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G > GRID > Compass   


The Compass portable was the first computer of the Grid company; and the very first clamshell laptop (GRiD had the patent on the clamshell idea).

It was an expensive portable business computer incorporating large memories (both RAM and data storage) for the time, but above all one of the first graphic amber plasma flat screen.

It was housed in in a matt-black finished magnesium case. Not only does this gave increased protection (and weight) that some plastic shells, it also acted as a heat-sink, so there was no cooling fan. Stangely, there was no carrying handle either. Above the keyboard was a panel displaying common command codes to refresh user's memory.

Instead of a disk drive, first Compass held a 384 KB non-volatile bubble memory (like the Sharp PC-5000). Software could be loaded from a Grid server, however, user could connect an external 360 KB floppy disc or 10 MB hard disk unit. The Compass also featured a built-in modem.


Tom Lutz reports to us:
In addition to being first in space, it was allso the first laptop used as operators positions aboard naval vessels, and it was the first laptop that was attached to paratroopers that were dropped behind enemy lines. The GRIDS were used to monitor troop and equipment movements and to send back tactical data to the command center.

The heart of the operating system was "Compass Computer Operating System (CCOS).
I employed the GRID in many research projects for which I was the project manager. One of these projects is the reason we now have GPS. Some of the programs I worked on used the std GRID and/or DOS software while others used software especially built for the project.
Did anyone mention that you could daisychain multiple devices off the 488 I/O? This port was identified as the GPIB or Grid Processor Interface Bus. I Don't remember the limit, however, if I recall correctly, I remember having two 10 MB disk, one floppy disk, an HP plotter were daisychined off a single GRID 488 port. The Epson or Diablo printers ran off the serial port. Conceptionally, this mad the GRID more flexable then todays CPUs. If anyone were to ask, I would say that the GRID defined the term "User Friendly". I don't recall one occassion when a GRID crashed because of what an operator did.
In addition to running on 110 VAC, the unit could be switched to 220 VAC. The only thing you needed to change was a switch and a fuse.

GRID was way ahead of everyone else at that time. It is too bad they felt they could sit back on their lorals and do nothing. By the time they realized they needed to improve (make it lighter eg.) they were already playing catch-up; and never could.

Patent on clamshell computers, by Martin Green:
When Grid went out of business they sold their IP to Tandy, of Radio Shack and TRS-80 fame. Some time later Tandy lawyers noticed they had unknowingly purchased the patent on clamshell computers in the deal and notified all the other laptop makers that they would begin collecting royalties. After a legal battle the patent was upheld and a small portion of every single clamshell laptop sold by anybody went to Tandy.
My understanding and recollection is that Grid never enforced their patent, so other makers went on producing clamshell designs for probably a decade before Tandy started making royalty noises. By then the clamshell design was firmly entrenched and it was a case of pay up or get out of the laptop business.

Please consider donating your old computer / videogame system to or one of our partners from anywhere in the world (Europe, America, Asia, etc.).


The first grid is the 1101 Compass, the next model was the 1103 which was used in a lot of military apps like testing avionics, early shuttle flights (later the 1500 series took that over) and some tactical data messaging apps that connected to radios. They are practically crashproof as mentioned earlier.

As a collectible the 1101''s are fetching huge dollars on ebay now, around 1k upto 3k for new in the box. The 1103''s still turn up also for around 300 to 1k and the 1520-1530''s turn up often for 100 to 300 bucks. They are basically the same with a larger screen and a faster processor.

Tuesday 1st February 2011
pete gerry (us)

1) Their main developer died of aids. Insted of viewing him as a replaceable resource (like we do today), the company used it as an excuse for YEARS when their customers wanted new features.
2) 32 computers/devices can be linked together, and you could assign a task to each one. It was pretty cool, but never really functional because developers likely were not in love with GRiD. Also, I could not divide the tasks up very well to keep that many computers busy.
3) They came out with their own GUI, Penright!. Also pretty cool, used the dos-graphics mode, and even had their own development tools. Unfortunatly, Windows got better, and people wanted windows on the laptops, etc.
4) Price! Price! Even in the 90''s these suckers were expensive. Who cares they went into space, etc.
5) I rewrote the Penright! Libs interface, and provided a non-grid solution. Would you believe, people used that to prove they were not using grid, but actually were still using them (and not paying them).

Wednesday 20th October 2010
NormGraham (usa)

My husband worked for a DoD contractor in the early 1980's. They were testing "off the shelf" items with combat area applications. One of the items was the Grid Compass Computer - so they all had one. I was in nursing school at the time and was one of the first students to use a "laptop" and hand in papers (and make graphs for over heads for presentations) with a word processor. I remember the dot matrix printer too. Had to tear off the sides of the paper - hated the ragged edge it left.

Sunday 22nd May 2005
Victoria Leavitt (Lakewood, Washington)


NAME  Compass
TYPE  Portable
YEAR  April 1982
KEYBOARD  Full stroke 57 keys
CPU  Intel 8086
SPEED  Unknown
CO-PROCESSOR  8087 math coprocessor
RAM  256 KB (up to 512 KB)
VRAM  Unknown
ROM  Unknown
TEXT MODES  80 chars x 25 lines
GRAPHIC MODES  320 x 240 dots
COLORS  Monochrome
SOUND  Beeper
SIZE / WEIGHT  38 (H) x 29 (D) x 5 (H) cm / 8.5 lbs (4.3 kg)
I/O PORTS  Serial RS-232, RS-422, IEEE-488
POWER SUPPLY  Built-in poxer supply unit
PERIPHERALS  RAM cards, 360 KB 5.25'' floppy disc unit, 10 MB hard disk unit
PRICE  £4595 (U.K., 1984)

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