My (486) Gaming Laptop

When it comes to modern retro gaming, there’s a whole world of emulation options out there. Dosbox runs on anything, and even your phone is powerful enough to emulate modern consoles. Still, for some of us that’s not enough. There’s something magical about playing on original hardware.

On the other hand, it’s actually pretty rare that you find a 486 laptop that’s still in great working order. Usually it’s the hard drive that’s busted. Thankfully, there’s a great fix for that now. You can (quite cheaply) pick up SD card to laptop IDE adapters, and that’s a game changer.

With that in mind, let me take you through the process of updating your “new” gaming laptop as if you just bought it at your local thrift store (which I did.) I knew when I saw it, that it was something special. I mean, look at that status LCD! It’s got an LCD icon for a floppy disk. That’s the real deal!

Check out the review from PC Magazine in 1994. This is a 2200$ laptop and it shows. Check out the headphone jack in the front! The real treasure is the inclusion of the ESS sound card. It’s a sound blaster pro compatible sound card that’s actually pretty great. This laptop is that rare combination of old enough to include a sound card, and new enough to include windows 3.11.

1994 was a great year

When you pick one of these up, you’re going to need to solder up a power supply if you’re not lucky enough to have one handy. I’ll not cover that here, but it’s usually fairly straightforward. Better yet, get one of the universal adapter ones and save yourself the trouble. They come in all kinds of handy! Once you have it powered up, understand that the cmos battery is likely dead. You don’t need to replace it but it does mean you’ll need to press an extra key on start-up because it forgot the date.

If the screen is pitch black, make sure you check for brightness keys. That’s what was broken about this one, and why it was such an incredible deal for 8$.

If you want to use the operating system that came with the laptop, and the hard drive is still working, it’s actually ridiculously simple. These will be less than 2gb drives and formatted with fat16. Just get a usb adapter , and dd /dev/sdb to a file. Pop in an sd card, and DD the file onto the that. Done! Bonus, 2GB sd cards are what, a couple bucks at gas stations now?

You’ll know as soon as you start the game whether it’s using the sound card or not, search for executable files with “dir *.exe” (or less often, *.com) With luck, there will be an install/setup/config file.

Pro-tip* for Sierra dos games, the correct order of operations was “install.exe” then “sierra.exe.”

With the antiquated LCD technology, fast-moving games are harder to track, and I find myself gravitating towards point and click adventures, RPGS, and the like. This is common for laptops of the era, and sometimes you’re better off hooking up to an external monitor for that. For most games though, I don’t find that to be the case.

And that’s my high-end gaming laptop!