Replacing HDD in Toshiba T3200SX

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There are not many laptops that can offer worse experience of replacing a hard drive. I got this T3200SX from a friend of mine and he gave me also a 120MB Conner hard drive. The machine itself had a working 40MB Conner drive, but I decided that it would be nice to have more disk space. I thought that it could take just a few minutes in a machine of this size… but I was wrong.

The hard drive replacement involves dismantling the lid, peeling off the LED board labels and removing the gas-plasma screen. Once you do all of this, you can finally remove the top cover and access the hard drive. The screws holding the drive are nicely hidden behind cables and connectors that block access to them. I think the whole process took me 30-40 minutes, but at least I was successful. This was even a bit worse that replacing a hard drive in a 12-inch iBook G4 (which is also very painful).

The already installed drive (in a different machine) could not boot. My T3200SX has an older BIOS version that does not know the 120MB drive. Thankfully, there is the ANYDRIVE utility, so I was able to install the BIOS overlay in the drive’s MBR and everything is working now (btw if you install ANYDRIVE on a drive that has only one partition that uses all the space on the drive, you can install the utility without losing the data, even though this is not mentioned in the README file).

My T3200SX has just 3MB of RAM (1MB on-board, 2x1MB in SIMMs). You might think that I can upgrade it easily with any standard SIMM, but that is not true. The machine is very picky, and it fires an “extended parity error” with every module I tried. So, although the computer has six standard memory slots, I must stick with 3MB of memory. The machine specs are: 16-MHz Intel 386SX, 3MB RAM, 120MB HDD, 640×480 gas-plasma display… the two ISA slots are empty and waiting for a network interface and a sound card.

Repairing IBM PS/2 P70 before Bytefest

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I shared a photo of computers we brought to Bytefest (a vintage computer show in Czech Republic). IBM PS/2 P70 was one of those which needed fixing before the show. In this case, there were issues with an Alps floppy drive and power supply. I have to admit that this was one of the most painful disassemblies we did.

This is a dream machine for a user but total nightmare for maintenance. One example – it was necessary to disassemble a half of the unit just to connect a floppy cable back to the drive.

Windows 3.1 on Gas-Plasma Displays

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Windows 3.1 running on IBM PS/2 P70 with the gas-plasma display. There was a special color scheme included with Windows 3.x specifically targeted for use with this type of screens (to minimize the screen burning effect).

Laptop Display Troubles

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IBM PS/2 Model P70 (1989) on the left side and Toshiba T2200SX (1991) on the right side. The IBM machine is equipped with a gas-plasma display and Toshiba has a typical side-lit passive-matrix LCD. The photo can hardly show how superior the plasma screen is. Its black is so deep that it cannot be beaten with any modern LCD. It is as fast as CRT monitors (unlike passive-matrix LCDs with 300ms response time) and as sharp as active-matrix LCDs (that were introduced a year after this machine).

There are no plasma screens in laptops today so where was the catch? It was in power consumption which was significantly higher. Typical machine with a gas-plasma display was either AC-only or with battery life usually up to one hour. Active matrix displays started to be affordable in 1992-1993 and with their color capability and lower power consumption they pushed plasma screens out of the market. Until then gas-plasma displays were the hi-end choice for many portables.

My P70 in action: