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Naked at 30: Osborne 1 stripped to its chips

He ain't heavy. He's my TV typewriter

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Photos The Osborne 1 – the first mass-market portable computer – turns 30 years old this month. And what better way to celebrate than by tearing one apart?

One problem: I couldn't get my hands on an original Osborne 1. But I was able to tear into the next best thing: the slightly remodeled follow-on to the original, also known as the Orborne 1, but sporting a different case.

Osborne 1, second version - logic-board label

Created in 1981, when seeing "Made in U.S.A." on a logic board wasn't surprising (click to enlarge)

The original Osborne 1 was a tan-and-black affair with its keyboard latches on the sides and its keyboard connected to the main body with a ribbon cable. The follow-on was a light gray-and-blue unit with keyboard latches on the top and the keyboard hooked up by means of a coil cord.

There were a few other physical changes as well. But the guts of the two models were essentially identical.

Osborne 1, second version - front

You could choose to either detach the keyboard (shown) or use it to prop up the case (click to enlarge)

When lugging the beast the few blocks from The Reg's downtown San Francisco office to my car for its trip to my photo studio, I gained a new respect for the computing pioneers who had to lug this hefty beast on their daily commute: its too-small handle dug into my hand – well, both hands, actually, as I had to shift it from hand to hand as my arms grew tired.

Macintosh portable, 11.6-inch MacBook Air, Osborne 1 (second version)

Thirty years of progress: the Osborne 1, 1989's Macintosh Portable, and an 11.6-inch MacBook Air (click to enlarge)

Osborne 1, second version - bottom

The manufacturer's name graces the bottom of the Osborne 1's case (click to enlarge)

Compare, if you will, the Osborne 1's 24.5 pounds with the 11-inch MacBook Air's 2.3 pounds. Also note that the Air's display provides about four times the screen real estate than does the Osborne 1's five-inch CRT. Finally, remember that the big fellow cost $1,795 when new - that'd be $4,349 (£2,669) today. The MacBook Air lists for $999.

Osborne 1, second version - vent

A slide-open vent enables convection cooling for the fanless Osborne 1 (click to enlarge)

There is one thing that the Osborne 1 and the MacBook Air do have in common, however: the lack of a cooling fan. But then again, a 4MHz Z80 running at about one watt of power didn't exactly turn the capacious innards of the Osborne 1 into an Easy-Bake oven.

Speaking of capacious innards, let's open up the Osborne 1 and take a look inside.

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