An IBM ThinkPad

Laptop History

In the 1970s, Alan Kay of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center had a vision for a wireless portable computer roughly the size of a notebook. He called it the Dynabook. Kay's Dynabook never got past sketches and a cardboard model, but it set the wheels in motion for the development of a truly portable computer.

I­n 1979, William Moggridge of Grid Systems Corporation created the first functioning portable computer: The Grid Compass Computer 1109. It had 340 kilobytes of bubble memory, a die-cast magnesium case and a folding electroluminescent graphics display screen. NASA bought a handful of them at $800 apiece for use in the space program.

Other companies, like Gavilan Computer and Apple, introduced other portable computers in following years. The first commercially viable machine, however, was the IBM PC Convertible, introduced in 1986. The PC Convertible featured:

  • An 8088 microprocessor
  • 256 kilobytes of memory
  • Two 3.5-inch (8.9-cm) floppy drives
  • An LCD display
  • Parallel and serial printer ports
  • Space for an internal modem
  • A software suite including basic word processing, appointment calendar, telephone/address book, and calculator software

Weighing in at a hefty 12 lbs (5.4 kg), the PC Convertible sold for $3,500. It was the first portable computer with the clamshell design used in today's laptops. The success of the PC Convertible was the catalyst for competitors like Compaq and Toshiba to switch to the clamshell design in their portable computers. And so began the era of the laptop computer.

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