LGR – Strangest Computer Designs of the ’80s

[typing] The 1980s. The decade of the microcomputer explosion. And although just about any home
computer could have been seen as somewhat unique for the time, there were countless standout machines designed to snatch up every
morsel of this new market. So, let’s take a look at a bunch of
computers that stand out for their weirdness, in regards to overall look, usability and specifications alike. Starting with the Holborn 9100. Introduced in 1981 in the Netherlands, the Holborn 9000 series of computers have some of the most
unique case designs around, with its monochrome monitor
protruding from the top of the keyboard case like an alien head. Several models also featured a proprietary
multi-user Holborn operating system that could be navigated by
touching a light pen to the screen, as well as housing its processor, RAM, and multiple 8-inch floppy
drives in a massive box in a convenient size of a small refrigerator. The ACT Apricot Portable. Not only does the Apricot
have an appetizing name and still looks sleek and stylish today, but it was host to a number
of standout features in 1984. The detachable, slimline
keyboard connected wirelessly, its screen was the first 80-column,
25-line LCD of its type on a portable, and it featured the brand-new
double-sided 3½-inch disk drive from Sony for removable storage. And to top it off,
there was a built-in microphone with speech recognition software allowing users to input and output
information using a vocabulary of up to 4,096 words. Applied Technologies Computer-In-A-Book From the company most famous for the
MicroBee computer systems in Australia, the Computer-In-A-Book is pretty
much exactly what it sounds like. Except for the whole book part. Sort of. This was actually just a MicroBee 64 from 1983, but repackaged in a clever
series of expandable “volumes” meant to mimic the look of
computer manuals of the day. Volume 1 contained the main
computer and a 3½-inch floppy drive, Volume 2 would give you a secondary drive, and so on – up to four different volumes. But problems arose when people actually
set up the computers in a bookshelf, resulting in the power supply
overheating and killing it. The Coleco ADAM. While Coleco was known for Cabbage Patch
Kids and video game consoles alike, they infamously dipped their
toes in microcomputer waters in 1983 with the ADAM. But it was plagued with problems. Such as, unless the printer was plugged in, the ADAM wouldn’t start, since the computer’s power
supply was contained inside it. Even worse, any tapes left inside
or near its dual cassette drives would be wiped clean every time you turned it on due to an electromagnetic surge generated. The ADAM ended up costing
Coleco tens of millions of dollars and they stopped making computers soon after. The Unisys ICON. Originally designed by the Canadian
Educational Microprocessor Corporation, the ICON was a workstation introduced in 1983. Since they didn’t feature any local storage, up to 20 ICONs could address a central 10 MB server known as the LexICON. This allowed teachers and classrooms to share
lessons and communicate with each other by running the Unix-like QNX
operating system it contained. The ICON also had the ability to run a
graphical user interface on top of QNX, known as ICONLook, which gave its huge built-in trackball
and keyboard something useful to do. The Seiko UC-2000. In 1984, the term “smartwatch”
was nowhere to be found, but that didn’t stop Seiko from debuting the
UC-2000 Data Terminal Watch that year. This stylish beast featured a 4-by-10
block dot matrix-style LCD display and stored two whole kilobytes of data, typed in using a QWERTY keyboard attachment. And for more serious computing power, you could attach it to the UC-2200 Docking Station, providing a thermal printer, 4K of RAM, and a 26K ROM via a plug-in
Microsoft BASIC ROM pack. And you could even play games and plug it
into your desktop computer when you were done! The Microwriter. This one isn’t exactly a
computer, but it’s kinda close, and it’s so strange I had to mention it. The Microwriter is a word
processing system from 1980, co-designed by author and director Cy Enfield. This housed an 8-bit CPU, 16K of RAM, a liquid crystal display, built-in software and had a keyboard with only six keys. But with the correct combination of key presses, it was possible to enter every letter of the alphabet along with numerals and punctuation marks using only your right hand. You could even plug in a monitor, communicate with networks with an acoustic modem, and attach a data set to it to save your work. The IBM PCjr. Probably the most well-known computer on this list, but the IBM PCjr, nevertheless,
is one strange little thing worth mentioning. Not only because it proved to
be one of IBM’s biggest flops, but because it remained the
only IBM PC-compatible machine to have used these cartridges
for games and software. But these carts didn’t store enough
information for many programs, and expansion options for the
machine were limited and a bit costly, requiring users to install sidecars to the… side… for anything from RAM to parallel ports, extending the computer horizontally, to infinity and beyond. The Access Computer. Released in 1982 and re-released
as the Actrix DS in ’83, this one of the earlier attempts to
appeal to both CPM and IBM PC users with a single portable computer. Its all-in-one design crammed
a Zilog Z80 processor, an optional Intel 8088, 20MB hard disk, 256K RAM, dual 5¼-inch floppy drives, detachable keyboard,
9-inch monochrome monitor, and even a built-in acoustic modem
and 24-pin dot matrix printer on top. Fully decked out, this weighed about 40 pounds, and barely fit anyone’s definition of
portable, transportable, luggable– It didn’t matter. Nobody wanted it! And finally, the Elwro 800. Released in 1986 by order of
the Polish Ministry of Education, the Elwro 800 series of computers were meant to be cheap Sinclair
ZX Spectrum compatibles appropriate for use in Poland’s schools. The idea itself is pretty standard for the time period but aside from using a unique
version of the CPM operating system, known as CPJ, the case design is really what sets this thing apart. You see that wire on top of the case? That’s because this was originally a toy piano, and that wire was meant to be folded upward to hold sheet music. And that’s all for this episode and if you enjoyed it, then thanks! Perhaps you’d like to see some of my others. I’ve talked about some super-strange computers from the ’90s and 2000s as well, and you can click those here, or stay tuned. There’s new videos every
Monday and Friday here on LGR. And as always, thank you very much for watching.

16 comments on “LGR – Strangest Computer Designs of the ’80s”

  1. Mash Rien says:

    Went from the PCJR to a Zenith EazyPC, and was lucky enough to get the one with a 20mb hdd AND the 128kb expander module for a whopping 640kb.
    Learned to program on that thing.. when I was 7.

  2. a e s t h e t i c says:

    The Holborn looks like Spongebob’s alarm clock or a submarine lookout, lol

  3. Cookie__XD says:

    the last one was sooo unexpected!!

  4. Mark Penrice says:

    The Holborn 9100… ah yes, enslaved semiconduction.

  5. HatchmontGames says:

    Si en field sounds familiar

  6. yoghass says:

    My father used to work in ELWRO in the '80. I was so surprised to see one of their products here!

  7. Kelly Yeomans says:


  8. John Mack says:

    fun fact. QNX is what powers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which is owned by Blackberry.

  9. Putu Merta Yasa says:

    The holborn and elwro looks like they're straight from fallout

    Oh, it's the other way around isn't it? 😂

  10. Noodles says:

    0:34 Peggy hill wants her computer back

  11. Tamia M says:

    Yeaaah! Playing on the Icon computers in elementary school piqued my interest in computers and technology. Great to see them on here! Such a shame all the hardware and lots of the software was lost.

  12. Shawn Westbrook says:

    I love the unisys ICON, I currently have 3 of the terminals and 1 lexicon unit. one of the machines I have I think is the exact one shown in this video!

  13. Mathy Don says:

    the Coleco Atom kinda looks like a Hulk™ed-out classic 8bit NES™

  14. shambler says:

    We used Unisys Icons when I was in junior high. I'm not that old (under 40). Those beasts were awful.

  15. 231mac says:

    That Seiko attachment would've caused instant ostracization for any wearer. Just wow…

  16. Melchiah Nozgoth says:

    Holdborn …. It looks like the comps in fallout

  17. Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg says:

    0:09 I had this exact PC-XT borrowed from a friend for a few weeks. 1990 or 1991. It was way obsolete at this point, but i was glad i had any access to a PC at all, even if only temporary. My own 286 came a littlebit later. The XT didn't have a harddrive, and didn't have 3,5'' floppy either. It had just two 5.25'' floppy drives, DD of course, so only 360KB capacity. One drive was used to boot the system and contained the most important external DOS commands (each external DOS commands was basically a program in its own. Internal DOS commands were part of command.com, and were loaded upon booting). I also crammed a norton commander clone (Volkov commander) in there. The first disk had to stay in the drive all the time. Diskettes from the second drive could be swapped and i used them for programs like text editors etc. I even tried few games, but the green/black monochrome monitor with hercules graphics card wasn't exactly cooperative. I could run the first Test Drive game, got into the car selection screen, but no further. No games worked there. Oooh the nostalgia… The good ole 8 and 16-bit times…

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