First Boot and Disassembly

My Com­paq Portable arrived suc­cess­ful­ly in one piece just after I pub­lished my intro­duc­tion to this project last month, and I found it to be in even bet­ter shape than I expect­ed. How­ev­er, I’m afraid my exam­ple did not escape The Key­board Prob­lem — 100% key­board fail­ure thanks to decom­pos­ing foam used in pre-1984 machines. After the near-spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence of its first boot-up, I was only able to acti­vate a sin­gle key when prompt­ed by DOS (2.12, I’m assum­ing) to enter the cur­rent date — the num­ber 5. This is by far the most com­mon ail­ment among Portable buys, and it was far from unex­pect­ed. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, my com­plete lack of per­son­al work­space at the moment will like­ly prove to be the most stub­born obsta­cle to restor­ing func­tion to the key­board for longer than I’d like, but I’ve been able to main­tain sound patience. (Also, nobody seems to know what a “punch” is? Maybe I’m mis­at­tribut­ing the term.)

Both the sheer vol­ume of obscure doc­u­men­ta­tion on the replace­ment of the foam and met­al con­tacts and the dif­fer­ences between each restorer’s approach is quite aston­ish­ing — one claimed to find suc­cess using only mate­ri­als from a dol­lar store, which isn’t often said of com­put­er repair projects in 2018. Hack­a­day’s cov­er­age of the repair is care­ful­ly con­sid­ered and com­pre­hen­sive, and there’s more than enough dili­gent ref­er­ences avail­able to ren­der any detailed records of my own attempts a waste of time. My first chance to peek inside came while I was sur­round­ed by new Port­land friends in their com­mu­ni­ty house, who were all amus­ing­ly bewil­dered by my deci­sion to buy such an object. I broad­cast a boot-up on Periscope, as well as a longer attempt to elec­tro­cute myself and repli­cate a forum poster’s claimed typ­ing using only his fin­gers to con­duct the nec­es­sary cur­rent across the con­tacts. I sup­pose the bull­shit is obvi­ous, but I was more than will­ing to sac­ri­fice my life, as you’ll no doubt observe.

The key­board itself was ridicu­lous­ly well-fas­tened and overde­signed, and the first sight of the Portable’s inter­nal archi­tec­ture revealed by our removal of the main cov­er pan­el was a gen­uine­ly gasp-induc­ing expe­ri­ence. I’m cer­tain­ly not a well-expe­ri­enced and/or pro­fes­sion­al hard­ware per­son, but I’m com­pelled to note that I have nev­er seen elec­tron­ic hard­ware built this well — even in agri­cul­tur­al imple­ment appli­ca­tions, much less con­sumer-tar­get­ed prod­ucts. I com­plete­ly under­stand why retro elec­tron­ic nerds love these so much and I can only hope to soon chan­nel a suf­fi­cient imi­ta­tion of their dis­ci­pline to get the key­board func­tion­ing ful­ly.

The rot­ting foam is actu­al­ly quite dis­gust­ing.
Though the ABS main rear pan­el has obvi­ous­ly been removed before, the beau­ty of the Portable’s inter­nal machin­ing had me gasp­ing.