Compaq Portable III
I recently acquired this Compaq Portable III from someone in my local area. This is the third machine in the series that Compaq produced. I also have the original Compaq Portable. This one has a Intel 80286 processor, 640k of ram, a side mounted 1.2mb 5.25" floppy and a 20 megabyte hard drive. It also has a monochrome LCD screen, which was a major improvement over the small CRT that the previous models had. These machines were released in 1987.
| Compaq Portable III specifications
||640k (expandable with custom module)
||1.2mb 5.25" floppy, 20meg HD
||Available with external module
1 x serial, 1 x parallel, 1 x RGB out
When I checked this machine out it was the usual scenario with old computers, it powered up but wouldn't boot as the configuration had been lost. It didn't come with any boot disks either so I couldn't really do any testing on it aside from seeing some text come up on the screen. I thought this was good enough. I felt pretty confident that I could boot it with some MS-DOS 5.25" disks that I already have. On getting the machine home I tried getting it to boot from a floppy but unfortunately I couldn't get it to boot (more on this later!).
I tried several 5.25" MS-DOS boot disk that I have but none of them would work. The drive light would come on as expected to scan the disk but the screen would just repeat the "missing system disk" message. This was disappointing as I started to think the floppy drive was faulty. I proceeded to take the back cover off, there's six Torx screws holding the back cover on, once removed it comes off quite easily. Removing the back cover exposes the motherboard and allows removal of the drive cover which exposes the drives. I could see there was a hard disk installed as well as the floppy. With the removal of one more Torx screw the drive assembly can be pulled out of the machine from the side. I tried plugging in a 3.5" floppy drive and booting from that but that didn't work either.
Floppy drive gotcha!
After doing some online troubleshooting I discovered that to engage the floppy disk head you need to put the disk in until it clicks then press the eject button in. This engages the head onto the disk. This was quite a discovery because I realised that I wasn't engaging the disk properly on previous boot attempts. Once I followed the correct procedure for inserting the disk, the machine booted as expected. I was also able to examine the C drive which proved that the hard disk was working fine.
Compaq III setup
In my reading about this machine I also discovered that unlike other pc's it doesn't have a BIOS setup in ROM. The only way to configure the BIOS is via the Compaq setup utility which comes on disk. You can find the setup disks online but unfortunately they come as an extremely annoying exe file package. There are two versions of this package, one to create 360k 5.25" boot disks (sp0316.zip), and one to create 720k 3.5" boot disks (sp0308.zip). But are your ready for this, the 360k exe file is 550k in size, so you can't just copy it to a 360k disk.
I managed to use DOSBox on a modern pc to run the main exe, this looked promising as I'd hoped it would extract the utilities which I could then simply copy to a disk. But no, running the initial exe just extracts some files which then must be run to create the physical disks. I tried doing this on my IBM 5150 but it wouldn't work. The Compaq utility wouldn't recognise the floppy drives on the 5150, very annoying.
After some searching online I was lucky enough to find a site where the setup utility files had been extracted from the irritating Compaq archive and made into a 720k disk image. I was able to use WinImage to easily extract the files and put them on a 5.25" disk. Once I did this I was able to run the setup utility on the Compaq III and configure the hard drive and other BIOS settings. For anyone else who needs these utilities here they are in a simple zip.
These are the files contained in the 720k version of the setup disk. The utilities can be separated if you need them on a smaller disk:
compaq_portable_iii_setup.zip (384.43 kb)
The physical condition of this machine is great, after a good clean up it's come up in mint condition. The only exception being the curly keyboard cable. These are notorious for decay and mine is no exception, the shielding on the curly cord is crumbling, so that will need to be fixed at some stage. But aside from that this machine works perfectly, I can boot from the hard drive and run applications, the keyboard works well too.
21 Feb 2016 - Compaq Portable III leather carry bag
When I picked up the Compaq portable III a few weeks ago it came with a carry bag. The bag was quite dirty and ratty looking but today I decided to see if it would clean up. On closer inspection the bag is a genuine leather Compaq carry bag. I gave it a good clean with leather cleaner and conditioner. I also polished up a few scuff with leather shoe polish. The bag came up looking really good.