen was the brand of the Vobis franchise specializing in inexpensive PCs, in which Metro AG had recently acquired shares. A less obvious reason was not noticed until the second inspection and was initially irrelevant to me: The 8100 laptop’s internal battery was only sufficient for a few minutes of battery life. So I could only work properly with it if the computer was powered by the large external power supply.

The battery was the first thing that blew out of the laptop. To do this, I had to completely disassemble the device, because it resided in a metal cage with the circuit for generating the various operating voltages. After that, the laptop was 1.5 kg lighter. As was customary at the time, the battery pack still consisted of nickel-cadmium (NiCd) cells, the use of which is prohibited today, with a few exceptions. Thirty years ago, they were still the first choice for power hungry laptops because they could deliver high currents. However, the NiCd exemption for power tools also expired at the end of 2016.

Even without an internal power supply, I was very happy with the 8100 laptop, as it took up little space next to my main computer – at the time still a well-developed Atari ST – including the screen and keyboard. It was also easy to upgrade: the ISA slot soon housed the interface card for a hand-held scanner, the 80386 processor received support for a math coprocessor (only 486DX processors understood floating-point arithmetic), and main memory in the form of eight 256, I quickly replaced the SIMM -KByte (Single Inline Memory Modules) with 1MB bars. I then recycled two of the extra 256KB bars into an Atari ST.

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