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Does anyone here own an AST Ascentia 950N?

3lectr1c

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The Ascentia 950N wasn't really well known at all until a few years back when The 8 Bit Guy called them out in his AST "Tales from tech support" video for being incredibly unreliable (over 100% RMA rate, overheating and battery failures). Despite this, I have been unable to find any other reliability issue or reports on people's experiences with this laptop, so I'm curious. There are a few YouTube videos showing these running, and those were all functional.
From what I've personally seen from examples on eBay, the hinge plastics are prone to breaking (which is hardly unique). Also, these have an internal NiMH hibernation battery that is right next to critical components. Due to the leak potential of those batteries, finding one now that is in an operable condition will likely be difficult, any other reliability issues aside.

One person on Vogons said that Mitac ODM'd these laptops, but the FCC ID leads back to AST, so I do believe that these were made in-house.

Anyone have/had one of these? They sound good on paper if you can find one working with a TFT screen.
 

Agent Orange

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As with any product there's going to be pros & cons. I used the 950N professionally from the early 90's until I retired in 2007. If I recall, it had a 486/25 (tripled). It's sole purpose in life was to run Motorola programming software for mobile, handheld, and fixed station radios. The software ran under Windows 3.1 and there was never a glitch. Eventually, the Motorola specific software shifted to NT and the 950 ran that with no problems.

Contrary to what some have stated as to the 950 being somewhat flimsy, I couldn't disagree more. I never had a problem with the hinge or any other part of the plastic case. The 950 used to travel in the back of my van or Tahoe in a standard laptop case that it came with, and was bounced around plenty. On one instance, during a callout to Sault Ste. Marie, MI in January, with ambient temps at -40 F, yes -40 F, it froze up while in use and had to be thawed out and then still performed its yeoman duties perfectly.

Upon my retirement, the 950 was offered to me as it was stricken from the inventory and the federal bar code was removed. I didn't take it and I now regret it. I do have another AST which is similar and runs W2K. I picked this one up some years back and have never really used it. It came from a company in Chicago and it was never used there. It still has the original bill of sale, about $2000 or so. I've got nothing but good things to say about AST, but I understand that maybe I have have just been lucky. I do know that while I was working, others in the field had the same 950 and never had any major problems.
 
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3lectr1c

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I do wonder if perhaps they fixed a lot of the production issues causing failures and eventually given the extremely high RMA rate, most units today will be ones with many of the problems fixed. That doesn't make them immune to modern laptop issues, but could make them viable if you got the NiMH clock/hibernate battery out and then kept the case together.

It's nice to hear that you had a good experience with one.
 

Agent Orange

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I do wonder if perhaps they fixed a lot of the production issues causing failures and eventually given the extremely high RMA rate, most units today will be ones with many of the problems fixed. That doesn't make them immune to modern laptop issues, but could make them viable if you got the NiMH clock/hibernate battery out and then kept the case together.

It's nice to hear that you had a good experience with one.
Just to add, the battery was never an issue. It normally set on a bench in the shop plugged in and charged. Programming radios only took a few minutes, so the battery was never stressed. I don't remember ever replacing the the laptop battery. Again, just lucky?
 

3lectr1c

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If the battery issue was as 8 Bit Guy described, they’d overheat to the point that stuff would start getting smoky and melted. Wouldn’t surprise me if they recalled the affected units because of that.
9:30 into this video is when he talks about it:

And just to clarify an earlier point - the batteries that were apparently dangerous were the main batteries, when I mention removing the NiMH hibernate battery today, I’m speaking of the secondary green backup battery inside the machine that leaks.
 

Agent Orange

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110% is a lot of returns. This guy claims to have worked for customer service? I wonder if he left with an axe to grind? Having worked in the field for over 40 years with the feds, I've seen and used a lots of PC's and portable hardware - first I've ever heard about this or and other laptop for that matter having problems of that magnitude. Personally, I don't put much stock in that video. Why not source one and see for yourself?
 

onre

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110% is a lot of returns. This guy claims to have worked for customer service? I wonder if he left with an axe to grind? Having worked in the field for over 40 years with the feds, I've seen and used a lots of PC's and portable hardware - first I've ever heard about this or and other laptop for that matter having problems of that magnitude. Personally, I don't put much stock in that video. Why not source one and see for yourself?
Exactly. This sort of hyperbole is done to get more viewers and is part of the style of the presenter.
 

3lectr1c

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I disagree. This video was an upload of a talk he did at a gaming expo, and he doesn’t really sensationalize things in his content. If you watch the whole video, I don’t think you’ll walk away thinking he hated the company. He criticized how the company was run (leading it to bankruptcy) and praised it for how well they treated their customer service reps. I have no real reason to doubt his statistic based on that.

On sourcing one to see for myself - I’d LOVE to do that, problem is that they’re kind of rare, usually come up in poor condition, and they have that NiMH battery that leaks so finding an intact one is gonna be really tough.
 

Agent Orange

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I disagree. This video was an upload of a talk he did at a gaming expo, and he doesn’t really sensationalize things in his content. If you watch the whole video, I don’t think you’ll walk away thinking he hated the company. He criticized how the company was run (leading it to bankruptcy) and praised it for how well they treated their customer service reps. I have no real reason to doubt his statistic based on that.

On sourcing one to see for myself - I’d LOVE to do that, problem is that they’re kind of rare, usually come up in poor condition, and they have that NiMH battery that leaks so finding an intact one is gonna be really tough.
I see your point, but looking back our office/shop would get most of the computer related newsprint, etc. I just don't remember anyone taking AST to task for putting out a crippled product. Maybe they had some major battery issues, but so did a lot of others. I never saw one go up in flames, only heard tales of such and still do occasionally. I maintain that 110% return is pretty far fetched.
 

3lectr1c

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Always possible that the number is wrong. I don't exactly doubt it, I'd expect that with such a faulty product, AST would have had to compensate for the failed units and replace them all, probably with ones that fixed the manufacturing defects causing the problems (assuming that the number is right). A very, very similar thing happened with the Apple PowerBook 5300. The initial shipping units were god-awful and failed rampantly, but you can still find them working very easily today because Apple fixed the issues and had a large-scale extended service program, and the units that came back from that program were solid. Wouldn't be surprised if AST did a similar thing, but I'd need to find data on that.
Seems there are (or were) plenty of working units out there just a few years ago, but as the NiMH clock batteries (not made by VARTA in this model seemingly) keep going off, that number is going to shrink. The most recent examples of working 950Ns I've found are 4 years old.
20 years seems to be the time when those NiMH coin cells all start to leak, and by 25 years old it really starts to become a problem. Once you approach 30 years old, it starts to become really, really difficult to find laptops that put them close to the motherboard still working. Past 30 we really have no data because 93/94 is around the time when these batteries started switching to NiMH away from NiCad chemistry. NiCads leak too, can be just as bad, but they don't seem to leak AS badly all the time as I've seen the NiMH ones do. This is all coming from the data I've seen, there could always be exceptions (and I hope there are, I don't want to see all these laptops go extinct!). 950N is currently between 25-30 years. I hope I can find one before it gets too late, but it may already be.
 
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Agent Orange

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Always possible that the number is wrong. I don't exactly doubt it, I'd expect that with such a faulty product, AST would have had to compensate for the failed units and replace them all, probably with ones that fixed the manufacturing defects causing the problems (assuming that the number is right). A very, very similar thing happened with the Apple PowerBook 5300. The initial shipping units were god-awful and failed rampantly, but you can still find them working very easily today because Apple fixed the issues and had a large-scale extended service program, and the units that came back from that program were solid. Wouldn't be surprised if AST did a similar thing, but I'd need to find data on that.
Seems there are (or were) plenty of working units out there just a few years ago, but as the NiMH clock batteries (not made by VARTA in this model seemingly) keep going off, that number is going to shrink. The most recent examples of working 950Ns I've found are 4 years old.
20 years seems to be the time when those NiMH coin cells all start to leak, and by 25 years old it really starts to become a problem. Once you approach 30 years old, it starts to become really, really difficult to find laptops that put them close to the motherboard still working. Past 30 we really have no data because 93/94 is around the time when these batteries started switching to NiMH away from NiCad chemistry. NiCads leak too, can be just as bad, but they don't seem to leak AS badly all the time as I've seen the NiMH ones do. This is all coming from the data I've seen, there could always be exceptions (and I hope there are, I don't want to see all these laptops go extinct!). 950N is currently between 25-30 years. I hope I can find one before it gets too late, but it may already be.
Really appreciate your input - very knowledgeable. Give me a few days and I'll retrieve my other AST laptop and see what's going with it, I haven't played with it in a year or two. Maybe I can get around to posting a picture or two.
 
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3lectr1c

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Really appreciate your input - very knowledgeable. Give me a few days and I retrieve my other AST laptop and see what's going with it, I haven't played with it in a year or two.
Thanks :)
I'm working on getting full documentation (specs, common faults, photos, any drivers or other resources) cooked up for this one to put up on my website. Just takes a lot of research, searching forums, and the wayback machine.
I'd certainly be interested in getting more info on your later one, which was probably one of the last made. I currently have a small bit of knowledge on the 800 and 900 series, the J Series, and the P Series. There were also A and M series Ascentias, which I believe were the last ones, and either one of the two or both were rebadged Samsung laptops, as Samsung bought out AST after they started not doing so well.

There were also some AST Bravo and Advantage laptops (which were normally names of their desktop computers) but I know less on those. I do know that Dell rebadged one of the Bravo laptops and sold it as a Latitude, or maybe both AST and Dell both sourced them from an ODM, not sure yet.

There's some internal shots of the 950N that shows that green battery here. I know for sure they leak just like the Vartas do, I've seen a 910N on eBay (486 version of the 950N) that was full of corrosion, right around the area that battery is in...
 

lolo799

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There were also some AST Bravo and Advantage laptops (which were normally names of their desktop computers) but I know less on those. I do know that Dell rebadged one of the Bravo laptops and sold it as a Latitude, or maybe both AST and Dell both sourced them from an ODM, not sure yet.
I have the Ascentia 700N, known in some countries as the Bravo NB/Advantage Explorer. The same model was also sold by Dell and Siemens-Nixdorf.
 

DeltaDon

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I don't know anything regarding the AST Ascentia 950N. I'll start with that. I do have a stack of stored AST Ascentia A laptops I purchased a long time ago thinking I'd try to support them with my laptop business. IIRC, they all state on the label "Made in the USA", which is interesting since other than the case color they are the exact same laptop as the Samsung Sens 500 which were, of course, made in S. Korea. So my point is that labels can be misleading.
 

Agent Orange

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My laptop is an AST Ascentia Series A. It was made in 1995 and has W2K presently installed and runs okay. The original sales slip say $1995 plus about $180 for tax and some extras. Compared to the 950N it's a 'plain jane' laptop - no frills. I did take some photos and as some as I can get them off of my Apple iPhone (11) I'll post them but there's really nothing exciting about this unit. I did put a new (old) battery in a few years back but it now dead and won't charge. Note that there wasn't any Y2K issues with this model.
 

3lectr1c

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I don't know anything regarding the AST Ascentia 950N. I'll start with that. I do have a stack of stored AST Ascentia A laptops I purchased a long time ago thinking I'd try to support them with my laptop business. IIRC, they all state on the label "Made in the USA", which is interesting since other than the case color they are the exact same laptop as the Samsung Sens 500 which were, of course, made in S. Korea. So my point is that labels can be misleading.
Since Samsung bought AST (it wasn't just an ODM situation), my guess would be that Samsung took over AST's US factories and set them up to start making them.
 

Agent Orange

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Well, back then I wasn't "buying" laptops as they were provided by my employer. So, if ever it didn't work, I would get a new one. I never had a personal laptop until way after I retired in 2007. I really didn't see a need as the net hadn't come into its own yet. I was still doing news groups and sites on Mindspring dialup. Now, the thing somehow got attached to my lap.
 

igseries88

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The Ascentia 950N wasn't really well known at all until a few years back when The 8 Bit Guy called them out in his AST "Tales from tech support" video for being incredibly unreliable (over 100% RMA rate, overheating and battery failures). Despite this, I have been unable to find any other reliability issue or reports on people's experiences with this laptop, so I'm curious. There are a few YouTube videos showing these running, and those were all functional.
From what I've personally seen from examples on eBay, the hinge plastics are prone to breaking (which is hardly unique). Also, these have an internal NiMH hibernation battery that is right next to critical components. Due to the leak potential of those batteries, finding one now that is in an operable condition will likely be difficult, any other reliability issues aside.

One person on Vogons said that Mitac ODM'd these laptops, but the FCC ID leads back to AST, so I do believe that these were made in-house.

Anyone have/had one of these? They sound good on paper if you can find one working with a TFT screen.
I found this thread from google. I have an Ascentia 950N including the User's manual.
It boots to the error "No available extended memory was found. XMS driver not installed." and drops you into a DOS prompt.

The machine belonged to one of my grandparents but looking around the files it looks like they never made any user files so maybe never really used it.

I was going to recycle the machine, I'm not sure why Ive kept it this long. I was surprised to find a recent forum thread about this exact machine. Is there somewhere I can donate it if people still want these older machines?

Edit: I don't know how to tell if it has a TFT screen or not.
 
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