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Computer history part Ten - Laptops and Portables - Teleram Corporation

As a result of my job in the News Industry, I have been involved with many laptops and portable computers over the years. While this will not be a definitive history, or even close, I want to share a few of the originals, plus a couple that, well, I just happen to have.




You can click on most of these pictures for a full size view. Use your Back button to return.


The Teleram P-1800 Portable Terminal

This is the original Teleram P-1800. It was introduced sometime in the middle to late 1970s. While technically a portable terminal, it had many of the features that make a laptop. Built in Word-processing (Via hard-wired logic), ram storage for text. Mass storage (a Data Cassette drive), and modem capabilities (via an acoustic coupler). OK, a stretch, but this is one of a handful of machines that marked the transition from paper, pencil, and telephone dictation (or messenger), to electronic word processing in the field.

This is the front of the P-1800. On the left is a black & white 7" monitor which displays 43 columns by 14 rows of text. On the right is the Data Cassette. This uses standard sized cassette tapes, but they were specially formatted for the Teleram with indexing information which divided them into blocks. There were no provisions on the unit to format the tapes, nor did we in the tech department have the ability. We had to purchase them from Teleram. In the center is the power switch, Brightness & Contrast controls, and 12 status indicator lights. Below the Tape drive is a 2 digit block counter, and status for read, write, eot, and cassette in place.

This is a close-up view of the side connector panel. Note that besides the AC power cord, it has a provision for a 12volt power cord. There was a full EIA RS-232 output via the DB-25 connector for connection to a modem, or use as a terminal. The small D-style connector was for the acoustic coupler and 300 baud modem. The coupler allowed you to place a telephone handset in it for transmission at 300 baud. The transmissions were one way only., The unit had no provisions for receiving data via modem or RS-232. The small blue connector was for connection to a printer. The knob selected the Baud rate 110 to 1200 baud, and there is a small switch next to it to select parity. The ribbon cable at the bottom goes to the keyboard.

Here is a view looking in from the top. You can see the unit was incredibly packed with electronics. There were four main circuit boards, which you can see on the bottom of this shot. There were a few other smaller boards. One unusual part was the fan, which is plainly visible. Run from a small DC motor, anything heavy set on top of the unit would case the case to hit the fan, stopping it, or making a large racket. This unit has been sitting in the shop for a long time. Note the rust on the screws!

The horizontal board above the monitor is for a Teletypsetter code option that was used for newspaper operations. In the center was the power supply. That round thing is the main filter capacitor.

Most of the bottom of the unit was solid. This hole was below the monitor. Peeking in you can see the CRT tube, and the video board over to the left. At the bottom you can see just a little bit of the 'main stack' of four logic boards. Needless to say, this thing was not the easiest to work on!

The Teleram P-1800 was implemented entirely with TTL gates, and discrete logic. There was no software, no operating system, no drivers, no processors, EPROM's, or any of that good stuff. Teleram had a patent on the way they used logic to edit ASCII characters stored in RAM. http://www.patentmonkey.com/PM/patentid/4040024.aspx. As mentioned earlier, the main logic was contained on four 6" by 16" boards. It used mostly 74xx series logic. The unit had a full compliment of editing features including changing, deleting, and inserting text, a search function, and a full screen cursor. It contained 2k of RAM. You could fill that RAM with text, and then save it to a 2k data block on the Cassette tape. Likewise, you could retrieve a block of data from cassette into the ram for further editing. I think the tape actually held 75-80 blocks of data, so, in essence, you could have that many stories in your local 'data archive'. In the vernacular, this would be seventy five 500 word stories.

I have three of these units. One has been partially taken apart and stripped of it's monitor and power supply. I don't want to dis-assemble either of the two that are intact, but, one is already past usability, so I will continue to disassemble it to show how it was made. This machine, and it's immediate Teleram successors (Teleram 3000 series) were important in the world of journalism, and should be documented. Do remember though, It has been 30 years, and I have no documentation. This description is based on my best recollections, and may not be 100% accurate! So, here is 32 pounds of 1970s tech, the discrete way. Please ignore the dirt, mildew and rust. They have not always been stored in the best of environments the last 25 years!


Here is a very basic Block Diagram of the unit. Use your back button to return.


Here is the 'stack' of main logic boards as it came out of the unit. The power leads went to 6/32 studs in the center top of each board. Many ribbon cable jumpers using 16 pin DIP plugs connected the different parts. Included here you can also see the TTS option board to the right, and the front status indicator panel on the left. The boards were held together with Nylon spacers, which were then attached to the frame of the unit with screws. Most of the ICs are dated from 1974. The four boards were loosely divided up into Cassette, Memory, Character Generator, and transmission board. A count shows approximately 300+ 74 series TTL chips.

This is a picture of the Transmit (TX) board. It handled all the serial transmissions. Once the send button was pressed, this board would 'take over' ram, and transmit the contents as ASCII characters. The video display was left active during this time, and it did some weird things while the unit was transmitting. The only LSI IC in the entire unit is on this board, in the upper left is a TMS 6011 Uart.



This is the cassette board. It handled all the Cassette drive functions. When a save was called for, it would 'take over' the RAM, and write the contents, cell by cell onto the cassette tape. The operator was responsible for keeping track of what block was what, and manually moving the tape to the correct block. The 2 colored ribbon cables hanging off of this were the cables that went to the tape drive itself.

This is the Character generator board. It is responsible for scanning the RAM regularly, converting the ASCII text to video characters, creating the composite video signal, and sending it to the CRT Monitor board. The only EPROM is located on this board. The White/gold IC at the bottom center, it is a 60720 used as the character EPROM.

This is the Memory board. Sort of the heart of the machine. It has the actual RAM memory, and the supporting address and data buffers and decoders. This is also where the cursor counters are, and where the actual editing of the ram occurs. The main memory is our old friend the 2102 1kx8 static ram. There are 14 of them in the lower right corner ( 2 rows of Light gray). One of them has been replaced with a ceramic/gold replacement chip (bottom left). This makes the memory 2k of 7-bit locations.

Here is the cassette drive. Each spindle is directly driven by a servo motor. Note there is no capstan. The tape has two tracks. One is for data, the other is a timing/servo track. The electronics used the timing signals from that track to regulate the speed of the drive motors. Note the Main tape head (silver, directly in the top center). It had two sections, one for each track. The tape could not be flipped over! Just to the right of the Main head is a standard erase head. This only erased the data track, not the timing track, which was recorded at the factory. In the lower right are two micro switches to sense cassette in, and write protect.

This is a view of the side of the Cassette drive. You can see one of the reel servo motors.

That is all the information I have at present on the Teleram P-1800. Two of my units ar intact and work somewhat. At some point I may decide to clean up and restore one, and I may make that a project on this page. Time will tell! Until then, it's time to move on about 4-5 years and delve into real computers......


The Teleram 3100 'Bubble ram'

Arguably, the first 'true' laptop, or portable computer, was the Teleram 3000 series. It was introduced at virtually the same time in 1982 as the Grid Compass 1100/1101, Epson HX-20, MicroOffice RoadRunner, and Grundy NewBrain. Which one was the very first is open for much debate. The Grid Compass was very expensive, and required AC power for 1982. The HX-20 is certainly a contender. The HX-20 was introduced in late 1981, but not widely available until 1982. The T-3000 grew out of the T-1800 portable terminal (which was a first). But, I'll leave the debate to others.

My version, shown here is the 3100. It is, unfortunately, missing 3 keytops. These were introduced in July 1982 (Just months before the Radio Shack M-100), and became a mainstay of many journalists and writers. It used a version of the CP/M operating system. Commonly referred to as the Bubble RAM, this machine had 128k of storage comprised of Magnetic Bubble Memory. This acted as a disk drive for cp/m. A major asset of Bubble memory is that it is non-volatile. It will retain it's contents indefinitely without any power. The 3100 had 64k of ram and a Z-80 processor. The built in cp/m operating system was a customized version. The machine had a built in serial EIA RS-232 port for communications, and a large expansion connector on the back called the TeleConnect, for connection to expansion peripherals (Floppies, printers, etc.) The screen was an LCD that displayed 4 lines of a full 80 characters. An interesting feature of the screen is that it could be tilted up out of the case for easier viewing. The only operator control, besides the keyboard, was a flat knob on the right that adjusted the contrast and was combined with the power switch (just like on your transistor radio). It ran off of a 12vdc AC power adapter, or 6 internal 2.5AH sealed 2 volt rechargeable batteries. The operating system was stored in the bubble memory, so boot up was virtually instant on power up. The 3100 contained a very good telecommunications program, Mbasic was built in, and it contained many cp/m utilities. Interestingly though, there is no word processing program other than the limited cp/m command line utility, ED.

The keyboard was highly praised, and it is very nice to type on. Unlike many, it had LED lights for the Shift and Caps lock keys. The row of keys along the top were programmable function keys. They could be programmed with a form of Macro or batch file. This allowed customization for either local commands, or for special purpose commands used with the systems they connected to, such as store file, or directory. The tops popped off, and a paper label could be placed in them to denote what they did. A very annoying feature of the keyboard was the location of the return key. It is above where most keyboards had them (Where the backslash is on an AT style). To it's credit, it had a separate cursor keypad to the right of the main keys. (White in the picture above).

This is the motherboard of the 3100. There is a daughterboard that goes over this and contains the Bubble Memory subsystem. The empty blue header socket in the middle is for the display. The large ribbon cable goes to the expansion connector. The empty blue header connector on the right is for the keyboard. In the upper right is the power supply, with the regulator electronics contained on the board that is attached to the back on the left. The power devices were bolted to the rear panel just to the right of the expansion connector. The batteries, which are 2 volt 2.5ah rechargeable 'D' cells lay in the curved 'slots' seen just above the motherboard.

The CPU in this unit is a Zilog Z80L date coded 8238. It is the vertical 40 pin IC just to the left of center. Other noteworthy chips are the eight Intel D2164A-20 64k x 1 Ram chips at the left edge. On the right edge, just below the keyboard connector, is an Intel D8749H 8-bit UV erasable microcontroller. A label on it is handwritten 'kybd c' so I assume this is the keyboard controller. The crystal on the bottom edge left of center (just left of the screw) is marked 4.9mhz. At the very top there is a 40 pin IC marked RCA CDP 6402CE. I do not know what that is, nor can I find out. I am assuming it is a UART.

This is a picture of the Bubble memory board in it's place atop the motherboard. It had a pin type connector in the center for the motherboard, a separate power supply cable, and was held in place by only 2 screws, one on either side. It was very floppy in the middle, so the factory stuck numerous foam pads strategically around the motherboard to help support it. OOPs!

Here is a close up of the Bubble Memory circuitry. The memory itself is the large silver box with the white label on left. It is an Intel 7110-1, and the label says Copyright Intel Magnetics 1982. Also printed on the label is what I assume is akin to the 'bad sector' listing. It is held in a custom socket. To the right is the bubble memory controller chip an Intel D7220-1. Just above and left of that is a 4.0 mhz crystal oscillator. Other intel chips include a D7242 Sense Amplifier, a D7230 Current Pulse Generator and a D7250 Coil Pre-Driver.

Here is a page that describes this Bubble Memory System:
http://www.decadecounter.com/vta/tubepage.php?item=30&user=0


Here is another picture of the unit complete with only the top removed. You can see the 6 batteries in the rear, partially obscured by the ribbon cable. The Keyboard is labeled as being made by Hi-Tek p/n 373-70252B. The empty blue ribbon cable is the one that attaches to the display which is mounted to the top case.

This is a picture of the TeleConnect connector on the back panel. I do not have anything to connect to this, nor do I know the pinout.

TeleConnect is a high-speed parallel interface which connects peripherals such as CRTs, disk drives, and Teleram's 3500 Office Station. This is an "intelligent' interface, requiring little set-up or operator intervention. When power comes on, each connected device is identified and logged-into the system. They can be called into service via the CP/M Assign utility.



Here is a close-up (a bad close-up) of the Keyboard. You can see the unusual position of the return key, the separate cursor control pad, and the function keys along the top. You can also see the three key-tops that are missing from this one.

Here is a picture of the message received on boot-up with my 3100. You can first of all see the nice characters (with no descenders) on the 80 column LCD. Note the 'Bad load rec' message. It looks like Bubble memory CAN lose it's contents in 20 or so years!

A note from MCC.

My 3100 will not boot up. It passes it's diagnostics, and comes up with a 'Bad load rec' message, and a +? (plus) sign prompt. I do not have any information on this unit, and I am unsure of where to go from here. If anyone reading this has any information, tips, or a source of documentation for the 3100, or any Teleram equipment for that matter, please feel free to contact MCC at MCC@mccworkshop.com. If it is possible, I would consider adding any information you would wish to contribute to this page, or link to yours.

A few Teleram Links



Epilogue

The early 80s were a major turning point for technology. Personal computers were moving out of the Home and hobbyist realm, and into the business and commercial world. Portable terminals, and early portable computers like these made a huge difference in the world of journalism. They were embraced fully, and used to the maximum extent possible. Teleram Communications was a pioneer in this early technology. They were not alone, and they are all but forgotten now, but, at least for a few months, they were the leader of the pack.