Thursday, August 03, 2006

ZDS SuperSport "Laptop"

Manufacturer: Zenith
Model: ZWL-184 SuperSport
CPU: 8MHz 8086
(With 8087 Upgrade)
RAM: 640kB
Release Date: Mid 1980's

Shown attached to my cordless phone via acoutstic coupler. Is this the oldest computer to have "Wireless Internet?"

Zenith Data Systems released the 8086-based "SuperSport" in the mid 1980's. I honestly don't know what date it was manufactured, or what year exactly. Much like the Mac Wallstreet, I've owned 3 of these. The first one was my first laptop as a sophomore in high school. Again, it was significantly dated by the time I got it. The original one had only a pair of 720k floppy drives and no hard drive. I used Telemate to connect to BBS's with the built-in 2400-baud modem, and LotusWorks for almost everything else. LWorks is a DOS word processor with spell check, a spreadsheet app, and communications suite all in one. I paired it with my OkiData ML182 printer to run my papers for class. The huge battery which snapped onto the back and weighed more than the laptop itself would net me more than 6 hours of run time if I left the screen brightness turned down. I took notes in all my classes with this thing.

It can play some old DOS games (MS Flight Sim 4.0, California Games, Test Drive etc) but now it shines as a serial console for routers and my "headless" UNIX servers. To do this, I break out the venerable Telemate, which is a blast from the 90's, my favorite DOS-based terminal emulator. Once connected to one of my UNIX boxes, I can use it just like I'm running text-mode UNIX on it. It also comes in handy in a pinch if I need to make some tweaks to my router. Just hook up the serial cable and go to town.

Below, there are some more screen shots (sorry about the crappy quality). One is of me surfing DIGG with links. The other is me connected to my NetScreen router/firewall.

The Zenith shipped with a custom version of DOS, and at the heart of it was an enhanced "MODE" program. In MS DOS, MODE can be used to control serial ports and whatnot, but Zenith's DOS "MODE" program controls power-saving features and can activate the on-board modem. I have a page of resources and more pictures of the SuperSport on this page. There's quite a story behind the SuperSports that I've got, but I won't get into that here.


Ben Century said...

Nice to finally find a blog that's somewhat parallel with mine! I came across one of these Zenith units about two years ago at a yard sale. It was the model with the two pop-up floppy drives. It worked, but I couldn't find a use for it.

I used to love BBSing and ran one for a short time. Fun times! Maybe I'll blog about it one day. My board is archived on a couple of CDs. I fired it up recently and re-lived some great memories.

I used to log onto BBSes using a Dos program called "Robocomm". Nowadays I've abandoned Robocomm for Telix when I do serial communications between PCs (if they're too old for Telix, I use Procomm).

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