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The Compaq Portable, one of the first IBM PC compatible systems
The Compaq Portable, one of the first IBM PC compatible systems
A military-type mobile computer housed in a reinforced case
A military-type mobile computer housed in a reinforced case
A portable computer with three LCD screens
A portable computer with three LCD screens
A portable computer with one 20.1-inch LCD screen, EATX motherboard
A portable computer with one 20.1-inch LCD screen, EATX motherboard
The MIT Suitcase Computer, MIT Digital Systems Laboratory, 1975
The MIT Suitcase Computer, MIT Digital Systems Laboratory, 1975

A portable computer is a computer designed to be easily moved[1] from one place to another, as opposed to those designed to remain stationary at a single location such as desktops and workstations. These computers usually include a display and keyboard that are directly connected to the main case, all sharing a single power plug together, much like later desktop computers called all-in-ones (AIO) that integrate the system's internal components into the same case as the display.[2] In modern usage, a portable computer usually refers to a very light and compact personal computer such as a laptop, miniature or pocket-sized computer, while touchscreen-based handheld ("palmtop") devices such as tablet, phablet and smartphone are called mobile devices instead.

The first commercially sold portable computer might be the 20-pound (9.1 kg) MCM/70, released 1974. The next major portables were the 50-pound (23 kg) IBM 5100 (1975), Osborne's 24-pound (11 kg) CP/M-based Osborne 1 (1981) and Compaq's 28-pound (13 kg), advertised as 100% IBM PC compatible Compaq Portable (1983). These luggable computers still required a continuous connection to an external power source;[3] this limitation was later overcome by the laptop computers.[4][3] Laptops were followed by lighter models such as netbooks, so that in the 2000s mobile devices and by 2007 smartphones made the term "portable" rather meaningless. The 2010s introduced wearable computers such as smartwatches.[5]

Portable computers, by their nature, are generally microcomputers.[6] Larger portable computers were commonly known as 'Lunchbox' or 'Luggable' computers. They are also called 'Portable Workstations' or 'Portable PCs'. In Japan they were often called 'Bentocom'. (ベントコン, Bentokon) from "bento".[citation needed]

Portable computers, more narrowly defined, are distinct from desktop replacement computers in that they usually were constructed from full-specification desktop components, and often do not incorporate features associated with laptops or mobile devices. A portable computer in this usage, versus a laptop or other mobile computing device, have a standard motherboard or backplane providing plug-in slots for add-in cards. This allows mission specific cards such as test, A/D, or communication protocol (IEEE-488, 1553) to be installed. Portable computers also provide for more disk storage by using standard disk drives and provide for multiple drives.

Early history


In 1973, the IBM Los Gatos Scientific Center developed a portable computer prototype called SCAMP (Special Computer APL Machine Portable) based on the IBM PALM processor with a Philips compact cassette drive, small CRT and full function keyboard. SCAMP emulated an IBM 1130 minicomputer in order to run APL\1130.[7] In 1973, APL was generally available only on mainframe computers, and most desktop sized microcomputers such as the Wang 2200 or HP 9800 offered only BASIC. Because SCAMP was the first to emulate APL\1130 performance on a portable, single user computer, PC Magazine in 1983 designated SCAMP a "revolutionary concept" and "the world's first personal computer".[8][9] The engineering prototype is in the Smithsonian Institution.[10]

Xerox NoteTaker

Xerox NoteTaker, developed in 1976 at Xerox PARC, was a precursor to later portable computers from Osborne Computer Corporation and Compaq, though it remained a prototype and did not enter production.

IBM 5100

Successful demonstrations of the 1973 SCAMP prototype led to the first commercial IBM 5100 portable microcomputer launched in 1975. The product incorporated an IBM PALM processor, 5-inch (130 mm) CRT, full function keyboard and the ability to be programmed in both APL and BASIC for engineers, analysts, statisticians and other business problem-solvers. (IBM provided different models of the 5100 supporting only BASIC, only APL, or both selectable by a physical switch on the front panel.)[11][12] IBM referred to its PALM processor as a microprocessor, though they used that term to mean a processor that executes microcode to implement a higher-level instruction set, rather than its conventional definition of a complete processor on a single silicon integrated circuit; the PALM processor was a large circuit board populated with over a dozen chips. In the late 1960s, such a machine would have been nearly as large as two desks and would have weighed about half a ton (0.45 t). In comparison, the IBM 5100 weighed about 53 pounds (24 kg and very portable for that time).[13]

MIT Suitcase Computer

The MIT Suitcase Computer, constructed in 1975, was the first known microprocessor-based portable computer. It was based on the Motorola 6800. Constructed in a Samsonite suitcase approximately 20 by 30 by 8 inches (510 mm × 760 mm × 200 mm) and weighing approximately 20 lb (9.1 kg), it had 4K of SRAM, a serial port to accept downloaded software and connect to a modem, a keyboard and a 40-column thermal printer taken from a cash register. Built by student David Emberson in the MIT Digital Systems Laboratory as a thesis project, it never entered production. It is currently in the collection of Dr. Hoo-Min D. Toong.[citation needed]

Micro Star or Small One

An early portable computer was manufactured in 1979 by GM Research,[14] a small company in Santa Monica, California. The machine which was designed and patented by James Murez. It was called the Micro Star and later the name was changed to The Small One. Although Xerox claims to have designed the first such system, the machine by Murez predated anything on the market or that had been documented in any publication at the time – hence the patent was issued. As early as 1979, the U.S. Government was contracting to purchase these machines. Other major customers included Sandia Labs, General Dynamics, BBN (featured on the cover of their annual report in 1980 as the C.A.T. system) and several dozen private individuals and companies around the world. In 1979, Adam Osborne viewed the machine along with several hundred other visitors at the first computer show that was sponsored by the IEEE Westec in Los Angeles. Later that year the machine was also shown at the first COMDEX show.

Portal R2E CCMC

R2E CCMC Portal laptop in September 1980 at the SICOB show in PARIS
R2E CCMC Portal laptop in September 1980 at the SICOB show in PARIS

The portable micro computer; the "Portal" of the French company R2E Micral CCMC officially appeared in September 1980 at the Sicob show in Paris. The Portal was a portable microcomputer designed and marketed by the studies and developments department of the French firm R2E Micral in 1980 at the request of the company CCMC specializing in payroll and accounting. The Portal was based on an intel 8085 processor, 8-bit, clocked at 2 MHz. It was equipped with a central 64 KB RAM, a keyboard with 58 alpha numeric keys and 11 numeric keys (separate blocks), a 32-character screen, a floppy disk: capacity = 140 000 characters, of a thermal printer: speed = 28 characters / sec, an asynchronous channel, a synchronous channel, a 220 V power supply. Designed for an operating temperature of 15–35 °C (59–95 °F), it weighed 12 kilograms (26 lb) and its dimensions were 45 cm × 45 cm × 15 cm (17.7 in × 17.7 in × 5.9 in). It provided total mobility. Its operating system was Prolog. A few hundred were sold between 1980 and 1983.

Osborne 1

The first mass-produced microprocessor-based portable computer released in 1981 was the Osborne 1, developed by Osborne, which owed much to the NoteTaker's design. The company had early success with the design and went public but later due to small screen sizes and other devices being released found trouble selling the Osborne.[15] The Osborne 1 is about the size and weight of a sewing machine, and was advertised as the only computer that would fit underneath an airline seat.[16]


Another early portable computer released in 1982 was named the Kaypro II, although it was the company's first commercially available product. Some of the press mocked its design—one magazine described Kaypro Corporation as "producing computers packaged in tin cans".[17] Others raved about its value, as the company advertised the Kaypro II as "the $1,595 computer that sells for $1,595",[18] some noting that the included software bundle had a retail value over $1,000 by itself, and by mid-1983 the company was selling more than 10,000 units a month, briefly making it the fifth-largest computer maker in the world. It managed to correct most of the Osborne 1's deficiencies: the screen was larger and showed more characters at once, the floppy drives stored over twice as much data, the case was more attractive-looking, and it was also much better-built and more reliable.

Grid Compass

The Grid Compass ran its own operating system, GRiD-OS. Its specialized software and high price (US$8,000–10,000) meant that it was limited to specialized applications. The main buyer was the U.S. government. NASA used it on the Space Shuttle during the early 1980s, as it was powerful, lightweight, and compact. The military Special Forces also purchased the machine, as it could be used by paratroopers in combat.[19]

Post-IBM PC portables

Compaq Portable and competitors

Although Columbia Data Product's MPC 1600, "Multi Personal Computer" came out in June 1983,[20][21] one of the first extensively IBM PC compatible computers was the Compaq Portable. Eagle Computer then came out with their offering.[22] and Corona Data Systems's PPC-400.,[23] the "portable" Hyperion Computer System.[24] Both Eagle Computer and Columbia were sued by IBM for copyright infringement of its BIOS. They settled and were forced to halt production. Neither the Columbia nor the Eagle were nearly as IBM PC DOS compatible as Compaq's offerings.

Commodore SX-64

The first full-color portable computer was the Commodore SX-64 in January 1984..

Atari STacy

Originally announced in 1987, the Atari STacy was released to the public in December 1989 and was one of the first laptop-like portables.[25][26]

Apple Macintosh

Apple Inc. introduced and released the Macintosh Portable in 1989, though this device came with a battery, which added to its substantial weight. The Portable has features similar to the Atari STacy, include integrated trackball and clamshell case.

IBM PS/2 Portable

After release of IBM PC Convertible in 1986, IBM still produced classic portable computers, include released in 1989 PS/2 P70 (with upgrade in 1990 to P75), and IBM produce portables for up to release of PS/2 Note and PS/55note notebook lines.

Modern portables

In today's world of laptops, smart phones, and tablets, portable computers have evolved and are now mostly used for industrial, commercial or military applications.[27][28][29][30]


Year Price CPU @ MHz Computer name Comment
1954 Vacuum tube: Diode gates, tube amplifiers and electrical delay lines @ 1 DYSEAC For the military, movable by truck.
1955 ~US$86,074 (871,000 in 2021) Custom vacuum tube CPU @ 0.01 Monrobot V For the military, movable by truck. Used for surveying and mapmaking.
1957 ~US$70,500 (680,200 in 2021) / RECOMP II Transistorized: Printed circuit cards @ ? RECOMP I CP-266 For the military, movable by two men.
1959 ~US$1,600,000 (14,900,000 in 2021) / MOBIDIC A Custom transistor CPU (inverter logic) @ 1 / MOBIDIC B MOBIDIC Truck-based for the military, five were built and deployed. Sylvania later offered a commercial version as the S 9400.

Clock speed is unknown but ADD instructions are documented as taking 16μs, i.e. ~62k ADD/s.

1960 ~US$6,900,000 (63,200,000 in 2021) (development)[31] Modular circuit boards @ 0.448 FADAC For the military, movable by two men.
1960 ~US$125,600 (1,138,900 in 2021) Standard Modular System with complementary diode-transistor logic @ 0.087 IBM 1401 Truck-based for military,[32][33] also touring Datamobile[34] for demos.
1960 ~US$40,500 (367,300 in 2021)[35] Plug-in circuit modules @ 2[36][37] PB 250 Portable as the control computer for commercial mobile (by van) data systems. Can operate entirely from a battery.
1961 ~US$500,000 (4,500,000 in 2021) Custom transistor CPU @ 1 BASICPAC For the military, movable by truck.
1962 ~US$40,000 (360,000 in 2021) Circuit modules (micromodular)[38] @ ? L-2010 For the military.
1967 Integrated circuit @ ? CDC 449 For the military.[39][40][41]
1975 US$8975 IBM PALM processor @ 1.9 IBM 5100 Portable Computer[42] 64K = US$17,975.
1975 US$4000 Motorola 6800 @ 1 MIT Suitcase Computer 4K SRAM, approx. 20 lbs. Built by David Emberson in the MIT Digital Systems Laboratory as a thesis project. Currently in the collection of Dr. Hoo-Min D. Toong.
1976 US$50,000 Z80? @ 1 Xerox NoteTaker
1977 US$2495 Z80 Versatile 2[43][44]
1978 US$10,225 IBM PALM processor @ 1.9 IBM 5110[45]
1979 US$375 6502 @ 1, 1K Rockwell AIM-65 20-character alphanumeric display.[43][46][47]
1979 US$3250 Custom HP 8-bit @ 0.613 Hewlett-Packard Model 85[48]
1980 ? PA512 Made in Serbia.
1980 US$230 SC43177, SC43178 TRS-80 Pocket Computer[49]
1980 Intel 8085 @ 2.0 Portal R2E CCMC The Portal was a portable microcomputer designed and marketed by the studies and developments department of the French firm R2E Micral in 1980 at the request of the company CCMC specializing in payroll and accounting. It was equipped with a central 64 KB RAM, a keyboard with 58 alpha numeric keys and 11 numeric keys (separate blocks), a 32-character screen, a floppy disk: capacity = 140000 characters, of a thermal printer: speed = 28 characters / second, an asynchronous channel, a synchronous channel, a 220 V power supply. Designed for an operating temperature of 15–35 °C, it weighed 12 kg and its dimensions were 45 x 45 x 15 cm. It provided total mobility. Its operating system was PROLOGUE.
1981 US$1795 Z80 @ 4.0 Osborne 1
1981 US$795 2× Hitachi 6301 @ 0.614 Epson HX-20[50]
1981 Z80 compatible Husky (computer)[51]
1982 8088 @ 4.77 Columbia Data Products
1982 Z80A @ 4 Grundy NewBrain
1982 Z80 @ 2.5 Kaypro
1982 US$8000[52] 8086 @ ? Grid Compass 1100 NASA laptop
1982 Z80 @ 4.0 Osborne Executive
1983 x86 Hyperion (computer)
1983 x86 Compaq Portable
1983 US$1099 80C85 @ 2.4 TRS-80 Model 100 40 × 8 LCD
1983 Z80A, 8086, 128K Seequa Chameleon[43]
1983 Z80A @ 3.4 Sord IS-11
1983 US$1595 Z80A @ 4 Zorba
1984 US$4225 8088 @ 4.77 IBM 5155[53]
1984 Z80 Actrix (computer)
~1984 8088 @ 4.77 Bondwell-8
1984 US$995 Z80 @ 2.45 Epson PX-8 Geneva[54]
1984 6502 @ 1.02 Commodore SX-64 First portable with color display
1984 x86 Data General-One
1984 Z80 @ 4.0 Osborne Vixen
1984 80C88 ZP-150
1984 US$595 HP-71B Calculator programmable in BASIC
1984 US$2995 Harris 80C86 @ 5.33 HP 110 80 × 16 LCD, 300-baud modem
1984 1965 GBP 8086 @ 4.77 Apricot Portable First portable computer with 25-line LCD. Included speech recognition, wireless keyboard, and optional wireless mouse
1985 US$995 Z80 @ 4 Bondwell-2
1985 Harris 80C86 @ 5.33 HP 110 Plus 80 × 25 LCD, 1200-baud modem
1985 US$1899 Toshiba T1100 80C88 @ 4.77 Toshiba T1100 80 × 25 LCD
1986 8088 @ 4.77 IBM 5140
1986 Intel 80286 @ 8 Compaq Portable II
1986 ? LPA512
1987 Z80 Cambridge Z88
1988 Intel 8088 NEC UltraLite
1988 US$2299 [55] 68HC000 @ 8 Atari STacy
1989 Intel 8088 @ 4.9152 Atari Portfolio
1989 US$2000 Intel 80C88 @ 7 Poqet PC (Classic)
1989 8086 @ 9.55 Compaq LTE
1989 Motorola 68000 @ 16 Macintosh Portable
1989 Motorola 68000 @ 15 Outbound Laptop
1991 Motorola 68000 @ 8 ST BOOK[56][57]
1991 NEC V20 @ 5.37 HP 95LX
1991 US$2300 Motorola 68000 @ 16 Apple PowerBook 100
1992 IBM 486SLC @ 25 IBM ThinkPad 700 The first ThinkPad
1992 Z80, 64K Amstrad NC100
1992 US$4950 CY601 + CY604 @ 25 SPARCbook1 Unix with SunOS
1993 Intel "Hornet" 80186 @ 7.91 HP 100LX
1993 ? AlphaSmart
1994 Intel "Hornet" 80186 @ 7.91 HP 200LX
1995 Intel 80486DX4 @ 75 IBM ThinkPad Butterfly keyboard IBM ThinkPad 701c and 701Cs, famous for their "Butterfly Keyboard" which slides into place when opening the lid
1996 Intel Pentium @ 133 Panasonic Toughbook CF-25 The first Toughbook, an example of a ruggedized laptop
1997 Intel Pentium @ 150 IBM ThinkPad 380 An average late-1990s notebook
2001 SA-1110 @ 206 SIMpad
2001 Intel Mobile Pentium III-M @ 1.2 Dell Precision M40 One of the world's first mobile workstation notebooks
2002 Intel Pentium 4 @ 2.4 Alienware Area 51-M An early example of a gaming laptop: high performance desktop components in a notebook
2003 Intel Pentium M @ 1.7 IBM ThinkPad R50p Notable for its ultra high resolution 2048x1536 (QXGA) display option

See also


  1. ^ As contrasted with DYSEAC and MOBIDIC, 1950s era military systems which were truck-based/"movable by truck".
  2. ^ "How to Buy an All-in-One PC". PC Magazine. Retrieved 23 July 2021.
  3. ^ a b Shanna Freeman (19 September 2012). "What was the first portable computer?".
  4. ^ "and plug in instead of relying on battery power."
  5. ^ Petre, Reza Rawassizadeh, Blaine A Price, Marian. "Wearables: Has the Age of Smartwatches Finally Arrived? | January 2015 | Communications of the ACM". Retrieved 2017-05-05.
  6. ^ "What is a Portable Computer? | ACME Portable Machines". 2014-05-23. Archived from the original on 2014-07-07. Retrieved 2014-07-22.
  7. ^ Freeman, Shanna (2012-09-19). "HowStuffWorks "What was the first portable computer?"". Retrieved 2014-07-22.
  8. ^ PC Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 6, November 1983, ‘’SCAMP: The Missing Like in the PC's Past?‘’
  9. ^ "IBM Archives: IBM 5100 Portable Computer". 23 January 2003. Retrieved 2014-07-22.
  10. ^ "IBM SCAMP, National Museum of American History". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2023-02-15.
  11. ^ This author learned this from an original IBM document for operators of the 5100 but does not recall the title of the document.
  12. ^ "Daves Old Computers- IBM 5100". Archived from the original on 2007-11-26. Retrieved 2019-03-08.
  13. ^ "Industrial Portable Computers". Advantech. Retrieved 2014-07-22.
  14. ^ "Computer History Museum". Archived from the original on 2013-05-23. Retrieved 2008-12-10.
  15. ^ "Osborne 1". Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  16. ^ Fallows, James (July 1982). "Living With a Computer". Atlantic Magazine. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  17. ^ Dickinson, John (July 1986). "Kaypro 2000". PC. p. 116. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  18. ^ "The $1,595 Computer That Sells for $1,595". BYTE (advertisement). January 1984. p. 390. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  19. ^ didyouknowwebsite (2020-06-14). "The Space Age Best Inventions We use Today". Did You Know?. Retrieved 2020-06-14.
  20. ^ "Aboard the Columbia", By Bill Machrone, Page 451, Jun 1983, PC Mag
  21. ^ "Columbia personal computer - CHM Revolution".
  22. ^ "Eagle personal computer - CHM Revolution".
  23. ^ Caruso, Denise (1984-02-27). "IBM wins disputes over PC copyrights". InfoWorld. p. 15. Retrieved 23 July 2021.
  24. ^ "Hyperion computer system - CHM Revolution".
  25. ^ "Atari Stacy 2 - Computer - Computing History". Retrieved 2021-04-27.
  26. ^ ausretrogamer (2016-04-06). "The Lovely Atari STacy | AUSRETROGAMER". Retrieved 2021-04-27.
  27. ^ Liu, Zhiye (2020-08-06). "Take This Portable Threadripper 3990X Workstation Wherever You Go". Tom's Hardware. Retrieved 2021-11-01.
  28. ^ Faulkner, Cameron (2021-02-08). "This laptop has seven times the average number of screens". The Verge. Retrieved 2021-11-01.
  29. ^ Shilov, Anton (2021-02-19). "Seven-Screen Aurora A7 Laptop Costs Up to $20,000". Tom's Hardware. Retrieved 2021-11-01.
  30. ^ "Scs".((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  31. ^ United States. (1969). "Field Artillery Digital Automatic Computer (FADAC) - TOTAL FADAC COSTS". Hearings Cong. 91 Sess. 1 Appropriations V. 9 1969. 9: 645. hdl:2027/mdp.35112202783561 – via HathiTrust.
  32. ^ "IBM 1401: The Mainframe".
  33. ^ "Columbia University Computing History: IBM 1401".
  34. ^ "IBM 1401: Cultural Impacts".
  35. ^ Weik, Martin H. (Mar 1961). "PACKARD BELL 250". A Third Survey of Domestic Electronic Digital Computing Systems.
  36. ^ Beck, Robert Mark (30 December 1960). "PB-250 - A High Speed Serial General Purpose Computer Using Magnetostrictive Delay Line Storage". Managing Requirements Knowledge, International Workshop On(AFIPS): 284–285, 287. doi:10.1109/afips.1960.58. The first production computer was delivered in October 1960.
  37. ^ "The PB-250".
  38. ^ "The RCA Micromodule". Vintage Computer Chip Collectibles, Memorabilia & Jewelry. Retrieved 2018-03-25.
  39. ^ "Across the Editor's Desk: CONTROL DATA 449 COMPUTER". Computers and Automation. 16 (11): 56. Nov 1967.
  40. ^ Used in translocation backpack system (prototype) and as an onboard computer for Grumman planes
  41. ^ "Control Data 449 Computer Reference Manual" (PDF). Oct 1967. Retrieved 2018-12-22.
  42. ^ "IBM 5100 computer". 090508
  43. ^ a b c "MicrocomputerChronology". Archived from the original on 2012-12-23. 090508
  44. ^ " : The Museum". 090508
  45. ^ "IBM 5110 computer". 090508
  46. ^ "Weird World of Hardware". 090508
  47. ^ "Rockwell AIM-65 computer". 090508
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  50. ^ "Epson HX-20 computer". 090508
  51. ^ "OLD-COMPUTERS.COM : The Museum". 090508
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  53. ^ "IBM 5155 portable computer". 090508
  54. ^ "Epson PX-8 computer". 090508
  55. ^ "Atari STacy computer"
  56. ^ "Planet Irata: Atari ST Book Notebook Computer". Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. 090508
  57. ^ "Chips in ATARI-Computern mit TOS-Betriebssystem". 090508