IBM 5155 Portable Computer

I had been thinking about buying an old Compaq or IBM laptop to restore when I came across the IBM 5155.

The 5155 was somewhere in between a desktop and a laptop. It was IBM’s first attempt at portable computing. It weighed 30 pounds and came equipped with a built-in monitor, floppy drive, and keyboard.It also had room for expansion cards like a hard drive, color video card, and sound card.

When creating the 5155, IBM took their popular XT board, coupled it with a built in 9″monitor and floppy drive, and put the whole thing in a case with a handle. Voila! Portable computer.You still had to lug it around, and you still had to plug it into a power outlet, but it was pretty revolutionary for the time.

I located a 5155 on eBay for $100. It wasn’t in working order, but it appeared to have all the required parts and the case was clean and in fairly good condition. When it arrived, it went immediately onto the workbench in the garage. I always do this with vintage computers and TVs because you never know what’s living inside of these cases.

After a few days, I cracked open the case on the computer and had a look inside. The expansion cards looked good, the cables looked good, and the CRT looked good. I plugged it in, flipped the switch, and waited. While the monitor lit up right away, nothing else happened. No noise. No smoke. Nothing. I disconnected and reconnected everything inside. Obviously something was loose, because now it booted up fine. With everything working properly, I gave it a full cleaning, both inside and out. The end result was an amazing looking computer.

I tested it for a few days, but tired very quickly of having to swap floppys all the time. Since there was no hard drive included with most computers back in 1984, users had to swap floppys continuously. I decided to install a hard drive and save my sanity.

I chose a Seagate ST-251 which was correct for the time period. It boasted a whopping 40MB of storage and when it ran, sounded like someone tap dancing.

Click. Click. Click.

This drive was left over from one of the other restorations I had done, so I paired it with a Seagate ST-11 controller card.
Normally the old hard drives were a pain in the ass to set up. You had to perform a low level format, then format again for use with an IBM.

I chose the ST-11 controller card because it contained the necessary utilities right on the card. All I had to do was make selections on a menu when it first booted up, making formatting very simple. Twenty minutes later, I had a working hard drive.

Now that the hard drive was installed, it needed an operating system. I went with DOS 2.11 since the original computer came with DOS 2.10. I figured that was close enough. Once it was installed, I had a working, self contained portable computer.

The last item I needed to track down was an original blue carrying case. It took three months, but I finally found one in decent condition. After running it through the washer several times, and hanging it out to air dry, it looked really good. My restoration was now complete.

You can see the pictures below. I’m thinking of going to Starbucks and setting it up on a table like the hipsters do with their laptops, just to see their reaction!

1 Comment

  1. Russ Brooks says:

    I owned one of those, bought new for about $2000 I think. (And I got an IBM employee discount.) I still have the free coffee cup from the IBM Sunnyvale pc store where I got it. I wish I still had all my old pcs from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s but then I’d need to live in a barn to hold them all. PCs were way more ‘fun’ back then. Today they’re just appliances and tools.


Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.