The First Laptop Computer

Toshiba T1000 Laptop Computer from 1987.

Toshiba T1000 Laptop Computer from 1987.

With the rollout of laptops for high school students in QLD schools and the previous ‘Computers for Teachers’ program, I thought I’d take a look at the first “laptop” computer, the Toshiba T1000.

In 1987 Toshiba released what is arguably the first real portable computer, the T1000. This laptop computer had a flip up screen that covered the keyboard, much like today’s laptops, however the screen was only 1/3 of the whole size of the computer, 9cm high and 24cm across.

The performance would be totally alien to students today. Apart from the small monochrome screen, the computer ran on a single processor running at 4.77MHz. This is compared to my current Toshiba Laptop running at 3GHz or over 600 times faster. So an algorithm that takes 1 second to run on my current computer would take over 10 minutes in 1987. Even my phone runs at a respectable 680MHz or about 150 times faster. However, there is another problem. The T1000 would not be able to handle the enormous amount of data we now use as it just didn’t have sufficient memory.

The T1000 came with 512Kb of RAM or random access memory. Now this was fine for 1987 and running Microsoft Disc Operating System (DOS), however computers today have much larger RAM storage and far more complex operating systems. My current Toshiba laptop came with 8Gb of RAM or 15,000 x more. The very minimum amount of RAM to run Windows Vista Home Edition is 512Mb or 1000 time more memory than was available in the T1000.

SanDisk 8Gigabyte MicroSD card

SanDisk 8Gigabyte MicroSD card

The T1000 came with a limited 256kb of Hard Disk memory. This housed the operating system and nothing else. Programs and data were held on removable 3.5 inch floppy disks. If you cannot remember these, ask your parents. Each of these disks held 1.44Mb of data. The hard drive on my current laptop is 750Gb or the equivalent of half a million floppy disks, and this is not a large drive, as many are now in the terabyte range.

Even flash memory (another 1980’s Toshiba invention) far exceeds these early systems. I have an 8gb Micro SD card in my phone, which is again not considered large (16, 32 and 64Gb are available) however this little chip, no bigger than your finger nail at 1.5 cm long and 2 cm wide holds more than 5000 x 3.5 inch floppy disks.

It was not just the speed and capacity that would have confused today’s students. There are no USB ports, no 3G capability, no WiFi, not even ethernet or LAN. You could plug in a telephone line to obtain a dial up connection at speeds in the 10’s of kilobytes per second or about 1000 times slower than ADSL2 broadband, and to print, you would connect your dot matrix printer using a serial cable.

The transformation in technology and connectedness over the last 25 years is just staggering, I can’t wait to see what we are doing in 2037……..beam me up Scotty.

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