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bluejay

Compaq Portable II Questions

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I'm planning on getting a Compaq Portable II as my starter MS-DOS computer. I like the design, especially compared to the rest of the Compaq Portable series, and I'm generally a fan of portable computers. But I have some questions before I really buy a system. First of all, is it reliable? If I get an untested system, what are the chances of everything working? Also, does its keyboard suffer from the same problem as it's predecessor's? Also, I'm planning on replacing the hard drive with an sd card adapter. Which is compatible? Which is good? Which is cheap?

More questions incoming...

Thanks in advance!

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Should i get a portable iii or a 386 instead?

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Posted (edited)

I would go with something that has a real CGA crt inside it.  Those gas-plasma displays had serious issues with burn-in that was worse than with CRT, and you will likely want the true CGA colors.

 

The Sanyo MBC-775 weighs about 2x as much as the Compaq Portable II, but has REAL CGA CRT inside it, and is all around a better system inside, as I understand it.  Nope, apparently it is an 8088 inside, sadly.  I wonder if one of those intel 286 upgrade isa boards, and an EGA card (with onboard CGA disable) would work as an upgrade path??

 

 

 

Edited by wierd_w
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Posted (edited)

I've watched the video- apparently the Sanyo is rare and valuable, and not fully IBM compatible. Also the portable II has a CRT, the III and 386 has the gas plasma screen.

The Compaq Portable I and II have a unique version of the CGA card that allows it to be in both MDA and CGA on a monochrome screen, and imo it's better than the traditional CGA palette with the cyan and magenta.

Edited by bluejay

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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, bluejay said:

The Compaq Portable I and II have a unique version of the CGA card that allows it to be in both MDA and CGA on a monochrome screen, and imo it's better than the traditional CGA palette with the cyan and magenta.

I find this feature really neat, and I’d like a Compaq Portable for the same reason.  Unfortunately I have no direct experience with them, so I can’t offer you advice.  😞

Edited by troff
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Posted (edited)

I got 2 Portable IIs, 1 works fine, has 640k RAM, a modem card, and I think the floppy and hard drive works but the hard drive definitely has been wiped. The other has a dead power supply so I didn't bother to check anything else. Still, I want to replace it with an SD card adapter. What's a good, cheap SD2IDE device that works well?

Also, of course, the keyboard cable is falling apart. Is electrical tape the only fix?

The biggest problem is the diagnostics disk. I don't have one, and I don't have any way to make one, as these two Compaqs are the only MS-DOS computers I have, let alone one with both a 3.5" and a 5.25" drive. Is there a program that emulates an external serial floppy drive like mComm is used to emulate a TPDD?
Or is a cheap IDE to USB converter the best option?

Thanks in advance:)

Edited by bluejay

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Posted (edited)

Use a null modem cable, with CTTY (stock in MSDOS), and fast lynx. (You can use tty to bootstrap copying fx.exe and pals to the target host, then start FX there to have proper connection.)

 

Push the needed files for the diagnostic diskette (such as a disk image and disk imager) to the functional unit, then generate the diskette.

 

 

Quick video demonstrating this.

 

 

EDIT:

 

Since your HDD has been wiped, you will need to get DOS installed on it.  This is easy enough to do; Plug the thing into an IDE->USB bridge, then image it with something like winimage. Configure the disk image for use as a flat image file with your choice of virtual machine. Install MSDOS on the image. Use winimage (or other imager) to image that back onto the HDD.

 

Be sure that the CHS settings are consistent between the Compaq Portable and the virtual machine. (Do NOT use LBA mode in the virtual machine!! Old PCs had no idea what that is-- it *MUST* be CHS mode!)

 

THEN you can do the FX.exe thing for any other transfers.

 

 

The reason I suggest using the native diskette drive to make the floppy, is because head alignment can get slightly out of place over time, and a brand new drive (or even just a different drive) from the one doing the recording vs the one doing the reading, can cause read errors later.  This is especially true with low density diskettes produced in a high density diskette drive.

 

 

 

Edited by wierd_w
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Alright. Thanks a lot! I have plenty of DOS setup and program disks that are from the 386 era on DSHD disks, which I hope my portable II will be able to run. If not then I always have other solutions like you mentioned! I have both types of floppy drives; the flip up one and the standard push button one. Are they any different?

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Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, wierd_w said:

Use a null modem cable, with CTTY (stock in MSDOS), and fast lynx. (You can use tty to bootstrap copying fx.exe and pals to the target host, then start FX there to have proper connection.)

 

Push the needed files for the diagnostic diskette (such as a disk image and disk imager) to the functional unit, then generate the diskette.

 

 

Quick video demonstrating this.

 

 

EDIT:

 

Since your HDD has been wiped, you will need to get DOS installed on it.  This is easy enough to do; Plug the thing into an IDE->USB bridge, then image it with something like winimage. Configure the disk image for use as a flat image file with your choice of virtual machine. Install MSDOS on the image. Use winimage (or other imager) to image that back onto the HDD.

 

Be sure that the CHS settings are consistent between the Compaq Portable and the virtual machine. (Do NOT use LBA mode in the virtual machine!! Old PCs had no idea what that is-- it *MUST* be CHS mode!)

 

THEN you can do the FX.exe thing for any other transfers.

 

 

The reason I suggest using the native diskette drive to make the floppy, is because head alignment can get slightly out of place over time, and a brand new drive (or even just a different drive) from the one doing the recording vs the one doing the reading, can cause read errors later.  This is especially true with low density diskettes produced in a high density diskette drive.

 

 

 

Is FX.exe supposed to run on the Compaq? It won't run on my modern computer. I'm currently trying to run it in virtualbox. Also, how am I to bootstrap fx when it's won't load anything but the diagnostics disk?

Edited by bluejay

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Posted (edited)

nevermind

Edited by bluejay

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The bootstrap process would utilize one PC with a serial port, running FX.exe, and the portable II, which would start out with just DOS, Mode.exe and ctty.exe.

 

On the PC with serial port, you run fx.exe, and put it into UPLOAD mode.  On the portable II, you run the mode setline for com1, then start ctty, as demonstrated.  The PC running FX.exe will transmit a copy of FX.exe and its support library to the remote host. After that, you run fx.exe on the compaq portable II as well, and then enter split-screen mode (from either system!).  It then operates a great deal like midnight commander file manager, and can be used to copy files and folders between the computers, and between folders on the same computer. Very handy bit of kit.

 

If your virtual machine permits you to pass real serial port traffic through, then you can use it with fx, at least in theory.

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1 hour ago, wierd_w said:

The bootstrap process would utilize one PC with a serial port, running FX.exe, and the portable II, which would start out with just DOS, Mode.exe and ctty.exe.

 

On the PC with serial port, you run fx.exe, and put it into UPLOAD mode.  On the portable II, you run the mode setline for com1, then start ctty, as demonstrated.  The PC running FX.exe will transmit a copy of FX.exe and its support library to the remote host. After that, you run fx.exe on the compaq portable II as well, and then enter split-screen mode (from either system!).  It then operates a great deal like midnight commander file manager, and can be used to copy files and folders between the computers, and between folders on the same computer. Very handy bit of kit.

 

If your virtual machine permits you to pass real serial port traffic through, then you can use it with fx, at least in theory.

That sounds great, but the thing is the Compaq can't even boot to BIOS, let alone DOS. And FX can't run on my Win 10 laptop anyways. Again, thanks a bunch for the help, but I think I'll have to buy something to have it directly loaded onto the Compaq.

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Posted (edited)

IDE->USB cradle would work great.

 

Again, attach the ancient IDE device, image it with something like winimage, load the image in a virtual machine and load DOS on it, then image it back again.  Bob's your uncle.

 

Unless your device is even older, and is a "winchester" MFM controller based job.

Edited by wierd_w

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Posted (edited)

Uhm, the connector port on the hard/floppy/serial controller card is labeled "winchester", but I thought winchester hard drives were gigantic?

Does that mean cf2ide devices wont work?

Edited by bluejay

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Show me a picture of it.

 

It could be an MFM controller.  If you can find a suitable IDE controller to replace it, then your SD->IDE will work fine. Otherwise, you are talking about a controller for a very very old hard disk technology, for which there are no modern replacements or surrogates.

 

Show me pictures of the controller, and of the hard drive itself.

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@wierd_w here are some picks

It's a pain in the butt to get the actual hard drive off the metal cage so I just left it in there. As you can see the hard drive's got the standard 40 pin ide style header except the controller says "winchester". I thought winchester hard drives were those washing machine sized ones used with microcomputers, not a palm sized one use in a portable computer.

IMG_0001.JPG

IMG_0002.JPG

IMG_0003.JPG

IMG_0004.JPG

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Posted (edited)

In the early days they called all sealed hard disk drives winchesters; after the first ones made by IBM.  This compaq has probably one of the earliest implementations of ide, before it was named anything.  The drive itself has the "mfm" seperate data and controller connectors going to a controller under the drive.

Edited by mr_me
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5 hours ago, mr_me said:

In the early days they called all sealed hard disk drives winchesters; after the first ones made by IBM.  This compaq has probably one of the earliest implementations of ide, before it was named anything.  The drive itself has the "mfm" seperate data and controller connectors going to a controller under the drive.

So that means it IS an IDE hard drive/controller so CF2IDEs will work, unless I understood wrong?

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Yes-- that does appear to be an IDE controller.

 

The miniscribe drive is rather interesting though. IDE->MFM daughter board underneath!! 

 

Still, you should be able to hook that miniscribe drive to an IDE->USB bridge, then image it with winimage, then load that disk image inside a virtual machine, partition and format the image, then install DOS on it.  Push the image BACK onto the drive with winimage, and then boot it.

 

That should get you started pretty quick.

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Posted (edited)

Although that is very interesting. The hard drive sure is an MFM hard drive, with card edge connectors in the back. 2 ribbon cables are connect it to 2 pin headers on the daughterboard underneath, and the molex power cable connects to the daughterboard, and the hard drive seems to draw power through the daughterboard with another molex cable connecting the two. I don't think I've seen anything like this!

Edited by bluejay

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Posted (edited)

All the stuff i ordered finally arrived. I installed the cf2ide, connected all the power supply and ide cables, un-imaged a setup disk image, copied the files to the cf card, shoved the card into the cf2ide(which is connected to the compaq properly.) I see the led on the cf2ide turn on when booting, but i still get the no-setup-disk error. I tried playing around with the dip switches a bit but it's gonna take about 203480238402 years to try every single combination. What do I do now?

If I'm not wrong, I must boot the setup disk on a virtual machine, do all the stuff there, install dos, then image the vhd, then install the image on the cf card?

Edited by bluejay

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Posted (edited)

Show me  a picture of the "Need setup disk" error.

I looked it up on Google.

 

Is this an EISA message or something?

Nope, it's just the "system options not set" situation, where the rom does not contain the cmos setup utility.

 

You will need a way to produce a real 360k diskette, and will need said setup diskette.

SP0308.zip contains the 720k version disk images for this program.
SP0316.zip contains the 360k version disk images for this program.

 

If you have an older PC that has a floppy disk controller, I would hook the 360k drive from the portable II to it temporarily so that I could generate the diskette. 

 

Looking inside the 720k version's image file, I see that it is NOT bootable.  This means you would have to boot on a dos diskette, then swap out the diskette.

 

Suitable Compaq branded MSDos 3.1 diskette images can be found here:

https://winworldpc.com/download/6e627cca-b789-11e7-b8e6-fa163e9022f0

 

Edited by wierd_w

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