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My First Computer – Compudyne 3SXL/25 386 25MHz Notebook Laptop

The year was 1995, I was 15 years old and I loved computers.  I spoke about my history with computers in another post chris80502 The Early Computer Years.  This post will discuss the first machine I owned, the Compudyne 3SXL/25.

At the time of purchase it cost $684 and was already years out of date.  Especially when you consider the Intel Pentium processor was released in 1993.  However, for me, it was the best machine that I could reasonably acquire.

Specifications:

Intel 80386SX 25MHz CPU
4MB RAM (expandable to 6MB)
80MB Hard Drive
Integrated trackball
64 Shade Monochrome LCD Display
1.44 MB Floppy Disk Drive
Serial, Parallel, PS/2 & 15 pin DSub VGA Ports
100-pin Toshiba Compatible Expansion Slot Connector
24Watt/hr NiCad Battery
MS-DOS 5.00 with Windows 3.1

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The image of the laptop on the manual cover shown above is an actual and accurate representation of the real machine.  The Compudyne Microsoft WINDOWS 3.1 Concise Edition was just that, it is about 1/3 the thickness of the standard Windows manual of that era.  Unfortunately my books have “aged”, but I doubt many other copies remain today.  After a quick search on ebay there appears to be very little Compudyne related material floating around in the collector market.

A Brief but Enlightened Existence

As my first machine I was interested in experimenting with all sorts of different things that I had not had the opportunity to experiment with before.  Mostly software related, things like reinstalling the OS or doing some programming in qBasic.  I even installed Windows 95 on the machine, but it took something like 4 whole minutes to boot to the desktop.  Once booted with Win 95 the system was so slow it could hardly be used for anything.  I ended up settling back on DOS and Windows 3.1.

As you might imagine, I also played many games.  Those were the days of all sorts of fun shareware.  I would spend countless hours playing games like Wolfenstein in 3D, Doom, Packrat, Crystal Caves and Cosmos Cosmic Adventure amongst many others.  Indeed I owned some software of my own, most notably Lightspeed (a super cool early 3D RTS space sim with commerce, resource gathering, ship upgrades and combat!).

Primarily though I did a lot of programming on this machine.  I created a software program about Egypt and the pyramids for history class.  I created another program that did virtual frog dissection, and yet another that was about spider anatomy.  I was always working on some new bit of code or trying out some other fun idea.  One of my biggest projects was to create my own operating system, or rather like Windows as it was software that would run in DOS as Win 3.1 and earlier had always done.  I started work on a system which I called Isoworks.  I had created a basic user interface as well as some simple utilities, even a GUI icon creator for my new system.  When the system finally died, a lot of this code was lost, locked on a disk I couldn’t access.

Since this was a laptop I wasn’t able to upgrade much.  However I did add an external parallel port Addonics 2X CD-ROM drive.  In those days that device cost $300, if I had wanted to get the 4X, it would have been $600!

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I recently found the one shown above at a computer recycler I know.  I could hardly believe it when I saw this one, it looks very much like the one I had originally.  This one is marked 12x on the bottom and the installed CD-ROM appears to be different than the one I had in the past.  At any rate, the case is the same, as is the bold blue Addonics Portable CD sticker on the side of the drive.  Using the device was pretty straight forward.  Have the parallel port mode set correctly in BIOS, plug in the cable and use the included software in your autoexec.bat to start the driver.  With bulky cables and at a little over 5 lbs. you can imagine this CD-ROM was pretty cumbersome for portable use.

The battery on this Compudyne Notebook never worked.  I had looked into purchasing a new battery, but at the time they were quite expensive – maybe as much as $200.  Couple this with the portable CD-ROM and I practically had a desktop anyway.

The Beginning of the End

At some point not long into my ownership of the machine I started having trouble with the keyboard.  I found that the cable to the motherboard had started cracking in two.  I’m not sure if I caused the issue myself, or if it was just plain defective.  Regardless I had no warranty but I was brazen enough to attempt to fix the device myself.  Sadly though I only made problems worse.  I tried to do a soldering job to reattach the halves, that only melted the cable up.  At that point I was stuck and didn’t know what to do.  I ended up using the keyboard port with an external keyboard.  The days of this machine being a laptop were over.

It wasn’t long after having to use the external keyboard that I started looking into getting a new computer.  The truth is, I don’t remember what finally killed this machine.  All I know for sure is that it must have died, because I wasn’t able to retrieve my data (programs/code I had written) that were on that 80MB disk.  I had pulled the disk thinking I could use it with an adapter in a desktop machine, however I never found the right type.  I do still have the drive, maybe it works, who knows though after all these years.

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Regrettably this is all that remains of my Compudyne 3SXL/25.  I believe I got rid of the rest of the machine with some other computer waste in the mid-late 2000’s.

Rambling Bits…

Though it wasn’t much of a machine it allowed me to learn skills I later used and improved upon throughout my life.  I will always have a fond memory of this machine for that reason.  But it also reminds me of a time when I had dreamed of becoming a millionaire, having my own multi-national computer software company and creating my own user interface!

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