Compaq ties up strands of laptop evolution

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 10/88 item 01 - scanned

By David Tebbutt

Compaq has finally announced its long rumoured laptop. It put the message across with a wordless video showing the machine in lots of day-to-day situations on a plane, in an office, on a building site and, presumably to emphasise how light it is, being carried along the street by a businesswoman, although I'd swear her knuckles were white.

Compaq thinks this computer is 'out of this world', which is absolutely ridiculous. It is, however, a jolly good machine which I'd be more than pleased to own. I'd probably be less pleased if I had to pay for it, because it starts at almost £3,400. Still, I predict there'll be no shortage of buyers.

During the past few months, I have used two laptops quite extensively. First I borrowed a Toshiba l000 which weighs 6lb and comes with a 3 1/2in floppy disk drive. The battery lasts five hours and the machine is compatible with the 80286 machine in my office. I was so taken with the Toshiba that I very seriously thought about buying it. Although I used it on the train occasionally, it was much more of a rigmarole than simply whipping a Z88 out of my briefcase.

After a few weeks, I returned the Toshiba and borrowed the Cambridge Computer Z88 which has since become my constant companion. Getting files to my PC in an acceptable format is only a modest pain in the rear. Two quid's worth of batteries last about 20 hours. The Z88's 128K Ram pack is a good substitute disk drive and it helps keep the machine's weight down to 21bs. Unlike the Toshiba, I cannot run any of my favourite PC applications.

Compaq has clearly learned from the experiences of other manufacturers. As you might expect, the end product is an evolution rather than a revolution in laptop computing.

The Compaq LST/286 has got a very practical footprint - it's 8 1/2in deep by 13 1/2in wide. Its depth means that it can be used on your lap and in confined spaces. It's considerably higher than its competitors at just over 4in. There's little chance of an SLT/286 toppling off your lap, because it weighs a solid 14lbs.

The backlit (up to VGA resolution) screen is very clear in all kinds of light. The rechargeable battery pack gives three hours power, as long as you don't hammer the disk drives (one hard, one floppy). The pack weighs 21bs and is quickly exchanged, which makes carrying a spare a fairly practical proposition. By plugging the computer into a mains outlet, you can recharge a battery pack in one and a half hours when the machine's not in use, or three hours when it is.

The most sensible innovation is a desktop base unit which can accommodate two standard 8/16-bit PC expansion cards and replicates the laptop's own signal and power sockets. This means that you can leave this unit permanently connected to your printer, network, power supply, monitor and enhanced keyboard.

When at your desk, you can slide the laptop into the base unit to get a more or less full scale 80286 computer. When you want to go anywhere, simply remove the laptop and off you go. I think this is what the Compaq LST/286 is all about - it can be both a laptop and a serious desktop machine. Anyone planning to buy an 80286-based PC is bound to be interested.

The base unit removes the need to fiddle with cables and, like any desktop/portable, you no longer have to swap files between two computers.

The machine is beautifully engineered and the price is at a level where you can make a decent margin, yet still persuade customers that they're getting good value when they use it as their only computer. It has the footprint of the Z88, the compatibility of the Toshiba and the convenience of a base unit. Add to this Compaq's well-known ethical stance when it comes to dealers, and it's hard to think of a laptop on the market today whose success is more assured.