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Atari Portfolio

The Atari Portfolio, introduced in 1989 and made in Japan, was in its little way quite revolutionary. Imagine an age when most portable computers lasted a few hours on battery power - when in the case of most portable computers, the word "portable" didn't really come to mind... and then there was the Atari Portfolio. Truly pocket-sized, 16-bit and with an LCD screen that ensures that it will last weeks on three AA batteries. Weeks! Take that, smartphones.

top view of the closed Portfolio bottom view of the closed Portfolio

The Portfolio is essentially a little laptop computer. Its shell is made of a tough, soft-touch plastic and it is locked by a sliding switch in the front.

front view of the closed Portfolio

the whole thing reeks of sheer quality and after several decades mine isn't worn in the slightest.

front/top view of the opened Portfolio

Be still my heart. The portfolio is 196mm wide, 105mm deep, and 25 mm thick folded up. When it is opened up, it is the absolute smallest size a workstation can be - but just big enough to allow for fast, comfortable typing.

close up shot of the keyboard

The keyboard has a layout that takes a little getting used to, but once you get into the placement of the keys and the various hotkeys and button combinations, you'll be going like a freight train.

sidelong shot across the keyboard

The keys are solid plastic and give equally solid feedback when pressed. The speaker also produces a 'click' when keys are pressed, which somehow helps. The latter feature can be turned off, but why would you want to?

close up shot of the Portfolio's expansion port

Examining the bottom, one finds a covered expansion port that allows one to connect a parallel adapter. Printers, card readers, diskette readers and other peripherals can be connected in this way.

top view of the closed Portfolio with the parallel interface attached side/top view of the opened Portfolio with the parallel interface attached

The connected serial expansion renders the device a bit less 'handheld' than it was before, though it still looks groovy.

close up of a memory card inserted into its slot

On the side opposite the expansion port, a card protrudes.

front and back views of a 64 Kb Atari Portfolio memory card

It is perhaps the one downside of the Portfolio: it doesn't take PC cards, instead accepting proprietary Portfolio cards. Readers with a parallel plug probably never existed, which makes transferring data from other, non-Atari computers a hassle.

the dot matrix screen of the Portfolio, displaying the first screen of DIP DOS

The Portfolio was developed and sold in England under a different name before Atari was given a license to sell the computers under the Atari brand; the OS is named DIP DOS. The 'DIP' oficially stands for 'Distributed Information Processing' although secretly, it stands for 'David, Ian & Peter' - the three founders of the company that developed the Portfolio.

DIP DOS is a fairly conventional DOS version. There's a couple extra commands and functions available for usage with pre-installed programmes. These programmes are as follows:

All can be accessed through hotkeys or by brief commands. Some additional commands available in other versions of DOS were shortened to accommodate users who don't want to type long words on a tiny keyboard.

photograph of an old document from 1991 on the screen of the Portfolio

Behold, a note written by someone in 1991. The cards have batteries, but this battery has kept for well over twenty years - let's see a smartphone top that. The screen is not backlit (though mods are possible!) and a dazzling 40 characters wide by 8 lines high.

The Portfolio, for all its age and obscurity, is still being used to this day by some folks. One can see the appeal; there is something to be said for a device that has no unneeded functions and does everything one really needs to function in the workplace. That said, there's plenty of forum threads to be found where homebrew OSes and CF card mods are discussed with great enthusiasm.

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