Sanyo MBC-775 – The first PC portable computer with color screen.


Hello. I’m currently on a road trip to pick up
an interesting piece of computer history. I got an email recently from a guy named Matt
who said he had acquired an early portable computer that has a color screen. So, I looked up the computer online and saw
that it came out in 1982. That struck me as very interesting since I’ve
always been told the Commodore SX-64 was the first portable with a color screen and that
came out around 1984, I believe. Matt lives in the small town of Brownwood,
TX, and I’ll be coming from Ft.Worth Texas. It’s a pretty long drive, so we agreed to
meet in the middle in a town called Stephenville, Tx. This is a bit of an interesting, or different
road trip for me because normally when I go on a road trip, I’m going down interstate
highways, and you know the speed limit is usually pretty constant around 70 miles per
hour or something like that. This is a rural highway, and so it’s kind
of weird because the speed limit is constantly changing between like 75 miles an hour and
like, I’m going like 30 right now as we’re passing through a small little city. So that’s kind of weird, but also I’m
driving an all-electric vehicle and since we’re away from the interstates, there’s
no charging stations or infrastructure out here anywhere. Which, shouldn’t be a huge problem because
I should have enough battery range to make the whole trip. I think it’s like 150 mile round trip that
I’m doing, so we should be okay. So, I met up with Matt at a little restaurant
and had lunch with him and, of course, took the computer and put it in my car. And of course now, I have it back at the studio. So, let’s take a look at it. In principle it’s designed similar to the
Compaq portable of the same era, with a carry handle on the back, and some fold out legs
on the front. OK, let’s move this thing around here. The keyboard is an interesting design since
the keyboard legs also double as the release mechanism. And there we are. The Sanyo MBC-775. And even the logo itself has the blue, green,
and red to let you know this machine has color. So, the keyboard is pretty yellowed, although
interestingly enough it’s mostly just the bezel. The actual keys themselves don’t look too
bad. Now, this does have a standard XT type layout,
you’ve got the function keys over to the left, there’s only 10 of them, and just
like an XT there’s no actual individual cursor keys. You’d have to use the ones on the number
pad. It’s also interesting that the bottom of
the keyboard isn’t yellowed at all, mostly just the top. As for this part of the computer, it’s hard
to say if this is the original color or not, but I doubt it. Now, I’m sure everyone is wondering if I’m
going to retrobrite it. But the answer is no. First of all, because this doesn’t actually
belong to me. Although, I’m sure Matt probably wouldn’t
mind if I were to retrobrite it for him. But also because I have to go back to Stephenville
this weekend to return this, so I just simply don’t have enough time. Let’s turn it around and check out the rear
features. We’ve got a door over here, which appears
to house expansion slots. It’s weird that two of them are shorter. We’ll figure out the meaning of this later
when we take it apart. This also appears to be some cracked plastic. And we’ve got another door down here. And we’ve got both a Digital RGB and composite
video output for external monitors. And over here are some adjustments for the
internal CRT. And lastly, over here is the power supply. I suspect this hole is for a power cable much
like the Compaq does. Of course, there is a plastic door that is
missing right here. In fact, you can see the little latch for
it here. So, I wanted to make a quick size comparison
to the Compaq Portable 1. The Sanyo unit is at least an inch taller
here. But it isn’t even the size I notice most
of all. It’s the weight. The compaq is by no means light coming in
at 28 pounds, but the Sanyo is a whopping 43.1 pounds, and I can definitely feel the
difference when carrying them. Well, let’s set this thing up. I’ll extend the bottom legs, and get a power
cord attached. And, let’s power it on! So, it shows it has 256K of RAM, and the floppy
drive light is on. However, it never actually gives any sort
of message such as to insert a boot disk. Anyway, I’ll insert a DOS disk, and it immediately
starts to boot DOS. So, we’ve got our A prompt. And there are two things I notice right away. For one, the picture is super sharp for a
computer of this era. The second thing I notice is the flickering
screen when scrolling. This is a telltale sign of the original CGA
design. Later cards managed to eliminate this flicker. Well, I hate to toot my own horn again, but
I’d like to play something and I don’t have a lot of software handy on 5 and a quarter
inch floppy disk that will run on 256K of RAM, so Planet X3 it is. By the way, these disk drives are an interesting
design. It’s surprisingly easy to line the disk
up for insertion, and the closing mechanism is also very easy to use. I like it. Let’s start Planet X3. And here we go, it is color CGA glory. I say that a bit sarcastically. In fact, this is one of the things I find
a little perplexing about this machine. While CGA technically has 16 colors, the graphics
modes usually only have 4. And to be honest, I usually find the games
more appealing on a monochrome monitor like the one in the Compaq. So, it’s weird that they went to the trouble
to design a color screen for CGA systems. My guess is they were probably thinking more
about the 16 color text modes at the time, and I don’t have any easy way to demonstrate
those at the moment. Of course, I can show you the warm CGA palette,
if that is more to your liking. So, doing a little research on this thing. I had initially found this listed on the Obsolete
Computer Museum’s website, with an introduction date of 1982. If this were true, it would mean this was
the first color portable, beating out the Commodore SX-64 by a couple of years. However, looking at this magazine article
in Creative Computing, of which this issue was released on August of 1985, it appears
the computer was just coming onto the market at this point. I also found it listed on this website, which
said it was released in 1984 and goes on to say the initial price was $2,599 or adjusted
for inflation that would be like $6,668 in today’s money. So, I think it’s safe to say the first website
was probably incorrect and thus the Commodore SX-64 remains the first portable with a color
screen. However, we can definitely say this is the
first IBM PC compatible portable computer that had a color screen. Some other interesting things to note from
the review in Creative Computing. The author praises the computer for the color
screen, and the fact it runs at 8 mhz, which is about 67% faster than my Compaq portable
1. However, the author has a few negative things
to say as well, for example the heavy weight of it. But the worst part, in my opinion, is that
he said they tried numerous IBM PC applications and found that the Sanyo could only run about
50% of them, this was everything from productivity software to video games. So I guess I’ll do some testing of my own. Let’s take this thing apart. It looks like there are just two screws, one
on each side, to release the top panel. And yep, that was it. So that was easy enough. But now where do we go? I do see the internal speaker here. Well, it looks like this shield here will
come off by simple loosening some screws, and then just sliding it off like so. I’ll just disconnect the speaker. And yeah, I see what appears to be 3 card
slots, and one of them is filled with a giant card of some sort. So, I removed this card and one of the things
I realized is that it isn’t just any ordinary card. It’s actually most of the motherboard. I say most because the card slots are still
on the bottom. Yep, there’s the 8088 CPU. And it has quite a few jumper wires on the
back. Ironically, the CGA card is integrated into
the bottom PCB. What I want to do next is install this XT-IDE
interface, which allows me to use a compact flash card as a hard drive. This will allow me to easily test many pieces
of software because it makes it easy to transfer data from a modern computer. And on that front, I have good news and bad
news. The good news is, the card’s internal BIOS
comes up on the screen and it recognizes the compact flash card. The bad news is, it won’t boot from it. I can boot from the DOS floppy I already had,
but when I run FDISK, I noticed that it considers the flash card a non-dos partition. This is probably due to running such an old
version of MS-DOS. But, one of the things I quickly discovered
is that I could not get it to boot any version of MS-DOS newer than 2.11. All I could get was the “starting MS-DOS”
splash text, and then it would lock up. So, that being the case, I setup another MS-DOS
compatible computer so I could make some floppy disks with different games on them. I wanted to show off some games that run in
text mode, because they would be very colorful. However, surprisingly very few of them worked. Flash attack, for example, starts to load,
but once the game starts the screen goes nuts. I suspect this may be down to the memory design
on the original CGA cards, which is related to that flickering I mentioned earlier when
listing a directory. I tried running the lost adventures of Kroz,
which is another text-based game that is only supposed to require 128K, but it actually
says program too big to fit into memory. Since that is not really true, I am guessing
this boils down to an incompatibility. Next I tried lawn mower, another text-based
game, and it starts off like it is going to work, but then something just doesn’t work
right once the game starts. So that’s another one marked off the list. I’m starting to wonder if any software is
going to run on this thing. Next I tried Ms. Pacman. And remarkably, this game actually works,
that is if you ignore the garbage on the sides of the screen. Not sure what is causing that, but the game
more or less plays correctly. But, since this runs in graphics mode, there
isn’t a lot of color to be seen. The last game I tried was Ultima III, which
only requires 128K of RAM and CGA. And surprisingly, it works perfectly. Of course, again, it’s in graphics mode
so there isn’t much color to see. But, I got the idea to hook up an external
monitor. I’m going to use my Commodore 1084 since
it supports RGB and composite video. One of the benchmarks I’m doing on all old
CGA systems these days is to see which ones actually display the correct colors in composite
video. Almost all of the clones have the wrong colors,
with the exception of my Compaq portable. So, let’s see what this one does. At the moment I have the monitor in RGB mode
so it is displaying exactly the same thing as the internal monitor. But, let’s flip it over to composite mode
and see how it looks. Well, I finally have one good thing to say
about it, it does have the correct composite colors. The grass is green and the water is blue,
so this looks correct. So, I suppose I should try Planet X3 again
using composite mode. And yep, everything looks right. So yeah, green grass and blue water. And just to try some other landscapes, here’s
the red look of inferno, and the white and blue look of the North Pole map. The cruel irony behind this is that all of
this nice color is only visible on an external composite display, and the internal screen
will just show up as black and white. So what’s the final word on the Sanyo? Well, to be honest, I’m not very impressed
with it. It appears that Sanyo bundled this computer
with several productivity applications, which is what I think they intended most people
to be using, which I don’t happen to have a copy of those handy and even if I did, in
this day and age they probably wouldn’t be very interesting to you. I also don’t feel like they tried very hard
to make this computer 100% MS-DOS compatible, in fact one of the things I discovered was
that the MS-DOS I had been using was the one that Matt got with the computer. I actually started looking at it and I found
out this is not a generic copy of MS-DOS. It’s actually a Sanyo branded copy of MS-DOS,
which means it’s a little bit proprietary, which goes a long way to explain why I was
not able to get the generic versions of MS-DOS to boot on this thing. I find it somewhat ironic that they put what
was undoubtably an expensive color monitor in this thing and they only planned it to
be used with a handful of productivity applications, when the gaming market would have probably
been a much bigger market for people to want a fancy colorful screen. But the sad part is, that most games won’t
even run on this machine and the ones that do, don’t have a lot of color because the
computer is CGA. I’m actually amazed that Planet X3 works
correctly on this computer, being that many much simpler games crash or otherwise fail
to work on this computer. And, to be completely honest, I think that
I would actually much rather spend my time playing on my old Compaq portable 1, which
has a green monochrome screen, but at least it is 100% compatible with the software of
the era. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed having a
look at this thing, and as always stick around for the next video, and thanks for watching.

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