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This old tech: The Toshiba T1000 was my first step into the world of MS-DOS

Benj Edwards | Nov. 9, 2015
The year was 1987, and the Toshiba T1000 was a 6.4-pound IBM PC clone that you could fit into a briefcase. But wait'll you see the battery on this thing.

Enter the Toshiba T1000 laptop, circa 1989. My older brother taught me how to insert a floppy disk with Tetris on it, turn it on, type DIR, then type TETRIS to run the program. As mundane as it sounds now, it was a transformative experience for an 8- or 9-year-old kid. (I had previously played around on an Atari ST and a Mac SE, so I had the mouse down pat. But a command prompt? That was serious business.)

In 1987, Japanese firm Toshiba delivered the T1000, a 6.4-pound version of the IBM PC that could fit comfortably inside a briefcase and run on batteries alone for four to five hours a charge. It retailed for $1,199 in the US and included a 4.77MHz 80C88 CPU, 512K of RAM, a 720KB 3.5-inch inch floppy drive, and a 640x200 EGA-capable monochrome LCD.

At the time of its release, critics hailed the Toshiba T1000 as a groundbreaking innovation. It was the lightest PC-compatible laptop ever released up to that point, and the press considered it the MacBook Air of its day.

Like the MacBook Air, the T1000 shipped with a solid state disk: It packed MS-DOS 2.11 on a built-in ROM chip so it would be available instantly when powered on. For $549 more, you could increase the RAM to 768K, and use a portion of that memory as an ultra-fast RAM disk that retained its data as long as the main system battery didn’t discharge.

My dad apparently bought that 768K option when he got his T1000 around 1989, because I just ran across it today. It’s a tiny board plastered with RAM chips plugged into the motherboard. Here’s how it looked:

this old tech toshiba t1000 inside with text 
The Toshiba T1000, with its lid and top cover removed. Credit: Benj Edwards

I took apart the T1000 because it doesn’t boot anymore. It has seen better days. The plastic has yellowed, and there’s unidentified gunk on the lid.

After a few years’ service as a personal machine for my family, this T1000 began its second life as a glorified serial terminal at my dad’s electronics company, where it was hooked to some sort of test machine for the next decade.

After his company retired the T1000, I rescued it and added it to my collection.

My dad passed away in 2013, so I can’t ask him for more specific details about the history of the machine. But it’s amazing how the stuff he touched and used provides tangible links to him in ways I don’t expect.

An assist from Radio Shack

For example, upon disassembling the T1000 today, I found out that at some point the unit’s internal Ni-Cd battery pack had been rebuilt—likely by my dad. It’s a clutch of four Radio Shack rechargeable cells, soldered together and wrapped in foam rubber and electrical tape.

 

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