Toshiba T1200 Laptop Computer


Toshiba T1200 system overview

Note: Where they are available, higher resolution versions of images on this page can be accessed by clicking on them.


Related Pages: System Documentation & Setup Software Utilities.

Toshiba T5200/200 Portable Computer.


Toshiba T1200 System Specification:

Manufacturer: Toshiba.

Model: T1200. (Internal model code PA7048UK W).

Launch date: 1987.

Production date of this machine: Early 1990.

Price at launch: $6,499 (Approx $16,500 or GBP13,300 as of April 2023).

CPU: OKI i80C86, clock speed switchable between 4.77 and 9.54MHz.  Socket present for 80C87 math co-processor.

Memory: 1Mb, expandable to maximum 2Mb via proprietary memory card.

Display: 9.75" backlit Supertwist monochrome LCD.  Electroluminescent backlight.  640*200 pixel resolution, emulated as a standard CGA display.  Blue on white display.

Storage: 20Mb (JVC JD3824) hard disk drive.  3.5" Double Density (720K) floppy disk.

Expansion: 1x proprietary Toshiba system bus expansion slot.  Optional modem slot.

External ports: Monochrome Composite video.  Colour CGA video.  9-pin RS-232 serial port.  Standard parallel port.  External floppy drive port.  Proprietary numeric keypad connector. DC input.

Power requirements: 12V DC.  Centre positive barrel jack, 2.2A (26.4W) max.  Removable 7.2V 2.2Ah NiCd battery pack (Part no PA7491U).

Weight: 5.2Kg (11.4 pounds).


Note on model number disambiguation:

There are actually four versions of the T1200, all just badged as T1200 on the lid.  For clarity these are listed below:

T1200F (Model code PA7044U).  Twin floppy drives, reflective display, no hard drive.

T1200FB (Model code PA7044UW).  Twin floppy drives, backlit display, no hard drive.

T1200H (Model code PA7048U).  Single floppy drive, 20M hard drive, reflective display.

T1200HB (Model code PA7048UW).  Single floppy drive, 20M hard drive, backlit display.  This is the version featured on this page.


This is another example of a system that I collected before I'd actually consciously started collecting old computers and technology.  Around 2000 give or take, I picked a T1200 up from a friend for a nominal sum, they really weren't worth anything back then as they were just "a really old computer" rather than anything which was widely seen as collectable.  Nevertheless, it proved to be quite a useful machine and was used for my classwork at school for a good year or two.  Proving to be far less hassle actually than the Pentium class machine which just about managed to grind its way through running a very creaky installation of Windows 95 that I'd been using previously.  Evidently from the files I found on the hard drive when it was resurrected a couple of years ago, it did follow me into the first few months at least of university as well.

It was eventually packed away though when one day it refused to power up, probably around 2003.  Given I was quite busy around that time, it was subsequently forgotten about for a decade or so, as I imagine happened to many. 

Little did I realise at the time that the reason it was refusing to power up is that it was suffering from the first signs of a problem which affects basically ALL Toshiba machines from around this era today - leaking capacitors on the power board.  This leads me to a point where I feel it necessary to use bold text and bright colours to try to draw attention to a paragraph, as it's really, really important.


If you have just come across one of these machines - or any Toshiba of a similar vintage - PLEASE DO NOT PLUG IT IN! 

The leakage and failure of capacitors in the power supplies of these machines (which is due to old age, completely irrespective of amount of use the machine has or whether it worked when you last used it) is a problem which NEEDS to be repaired before power can safely be applied.  The fluid which leaks from the capacitors is both conductive and corrosive, so can cause leakage between adjacent components, and corrodes away printed circuit traces in the power supply. 

Applying power - even for a fraction of a second, and even without trying to actually power on the machine - very often causes CATASTROPHIC damage to both the power supply board itself and the entire computer.  I've got a T1200 here which literally has a hole blown in nearly every chip on the motherboard because the power supply sent unregulated 12V down the 3.3V and 5V supply rails. 

In most cases it is entirely possible to repair the power supply board and for the machine to be saved - IF it hasn't been plugged in while faulty.  If it's been plugged in though, at the very least it is likely to have fried several hard to replace semiconductors on the power supply itself, if not having nuked the whole system.  I have come across a couple of boards which were too badly corroded to be reasonably fixed, but that pales into complete insignificance compared to the number which have been blown up because they've been speculatively plugged in to see if the system worked before it was sold on eBay.  Almost invariably as "untested because I don't have the power supply."

If you've got one and want to restore or sell it - please don't plug it in or apply any power to the battery connector until someone who knows what they're doing has gone through the power supply circuit board.

Okay.  Shouting over.  It has to be said though - I wound up buying half a dozen machines before I found one that hadn't been blown up that I could simply repair.  They're rare enough these days without so many being essentially rendered scrap completely needlessly.


In the mid 80s Toshiba really were leaders in the field of mobile and portable computing with a lot of their obvious competitors scrambling to catch up.  Having basically invented the laptop form factor with the launch of the T1100 in 1985 and especially its upgraded version the T1100 Plus in 1986.

The overall package and form factor presented by the T1100 Plus was widely praised.  The T1200 followed hot on its heels in 1987, and landed with quite a splash.  While the machine compared to its predecessor was evolutionary rather than revolutionary, it presented a far more polished, more powerful and ultimately supremely useful package.  Which is probably why the T1200 wound up remaining in production well into 1990 despite by then its specification starting to look distinctly old hat on paper.

All of the building blocks were there for a really useful machine.

[] Proper 16-bit processor, fully compatible with IBM-PC software of the time.

[] Enough memory to run any general purpose software.

[] Swappable battery packs rather than entirely built in module as on the predecessors.  While the battery life on a single pack was cut down to an hour or two (the T1100 plus could run for an incredible 6-8 hours on a charge - in the mid 80s!), the ability to swap the battery pack out for one that had been pre-charged was largely seen as a worthy trade off. 

[] Highly readable, backlit display.

[] A built in hard disk drive to do away with the standard floppy disk juggling that came with virtually all portables of the time.

[] A high quality keyboard that lacked any major layout quirks often common to portable machines.

[] An optional internal modem.

[] Dimensions which left room to spare in a standard briefcase.

 

It was a potent package, and received almost universal praise from the trade press on launch.

Let's take a look at it shall we, maybe see if we can see for ourselves what all the fuss was about?

 

Toshiba T1200 front left general overview

 

 

Toshiba T1200 general system overview front right

 

My usual approach is to do a walk round of the machine, talking about notable features as we find them.  Starting from the front.

Where in the case of this machine there...isn't really anything to see!

 

Toshiba T1200 front view with case closed

 

Well, aside from the handle which folds out from underneath anyway.

 

Toshiba T1200 - detail of carry handle

 

The sides have a little more to show though.

 

Toshiba T1200 Right hand side overview

 

At the front there's the release latch for the display (mirrored on both sides of the machine), and towards the rear of the machine sits the 3.5" double density floppy drive.  Below that is a ventilation grill to help keep the hard disk cool (which has yellowed far more than any other bit of plastic on this machine annoyingly).  If this were one of the variants which came without a hard disk specified, there would be a second floppy drive there instead.

The rear of the machine is a bit busier with a fair amount going on.

 

Toshiba T1200 overview of rear of machine

 

 

Detailed look at the rear system ports on a Toshiba T1200

 

On the left there is a selection of six ports.  The top row consisting of a 9-pin CGA video output, a monochrome composite video output and a normal 25-pin parallel port.  The lower row consists of an equally standard 9-pin RS-232 compliant serial port, a distinctly not normal, in fact totally proprietary connector to hook up a numeric keypad, and a second 25-pin connector to accept an additional external floppy drive.  Which bearing in mind that there were plenty of machines still using 5.25" drives back then would have been a useful option to have available, especially for corporate buyers looking for compatibility with existing hardware and software as a pretty high priority.

Centrally you can see a blanking plate labelled "LINE" - if this machine had been fitted with the optional modem there would either be a flying lead emerging from that area or an RJ11 jack to attach a phone lead (I've seen both arrangements).  However as this machine doesn't have the modem fitted, the blanking plate is still in place.

Immediately to the left of that, there's the lever to release the battery (which is pretty self explanatory).  The large silver metal plate to the lower right covers the expansion card bay.  I've no idea how many peripherals there were made that used Toshiba's proprietary expansion bus connector, but given how popular their machines were I imagine there must have been a reasonable selection out there.  At the top right there is the DC input jack and power switches.  Yes, there are two.

 

Detail of power input jack and switches on a Toshiba T1200

 

The one towards the right of the machine switches the machine on or off as you would expect - though it's worth noting that this is a software control rather than something which immediately kills power to the whole lot when you turn it off.  This is quite important because of the fact that this machine has the ability to hibernate in a way we're more used to seeing on modern laptops that we'll go into in more detail later.  The DC in jack in the centre is pretty obviously just that.  The polarity is the conventional centre positive with the barrel as ground, though the centre pin is quite thick so finding an appropriate socket if you're making a power supply lead from random bits of equipment you have laying around (like I was) might require a bit of hunting.  The little switch labelled "HDD" towards frame left though requires a little more explanation.

I've touched on the fact that this machine has some pretty clever (to be honest, pretty incredible if I'm honest) power management features for 1987 already.  One of these is that the power management system has some control authority over the operation of the hard disk.  Unfortunately something that it doesn't have is the ability to automatically spin the drive down...though it does have the ability to request it to start up.  So if you're looking to conserve battery life, if you were operating with a program which operates primarily either in RAM or only accesses the floppy drive, you could manually flick the HDD switch to off to spin down the drive and save you some battery power.  Even once you select "on" at the switch again, the drive will not immediately spin back up, instead waiting until the system actually needs to read or write data to the drive.  It sounds very basic by today's standards, but that was pretty high tech for the day.  I don't personally know what the first laptop to incorporate full automated spin up/down power management features was or when it was made, but I'd be curious to know.

While we're still at the rear of the machine let's take a moment to talk about the battery pack.  The immediate predecessors to the T1200 had internal battery packs, offering really quite extraordinary operating times.  However they had the drawback of the pack being internal, so if it was flat when you needed the machine to be mobile you were basically stuck until the battery had recharged - which took a good few hours with it being a NiCd pack...you can't fast charge those like the Li-ion battery in your phone!  With the T1200 Toshiba took what was quite a bold step in mounting the battery pack externally and making it easily user-swappable.

 

Toshiba T1200 with battery pack removed and sitting on machine

 

These packs didn't offer quite the same capacity as those internally fitted to the T1100 Plus as they contained six C-size cells, rather than the six D-size cells used by the earlier machine.  Being removable though does offer the advantage though of meaning that the user can bring more than one pack with them, charged and ready to go.

 

Detailed look at a Toshiba T1200 battery pack

 

Any battery pack inserted into the machine will automatically be charged whenever the machine is connected to mains power.  Though an external charger was also available as an accessory (part number PC5-PA7490U) back when these machines were in regular use.

A big step forward that came with some of the later machines Toshiba produced when they had scaled things down enough that they had room for not one, but two battery packs was the ability to hot-swap between a charged and discharged pack on the go.  I believe that the T1600 was the first machine to feature that ability, launched in 1989.  I'm sure when the T1200 was penned that they had the idea already firmly in mind, but there just wasn't the option to implement it without adding unacceptable bulk and weight to the machine (there really isn't much wasted space in this thing as you'll see later!).

Something I had noticed on a whole load of Toshiba portable computer battery packs right back into the 1990s and had never figured out the function of was these little switches.

 

Mystery switch on a Toshiba T1200 battery pack

 

 

Switch on a Toshiba T1200 battery pack

 

I had established years ago that it didn't actually seem to do anything...as far as I could fathom it had no impact on charging or operation of the pack.  I was even more confused when I first dismantled one of these packs to rebuild with modern cells to discover that it's not functional at all.  There are no contacts, it's just a little bit of plastic.  It took someone actually explaining it to me (I'm sure it's explained in the manual somewhere as well - though I didn't have a copy of that on hand at the time - and actually still don't have a copy of the user guide which would have shipped with the computer - if anyone has a copy either physically that I could scan or electronically I could upload here I'd love to get my hands on it) to figure out what they're for.  The switches are actually simply there to allow the user to flag whether a pack is charged or discharged.  Which made a huge amount of sense to me once it was explained - but was something which had eluded my understanding literally for a couple of decades.

As they say, every day is a school day!

So if you've got a Toshiba battery pack with a little switch with a red/white or red/black flag on it...now you know what it's for.

Moving around onto the left hand side of the machine there are a handful of controls towards the centre of the machine.

 

General overview of the left hand side of a Toshiba T1200

 

 

Detail of controls on left hand side of a Toshiba T1200

 

The reset control is obviously just that - it will soft-reset the machine if pressed.  The LCD contrast control is similarly self-explanatory, and is probably a control that you'll find yourself using quite regularly.  While the panel on this machine is exceptionally good from a sheer readability perspective, the characteristics of the panel do change quite noticeably with temperature so you usually will find yourself having to fine tune the contrast from time to time.

The little metal switch in the centre requires more explanation, and is entirely to do with how things are addressed when an external floppy drive is connected.  Under normal circumstances if you're not using one, it should be left in the "DIS" position, indicating that the internal drive (or drives) should be addressed normally.  That is that the top drive addressed as A: and the lower addressed as B:.

With the switch set to position A, the external floppy drive will appear to the system as drive A: and the internal drive will appear as drive B:.  With the switch in position B, as you may expect that behaviour is reversed.  If you have a T1200 with dual internal floppy drives, if this switch is set to either positions A or B, the LOWER of the two internal drives will be disabled.  So if you've got one where the lower drive doesn't seem to work, go check that switch before wasting time on a whole load of diagnostics.

 

Aside from the battery which we've already looked at, there's nothing else to directly interact with on the top surface of the machine.

 

Overview of a Toshiba T1200 from directly above

 

There is however one thing for you to observe, you may have noticed the indicator light towards the top left of the frame above.  This is an indicator for the power supply and charging system status.

 

Toshiba T1200 DC Input & Charging status LED

 

With the machine plugged in and the battery charging, it will show a solid red light.  Once the battery is fully charged this will change to green.  If the light alternates red/green this indicates a fault with the battery itself.  If there is a fault detected either with the supply itself (i.e. the voltage sagging too low if using a car charger or similar), or a fault has been detected in the power supply sub system itself, it will show a flashing red light.  This indicator isn't used to indicate a low battery condition to the user, that's handled by a separate light we'll see later.

Here's a more detailed look at the maker's and model branding from the top cover.

 

Toshiba maker's badge on the lid of a Toshiba T1200

 

 

Detail of the model number badging on the back of the display panel of a Toshiba T1200

 

The underside of the machine doesn't hold any real secrets aside from the machine's serial number and rating label.

 

Overview of underside of a Toshiba T1200

 

The only thing maybe of some note is the grounding screw attachment midway down the right hand side - this would have been used if you were using certain types of adaptor to connect to a telephone system.

Here's a closer look at the model label for those curious.

 

Detail of Toshiba T1200 model and serial number label

 

Setting the machine back right side up and opening the screen up for the first time you find yourself that aside from a rather extreme widescreen aspect ratio display, you're looking at something which looks surprisingly like...well...a laptop, albeit rather on the chunky side.  A lot of other portables from the late 80s would look far more alien to an average user of 2023 at first glance.

 

Overview of a Toshiba T1200 from the user's perspective

 

 

General overview of a Toshiba T1200 from the left with the display open

 

 

General overview of a Toshiba T1200 from the front right with the display open

 

As you'd expect the main thing you're presented with is a keyboard.  Unlike on a modern laptop, this makes use of full size, full travel desktop style keys.  In fact, it's a very high quality keyboard which uses mechanical Alps key switches, so is a joy to type on.  The actual keyboard layout doesn't hold any particular surprises either which again was by no means a given on portables in the 80s.

 

Detail of the keyboard layout (UK variant) on a Toshiba T1200

 

The left control key being where you'd generally expect caps lock to be these days is more a sign of the age of the machine rather than a peculiarity - and something that I personally wish had never changed.  I use control a lot, whereas have (deliberately) hit caps lock maybe half a dozen times in the last year.  Having control more tightly grouped among the main keys just makes more sense to me.  The function keys run from F1 to F10 rather than 12, as the original IBM PC which this shares its architecture with only had 10.

Above the keyboard to the right there's a panel containing the various status indicators.

 

Detail of system status LEDs on a Toshiba T1200

 

The only ones needing a little explanation are the CRT light, which lights amber when an external display is in use (it blanks the internal display), and the dual function of the light marked "Power/Speed."  When the machine is running at its usual 9.54MHz clock speed this is lit green, as in the photo above.  When the machine is operating in the lower, 4.77MHz clock speed (necessary for compatibility with certain older software) this lights red instead.  The clock speed can be switched at any time by pressing Fn (function) and the page up or page down keys to switch between high and low speed.

On a system not equipped with a hard disk the legends would be slightly different, with the disk in use lights being labelled A and B rather than A and C.

Directly above there sits another control not really needing any explanation, the brightness control for the display.  This doesn't actually affect the LCD panel itself at all, it just controls the backlight.

 

Display brightness control on a Toshiba T1200

 

The display makes up for the somewhat narrow viewing angle by virtue of the degree of adjustment available, right from a normal sort of angle to nearly horizontal to allow for use while standing at a desk.

This is approximately where it would sit during normal use.

 

Side profile of a Toshiba T1200 with the screen at a normal viewing angle

 

Though this is the screen folded fully back for standing use.

 

Toshiba T1200 side profile with screen folded fully back for standing use

 

Actually using the machine as you might imagine for something from 1987 is a little different to what we're used to today.  Aside I mean from the fact that the hard disk drive makes a frankly outrageously bizarre noise when you power the system on (or off) which would sound like a cheap, over-the-top sound effect in a sci-fi movie. 

Rather than immediately being dropped into a familiar looking Windows (or in my case Linux) desktop, you're instead left to fend for yourself at an MS-DOS prompt.  In my case I've customised this to show a little system summary screen at start up as with a lot of my DOS machines.  This is just a text file that it reads out during start up.

The usual disclaimer goes with the photographs of the display - the edges are not actually blurry!  That's simply due to the camera I'm taking the photos with having very poor depth of field for close up work, so I can have either the centre or edges of the screen in sharp focus, but not both.  The display is perfectly sharp throughout.  The dot at around the 10 o'clock position isn't a dead pixel...It's a spec of dirt that managed to get in between the display panel and the backlight when I was repairing it that I never noticed until I had the whole lot back together.  I've just never quite been able to summon the enthusiasm to take the whole display panel apart again to clean it out...

 

MS-DOS prompt screen on a Toshiba T1200 (with customised autoexec file)

 

Something which if you're used to DOS will immediately jump out at you here as looking odd however is the colours.  Generally a DOS prompt will show light text on a black field.  This display shows colours inverted - so black is white (well, light grey), and white is dark blue.  The blue-on-grey I actually find is quite visually pleasing to look at, and especially by the standards of the time is supremely easy to read, better demonstrated by a slightly busier screen here from Norton Sysinfo - which is basically just repeating what's shown above, but it's a good example of how DOS software using "pseudo-graphics" will tend to look.

 

Toshiba T1200 showing CheckIT summary screen on LCD display

 

Let's take a look at the performance offered shall we?

 

Toshiba T1200 showing CheckIT CPU Benchmark results screen

 

So not exactly a power house, even by the standards of 1987, but it's entirely capable of handling most normal computing tasks of the time.  Bearing in mind how compact and portable a machine this is though I think it's an extremely respectable result, especially when you keep in mind that the majority of the workload for a machine like this is likely to be document processing based rather than heavy duty graphical design work or anything like that.

 

Toshiba T1200 showing CheckIT hard disk drive benchmark result screen

 

The hard disk deserves a bit of a mention in itself as the one used in this machine is a bit of an oddity in a few ways.  For a start, it's not an IDE drive as you tend to see on more modern machines - however it's not an ST-506/MFM drive as you might expect on desktop machines of the 80s either, instead using an oddball 26-pin interface developed internally by JVC specifically for use in portable computers.  If you are clever enough with electronics to think you might be able to put together an interface yourself to allow use of a flash based solution like a CF card etc, here's the actual pin out...

1. Ground.

2. Read Data.

3. Ground.

4. Write Data.

5. Ground.

6. Reserved.

7. Drive Select/Power save.

8. Head parked confirmation.

9. Ground.

10. Read/write control signal.

11. Motor start signal.

12. Head select signal.

13. Step direction selection.

14. Step signal.

15. Write fault signal.

16. Seek complete signal.

17. Servo gate signal.

18. Index.

19. Track zero.

20. Drive ready signal.

21. Ground.

22. +5V.

23. Ground.

24. +5V.

25. Ground.

26. +12V.

It appears to be developed around a heavily modified version of the then-common ST-506 interface, but using TTL level signalling rather than differential pairs which would have been used on a desktop system, with other functionality integrated to better suit the laptop application.  The 26-pin connector in itself being a major optimisation, as the two sets of edge connectors you'd normally hook up an ST-506 drive with would be nearly as wide as this entire drive. 

There's also a 40Mb version of this drive out there which was used in the Toshiba T1600 which is of identical design, just with four rather than two platters.

It's worth noting that back at this point in time, 5.25" half height drives were still very common, and 3.5" hard drives were still considered pretty high tech - JVC managing to cram a 20Mb drive into a package the same size as a floppy drive, including optimisations for use in a portable machine such as self-parking heads and rubber shock isolation built into the mounting hardware was quite an achievement.  This is what the drive looks like as supplied by JVC in its protective cage.

 

JVC JD3824 hard disk drive in its factory provided protective cage.  This unit was fitted to a Toshiba T1200

 

With the cage removed it looks suspiciously like any other 3.5" drive...from about 10 years later!

 

JVC JD3824 hard disk drive with protective cage removed

 

The little blue things on the corner are the rubber shock absorbing bushes which sit between it and the protective cage.

Looking at the underside though reveals at least some indicators as to its actual age in the form of the large stepper motor to the top left of the photograph below.  This is what actually moves the read/write heads rather than the voice coil arrangement that newer drives used.  The 26-pin combined power and data connector is in the foreground.

 

JVC JD3824 hard disk drive with protective cage removed, underside

 

The relative lack of electronics present on the drive is further evidence of its far closer origins to an ST-506/MFM drive than IDE - with virtually all of the "smarts" being provided by the controller card in the computer rather than the drive itself.

Another oddity of this particular drive is the speed at which the spindle motor runs.  Virtually all old MFM drives run at 3600rpm, this essentially being what sets the largely standard rate at which data passes under the read-write heads  This drive however runs at 2600rpm, so the actual encoding on the disk itself must be somewhat different, or there's some quite advanced for the time translation taking place within the controller.  I'm afraid I don't understand the technical details behind this all well enough to really comment on that, other than knowing it's odd.

They are pretty rare drives though, so finding a replacement if you have a dead one is likely to be tricky.  Especially as the main reason you're likely to have trouble with one is that it's been sitting around so long that either the head actuator or spindle motors have seized up...and it's at best a roll of the dice as to whether a used replacement will be any better.  I have found one company who offer a modern emulated replacement though - these guys.  Their main market though appears to be industrial equipment etc which is reliant on old standard MFM hard drives or 8" floppy drives, so it's not the cheapest solution.  If you've got a machine with one of these drives that you really value though and don't have a working one however it might be worth considering.

It is worth noting though that the non-hard disk equipped T1200s did NOT come with the hard disk interface controller fitted - so you can't upgrade a floppy drive only T1200 to a hard disk equipped model just by installing a drive - you will need the controller as well.

One of the most obvious oddities to a user though of these drives is the quite peculiar noises they make.  Especially when the spindle motor is starting or stopping.  I've recorded a quick video to try to demonstrate this, which can be viewed on YouTube over here.

 

The expectation would have been that software on this machine would have run directly from MS-DOS, Windows really wouldn't have been expected to be involved.  Though that doesn't mean you can't run Windows of course...Versions up to 3.0 will run on an 8086 based computer like this just fine.  I've included photographs of how some of the inbuilt Windows programs look on this display purely for interest value.

 

Windows 3.0 startup splash screen shown on a Toshiba T1200

 

The display was really optimised for text based applications, and the lack of (particularly vertical) resolution does make Windows feel quite clunky.  That said, it is entirely usable.

 

Windows 3.0 Program Manager running on a Toshiba T1200

 

Windows 3.0 About dialogue on a Toshiba T1200

 

Though anyone who has complained that the File Manager program in Windows 3.1/3.11 is clunky has obviously never had to deal with its Windows 3.0 predecessor!

 

Microsoft Windows 3.0 File Manager running on a Toshiba T1200

 

Most of the other bundled applications in Windows 3.0 are pretty similar to their 3.1 successors.  Write in particular never really changed much from Windows 2.0 onwards.

 

Windows Write 3.0 running on a Toshiba T1200

 

Paintbrush looks a bit odd in inverted grey and blue and is a bit squashed due to the lack of vertical resolution, but is immediately recognisable.

 

Paintbrush for Windows 3.0 running on a Toshiba T1200

 

Solitaire requires a little more brain power to keep track of given the lack of colour!

 

Solitaire for Windows 3.0 running on a Toshiba T1200

 

The extreme widescreen aspect ratio makes the analogue version of the clock look particularly squished.

 

Clock for Windows 3.0 in Analogue mode running on a Toshiba T1200

 

The digital mode suffers rather less from this - though unlike on Windows 3.1 you cannot change the typeface on the Windows 3.0 version, this is all you get.

 

Windows Clock 3.0 Running in digital mode on a Toshiba T1200

 

Calculator is another program which has a compact enough footprint even in Scientific view that it doesn't run out of room, so aside from being inverted looks surprisingly normal in comparison to much other software.

 

Calculator for Windows 3.0 running on a Toshiba T1200

 

I have to admit that I was actually surprised with how well the machine handled running Windows.  While it was a little sluggish it was nowhere near as bad as I'd expected.  Realistically though, you were much more likely to be using it to run applications straight from DOS.  WordPerfect for example.

 

WordPerfect 5.1 running on a Toshiba T1200

 

I know what you're all asking though.  "Can it run games, mister?"

Of course it can!

 

Sim City Opening Screen on a Toshiba T1200

 

 

The original Sim City running on a Toshiba T1200

 

In fact I've lost quite a considerable number of hours playing Sim City on this very machine.  One of the things I was far happier to rediscover when I got it back up and running again than really makes any sense was the collection of my saved cities that I'd made during lunch breaks back during school and college.

Provided you didn't need colour to make the game playable and it would run on an IBM compatible of the time, it will likely be entirely playable on here.

 

Pakman running on a Toshbia T1200

 

If anyone would like to see any particular software, whether it be productivity or entertainment related running on this machine please let me know.  If I can find a copy of it and it will run I'm entirely happy to set it up and grab some photos for you.

 

So we've seen a bit of what it can do now.  How about we take a look at the hardware under the covers it uses to do this.  This actually is chronologically a bit backwards, as these were the first photos taken.  This computer was really quite grubby, so it was stripped down for a thorough clean before I started snapping photos for this page.  It gave me an ideal opportunity to get some internal photos though.

With the top cover and keyboard removed you can really see that there isn't much wasted space in there!

 

Toshiba T1200 with top cover removed - viewd from system left

 

 

Toshiba T1200 with top cover removed viewed from system right

 

There really wasn't much that they could do to shrink this down any further without making significant sacrifices on functionality.

The vast actual bulk is taken up with the battery pack, power supply and the drives as can be seen once they are stripped off just leaving the motherboard and associated PCBs in the case.

 

Toshiba T1200 with top cover and major assemblies removed viewed from the left

 

 

Toshiba T1200 with top cover and all major assemblies removed, viewed from right

 

 

Toshiba T1200 with top cover and all major assemblies removed, viewed from above

 

To try to demystify that a little, here's an annotated version of the above photo with all of the major system components (or at least most of them) labelled.

 

Toshiba T1200 Annotated System Board Comonent Diagram

 

A few specific components in there are worth a closer look I think.

Of course probably one of the most important being the beating heart of the beast...this 9.54MHz powerhouse of a CPU.

 

OKI M80C68A-2 CPU in a Toshiba T1200

 

If you're used to the CPU on modern systems being by far the biggest chip on the board and hidden under a gigantic heatsink this must look a bit odd to you...but yes, that is indeed the CPU!

The main system memory doesn't actually reside on the motherboard, but rather on this little separate PCB which connects by two flat flex cables.

 

Toshiba T1200 System memory board

 

The two versions of this card in either 1M or 2M variants simply seem to have either half or all of the chip positions on the other side populated.  I don't know if it would be possible to upgrade a card simply by installing the "missing" chips, but given the way memory management was done back around this time period it wouldn't surprise me if it was actually that simple.

On the opposite corner sits the hard disk controller card.  This card was only fitted to machines specified with a hard disk, or would have been purchased from Toshiba together with the drive as an upgrade kit.  It's worth remembering that most PCs of this period would not have had a hard disk controller built into the motherboard.  That job would have been done by a dedicated expansion card - which is what this card is doing - just in a package about 1/2 the size of a normal desktop example.

 

Toshiba T1200 hard disk controller card

 

The final major component of the machine is of course the display panel itself. 

 

Toshiba T1200 Display panel - front view

 

The LCD panel in this unit in its unpowered state takes on the deep cobalt blue colour seen on "dark" pixels, unlike a lot of LCDs which are clear in their unpowered state.

 

Toshiba T1200 display panel - rear view

 

Not a massive amount to say about the rear of the panel really - Mostly just row and column drivers and some power supply handling.  The display backlight is powered from a separate inverter which lives on the inside of the display panel lid (which I sadly forgot to snap a photograph of).

 

Overall the T1200 is a very well thought out and balanced machine.  It was never - even at the time - intended to be the most powerful thing ever.  Nor was it necessarily as small or light as it could have been, but it was a very carefully considered compromise which optimised how actually useful a machine it could be in the real world.  There's very good reason that the model achieved almost universal praise among the trade press and went on to become very popular.  It also ended up being quite a long lived model, with production running right through until late 1990 (this is based on historic catalogue information and documented production dates I've found over the years - if anyone has an actual confirmed end date for T1200 production I'd love to know).  Can you imagine that today?  A SINGLE laptop model remaining in production, unchanged for nearly four years?

The unit pictured here actually is still used on a fairly regular basis, even today in 2023.  In fact a fair chunk of the raw text you've just been reading on this web page (and several others on this website) was written on it in WordPerfect.  I find that with the thousand and one distractions present on modern computers (and software becoming increasingly insistent on how "helpful" it wants to be, successfully or otherwise), that it's often both pleasant and beneficial to my productivity to be able to just sit down at a system which provides exactly what I need.  A damned good keyboard, a word processor which does exactly what I tell it to and no more, a form factor that means I can use it anywhere I like, and absolutely zero unnecessary distractions.

It's something which harks back to a time when computers were very much a tool to get a task done - and were crafted very much with that in mind.  I think even with that in mind though, the T1200 really does hit a sweet spot.

 

As you can probably tell, this is very much on of my favourite computers out of the not inconsiderable number I own.  However is it one that I can recommend to other collectors?  Much as it pains me my initial response is...not really.  The simple reason is that they tend to have a number of issues stemming from both general old age and prolonged hibernation. 

[] Capacitor leakage.  I documented this pretty well back earlier on in this page.  This affects the power supply board most severely, but also on the display backlight inverter board.  This failure can also cause catastrophic damage to any and all system components if someone tries to power up the machine before it's repaired.

The corrosive nature of the leaked capacitor electrolyte can in many cases eat away at the surrounding traces, which given the complexity of the power supply PCB can make repair impossible for the average hobbyist.

[] Internal battery leakage.  The internal batteries used to provide the suspend-to-RAM capability, and the RTC battery are both NiCd rechargeable packs and can leak.  I've personally not had huge issues with them causing issues in T1200s - but the identical packs used in the T1000XE and T1600 seem to regularly cause major carnage, so I think there's just a huge element of luck there.

[] Display fade.  The actual LCD panel itself seems to degrade on some machines.  This affects to what extent the LCD will darken, reducing the available contrast.  In severe cases this can be clearly visible when the display is unpowered, as rather than an even deep blue colour, you will be able to see a more mottled appearance with the pinkish colour of the unlit backlight showing through as can be seen in the photograph below.  The failing display is shown at the top with a good example shown below.

 

Example of a failing LCD panel on a Toshiba T1200.  Failing display is shown at the top, a good example at the bottom

 

There's sadly nothing that can be done to repair this other than replacement of the display, and there doesn't seem to be any rhyme nor reason to which examples are affected and which aren't.  The failed panel there came from a machine which was otherwise immaculate and had clearly been well stored - however the lower panel (which is the one now in use in my running example) came from a donor unit which generally looked to have been stored at the bottom of a compost heap for a couple of decades and was otherwise a complete write off.

[] Hard disk drives.  These seem to be about as fond of long periods of disuse as most 80s hard disk drives...which means not at all.  Sometimes they come back around but I have found quite a few dead ones.  As these units were only used on a handful of models, most of which are even rarer than the T1200, finding replacements isn't easy.  Especially as any second hand one you buy is just going to be another roll of the dice as to whether it works or not.  At least there is at least one company making an adaptor now to allow use of an SD card - but it's not cheap.

Basically...expect to have to buy several machines and make one good one out of the parts.  I must have been five or six machines in before I eventually managed to get hold of a power supply board which was repairable.  This wasn't so bad when these were seen as worthless relics and could be picked up for 20 on a pretty routine basis - but as with all 80s memorabilia they seem to have become a lot more desirable in the last few years so bargains are now far harder to find.

The holy grail is obviously finding a working machine for sale with a good display and working hard disk...as you know in that case that it should really be a simple project to replace the failing capacitors, clean everything up and put it back together.  Those machines though are very few and far between, and usually command a hefty premium.  I do worry how many people buy them completely oblivious to the fact that even if they are working today, they will absolutely need to be overhauled or they will wind up as door stops...Whether that be a week, six months or a couple of years down the line it's impossible to say...but it will happen at some point.

Capacitor replacement isn't a horrendous job, I'd say budget two to four hours and a fair chunk of that is going to be actually getting the machine apart and reassembly if you've not done it before.  You may note that the job done on the power supply board of this example is a royal mess of a job.  It absolutely is, because there was a lot of corrosion on the PCB in this case and I had an absolute nightmare trying to get solder to take to anything.  So just making it work took priority over any semblance of tidiness.

However it's still a cracking little machine when working...so I guess I DO still recommended it - just make sure that if you're going out looking to pick one up that you're doing it very much with your eyes open to the potential pitfalls that you may well have to negotiate on the way to getting a usable machine in your hands.


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