When you think about 90’s laptops technology, likely, images of triangular Bill Gates-endorsed “PCs” with the now iconic floppy disk drives come to mind. But did you know that the decade also saw a boom in laptop adoption? Even then, laptops had many of the same features we take for granted today, such as wireless internet connectivity and flash storage. It’s easy to overlook some of our most beloved technologies and gadgets. Laptops are no exception to this rule, especially considering how quickly technology comes and goes.
The 1990s also saw many manufacturers experimenting with the design and functionality of laptops to appeal to a wider audience. Something about these old clunky laptops endeared them to many people for reasons that aren’t readily apparent at first glance. Today we take a quick look at those nostalgic 90’s laptops and why they’re so memorable. This article explores some of the most popular 1990s laptops and their unique features.
Toshiba TEC-9: First Ultra-Light from 90’s Laptops
Toshiba’s TEC-9 laptop was the world’s first ultra-light laptop, weighing less than two pounds. While its memory was limited to just 640 KB of RAM, it was known as a very powerful machine for its time. The TEC-9 also included several modern features that were new to laptops at the time.
It featured a 10 MB hard drive, a built-in Ethernet port, a sound system, and a lithium-ion battery that enabled up to six hours of continuous use. Toshiba’s laptop was one of the major innovation in the mobile computing field. But it was also criticized for having a short battery life. However, the TEC-9’s design set the bar for ultralight laptops for many years.
Dell Inspiron 7500: Unique touchpad among 90’s Laptops
Like many other manufacturers, Dell began experimenting with portable computers in the 1980s. Releasing special “luggables” meant to be carried around instead of sitting on a desk. However, the company’s true foray into the laptop market began in 1999 with the Inspiron 7500.
As one of the most popular laptops of the era, the Inspiron 7500 was a remarkably portable laptop with lightweight. As well as using a standard clamshell design, it had a unique “rotating touchpad” that could be flipped around to give users more desk space while typing. Dell also ditched the classic floppy disk drive, which was still a mainstay on many computers of the era, in favor of a 30 GB” hard disk drive. Combined with an Intel Pentium III, made the Inspiron 7500 one of the fastest laptops of the time. The laptop also came with many ports for connectivity, including a modem for an internet connection. Now the latest machine of that series is a beautiful rose gold laptop, dell Inspiron 7570.
Toshiba NB100 and Toshiba Satellite M50
While Dell was producing some of the most high-powered laptops of the time, Toshiba also had some interesting offerings. The NB100 and Satellite M50 were two of the first computers among 90’s laptops with built-in WiFi.
Their WiFi connection is packed with impressive specs for the time, with a maximum connection speed of 10 Mbps. Toshiba was also the first manufacturer to release a laptop with a color display, though their choice of a monochrome CRT display was perhaps odd. Still, their laptops were some of the most advanced of the time and received positive customer reviews.
Sony Vaio PCV-200: A Laptop With An Integrated Discman
Sony’s PCV-200 is the only laptop on this list that failed, but it’s worth mentioning all the same. The PCV-200 was released in the late ’90s and featured a sound system integrated into the laptop chassis. That was the first laptop design ever to incorporate a built-in CD player. Sony also attempted to incorporate a Discman into another laptop design in the ’90s.
The PCV-100 was an early attempt at a convertible laptop. It could be transformed into a tablet by folding the keyboard behind the screen. Unfortunately, neither model was successful enough to become a major product line for Sony.
Dell Latitude LS and MS: Ultraportable 90’s Laptops With Hinge Design
Dell’s Latitude LS and MS were ultraportable laptops with a hinge design. This design enabled the laptops to be folded into a smaller profile, making them more easily transportable than traditional models.
The LS and MS models were also some of the lightest and thinnest laptops during their time. While the laptops were high-quality, they were also expensive. Many consumers were not yet ready to pay thousands of dollars for a computer that could be easily damaged.
Compaq Aero II: The World’s First Airborne Computer
The Compaq Aero II was the world’s first airborne computer, making it an obvious choice for this list. It was designed by Compaq engineers to be ultra-small and lightweight, making it an ideal solution for military aviation. Aero II also featured a rugged design that made it suitable for underwater use.
Compaq’s engineers designed the Aero II to be so small and lightweight that it could fit into a military pilot’s helmet. In addition to being the world’s first airborne computer, the Aero II was also the first handheld computer used by the military. The Aero II was often criticized for its high cost and limited functionality. However, it was a revolutionary design at the time.
IBM ThinkPad 760ED
Released in 1996, the IBM ThinkPad 760ED was the first laptop with an integrated voice recognition system. The 760ED also featured a unique design with a “hinge on the wrong side,” meaning that the keyboard was on the left side of the screen instead of the right.
While this was initially seen as a design flaw, it was a clever move that allowed IBM to patent a special mechanism for rotating the screen 180 degrees. That allowed the 760ED to be transformed from a standard laptop into a “stand-up” machine, letting users easily and ergonomically share information with groups.
Ultimately, the IBM ThinkPad 760ED wasn’t a commercial success but made a lasting impact. It has been named one of the most significant laptops of all time. A restored version is currently on display at the Smithsonian Museum.
HP OmniBook XE-2000
HP was another manufacturer experimenting with new designs and functionality in their laptops. The HP OmniBook XE-2000 was the first laptop to be completely “tiltable,” letting users lift the screen and change the keyboard position. The laptop also came preloaded with several software tools, including a database application, spreadsheet, and word processing program.
While the OmniBook XE-2000 was certainly ahead of its time. It was also a lot more expensive than many other laptops. It was also criticized for having a short battery life and poor keyboard design. As a result, the HP OmniBook XE-2000 wasn’t a commercial success, and the company discontinued it after only a few years.
Panasonic ToughBook CF-25
First introduced in the early 1990s, the Panasonic ToughBook series was one of the first computers from 90’s laptops. That was designed for harsh outdoor conditions. The CF-25 model was released in 1996. It was one of the first laptops to be designed specifically for use in harsh environments.
The CF-25 was a popular choice for business professionals and government contractors who needed a durable and reliable laptop that could withstand the rigors of daily use. That machine has several impressive specifications, including a magnesium alloy case, an Intel Pentium processor, and up to 8MB of RAM. While the CF-25 is no longer manufactured. It remains a popular choice for those who need a durable laptop that can withstand the elements.
A final note about 90’s laptops
Laptops have come a long way from 90’s laptops to touch-screen machines. But it’s still fascinating to look back and see how far they’ve come. Today, most laptops are much slimmer than their predecessors. They also come with significantly longer battery life, a wealth of connection options, and more powerful processing and graphics capabilities.
However, one thing largely remains true: laptops are still incredibly portable. Many are thinner than a standard piece of paper and weigh less than a bag of bricks. Technologies such as fiber optics and flash storage have also come a long way since the 1990s. Giving us gigabit internet and data transfer rates up to 10 times faster than the best floppy disk speeds!
The increased demand for laptops in the ’90s was likely because they offered similar functionality as desktops but in a smaller, more portable package. However, desktops were significantly cheaper than laptops for most of the ’90s. That is likely due to the fact that the majority of laptop manufacturers were trying to recoup their investment in producing laptop-specific components.
As laptops became more common and demand for desktops decreased, component prices also decreased. That was likely the reason for the dramatic increase in the adoption of laptops throughout the end of the ’90s and early 2000s.
Ultimately, there’s no doubt that laptop computers have come a long way since the 1990s. They’ve become more powerful, more portable, and more user-friendly. They’ve also become much more affordable, with computers available at every price point. Whether you’re looking to relive your childhood or just appreciate the evolution of technology, the 1990s laptops discussed in this article are a great throwback.