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The Journey of the Laptop


Jul 8, 2004
Sit down and I'll tell ye of a fantastical tale all of which spent a year in the making, and resulted in 12 hours of work to achieve one final product.

I've wanted a laptop for awhile now. Nothing fancy or powerful, mind you, just enough to take notes and do some writing. Heck, even a 386 running Windows 3.0 would have made me most happy. During that year I was presented with a total of 3 laptops: 2 of which were DOA and one which worked for a total of 5 minutes before the keyboard stopped working.

Then yesterday while in Circuits Design/Computer Club class at my local college, I mentioned that I was looking for an old laptop to work with to anyone in the room, at which point my teacher said he would give me an old laptop that worked. I was so happy and excited! Just like a child before Christmas... The only other laptop I've been offered locally was a 386 for $40, and I have no funds whatsoever (this comes to play as the story progresses).

So I waited and came back to the college Friday morning (I have Friday's off) nice and early to meet up with him and he presented me a Compaq Contura Aero 4/25 with cordless power adapter. I got it working in class and tinkered with a bit, more than satisfied with my find, thanking the teacher repeatedly. I slipped the notebook into my backpack and hopped onto my Norco Screamer and beelined right to my house 4 miles away.

Once in my room I immediately proceeded to work. First thing; the power adapter. It took a specially-shaped cord to beable to plug into the 110V wall outlet, so instead of looking around or even buying one, I simply tore open the adapter and wired in my own cord with screw caps and lots of electrical tape. It works!

Next was the display. The right-side hinge had broken off inside of it, so I half-dissassembled the laptop to remove the entire hinge. Unfortunately, this was also the hinge that held the display in a sturdy semi-upright position when open, so now I had two problems: holding the corner steady as well as the display upright. To tackle the first problem, I realized that directly aligned with the now open hole in the corner of the display where the hinge sat was a rising of the plastic case, so quickly thinking, I drilled a hole into the case that lined up with the hole in the display, in which I inserted a hollow pen casing into a snug and perfect fit. Alas, my new hinge was born!

Next was to hold up the display while in the open position. Simply enough, I decided upon a simple string method - affixing a string to the corner of the display and another to the side of the laptop case, preventing further movement with tape.

Starting up the laptop after every successful repair to ensure functionability, I noticed on every occaision that the BIOS was not keeping it's settings. Suspect? A dead RTC battery. I quickly downloaded the laptop manual to locate the offending battery, long dead after it's decade of service, and proceeded to dissassemble the laptop, finding the little bugger. Deciding I didn't need to buy a new button battery at $6 a pop locally, I instead chose to wire in 2 AA batteries to provide the needed 3 volts, running wires from the empty battery socket along the inside of the notebook to the battery department. I slipped the taped-together AA's in with the existing (and also dead) laptop battery, taping the unit into one and placing it into the laptop. Another problem solved - keeps its settings, date and time. Woo!

And now to the real problem at hand: this laptop has no internal floppy drive. Floppy drive was an external PCMCIA unit... which I did not have. Bummer. DOS v6.0 and Windows 3.1 was already installed, but I couldn't do anything except delete old files left by the previous user on the 84MB hard drive and make new ones with the few programs in Windows.

But...! It did have Interlink installed.

Digging through my big box of wires I came upon my universal serial null-modem cable and installed DOS on a Pentium system of mine, quickly sopping together a simple Interlink server to connect to from the laptop. Within seconds I was flying at a blazing 9600 baud! The wonders of simple DOS networking...

While always backing up the changes I was making to the laptop, just incase (better safe than sorry, I always say), I eventually did fresh installs of DOS v6.22 and Windows 3.1 from the Interlink server's floppy drive onto the laptop. I finished off the entire process by configuring memory settings, security passwords, and finializing any settings left unchecked.

While the laptop itself is a bit ugly on the outside, bits of red and clear tape holding various things together, it works great, which is what's important! I can transfer files at home, use it at college or take it to my gaming events to take notes and keep track of players and characters, and all the while it just keeps chugging away.

Keep chugging, little laptop... you have a good home, now.

Next step, PCMCIA NIC! :twisted: