A portable computer is a computer designed to be easily moved 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. 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; this limitation was later overcome by the laptop computers. 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.
Portable computers, by their nature, are generally microcomputers. 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".
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.
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. 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". The engineering prototype is in the Smithsonian Institution.
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.
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.) 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).
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.
An early portable computer was manufactured in 1979 by GM Research, 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.
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.
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. 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.
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". Others raved about its value, as the company advertised the Kaypro II as "the $1,595 computer that sells for $1,595", 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.
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.
Although Columbia Data Product's MPC 1600, "Multi Personal Computer" came out in June 1983, one of the first extensively IBM PC compatible computers was the Compaq Portable. Eagle Computer then came out with their offering. and Corona Data Systems's PPC-400., the "portable" Hyperion Computer System. 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.
The first full-color portable computer was the Commodore SX-64 in January 1984..
Originally announced in 1987, the Atari STacy was released to the public in December 1989 and was one of the first laptop-like portables.
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.
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.
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.
|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 (940,000 in 2022)||Custom vacuum tube CPU @ 0.01||Monrobot V||For the military, movable by truck. Used for surveying and mapmaking.|
|1957||~US$70,500 (734,600 in 2022) / RECOMP II||Transistorized: Printed circuit cards @ ?||RECOMP I CP-266||For the military, movable by two men.|
|1959||~US$1,600,000 (16,100,000 in 2022) / 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 (68,300,000 in 2022) (development)||Modular circuit boards @ 0.448||FADAC||For the military, movable by two men.|
|1960||~US$125,600 (1,230,000 in 2022)||Standard Modular System with complementary diode-transistor logic @ 0.087||IBM 1401||Truck-based for military, also touring Datamobile for demos.|
|1960||~US$40,500 (396,600 in 2022)||Plug-in circuit modules @ 2||PB 250||Portable as the control computer for commercial mobile (by van) data systems. Can operate entirely from a battery.|
|1961||~US$500,000 (4,900,000 in 2022)||Custom transistor CPU @ 1||BASICPAC||For the military, movable by truck.|
|1962||~US$40,000 (390,000 in 2022)||Circuit modules (micromodular) @ ?||L-2010||For the military.|
|1967||Integrated circuit @ ?||CDC 449||For the military.|
|1975||US$8975||IBM PALM processor @ 1.9||IBM 5100 Portable Computer||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|
|1978||US$10,225||IBM PALM processor @ 1.9||IBM 5110|
|1979||US$375||6502 @ 1, 1K||Rockwell AIM-65||20-character alphanumeric display.|
|1979||US$3250||Custom HP 8-bit @ 0.613||Hewlett-Packard Model 85|
|1980||?||PA512||Made in Serbia.|
|1980||US$230||SC43177, SC43178||TRS-80 Pocket Computer|
|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|
|1981||Z80 compatible||Husky (computer)|
|1982||8088 @ 4.77||Columbia Data Products|
|1982||Z80A @ 4||Grundy NewBrain|
|1982||Z80 @ 2.5||Kaypro|
|1982||US$8000||8086 @ ?||Grid Compass 1100||NASA laptop|
|1982||Z80 @ 4.0||Osborne Executive|
|1983||US$1099||80C85 @ 2.4||TRS-80 Model 100||40 × 8 LCD|
|1983||Z80A, 8086, 128K||Seequa Chameleon|
|1983||Z80A @ 3.4||Sord IS-11|
|1983||US$1595||Z80A @ 4||Zorba|
|1984||US$4225||8088 @ 4.77||IBM 5155|
|~1984||8088 @ 4.77||Bondwell-8|
|1984||US$995||Z80 @ 2.45||Epson PX-8 Geneva|
|1984||6502 @ 1.02||Commodore SX-64||First portable with color display|
|1984||Z80 @ 4.0||Osborne Vixen|
|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|
|1988||Intel 8088||NEC UltraLite|
|1988||US$2299 ||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|
|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|
|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|
((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
The first production computer was delivered in October 1960.