Adalbert's Sympathetic Restoration of This Vintage Toshiba T3200SXC Brings a Few Upgrades Along
This piece of computing history lives again, and now even boasts a soundcard and work-in-progress networking plus USB battery support.
Pseudonymous retrocomputing enthusiast "adalbert" has brought a piece of history back from the brink, complete with a range of upgrades designed to improve quality of life: the Toshiba T3200SXC, the first commercial laptop to offer an active-matrix color LCD screen.
First launched in 1987 with a grayscale gas plasma display connected to an Enhanced Graphics Adapter (EGA) compatible controller, Toshiba's T3200 family — a chunky beast referred to as the "spacesaver" in a bout of irony-in-hindsight — was a popular choice for its portability, despite its lack of an internal battery, and full-size keyboard with dedicated keypad. In 1991, a family refresh brought the T3200SXC into the range — the first commercial portable computer to boast a color active-matrix TFT display.
"This unit had multiple problems," adalbert explains of the particular example chosen for restoration, "including broken power supply with leaked capacitors. The screen, the miracle of 1990 technology, active color matrix 640×480 Sharp LQ10D013 unfortunately was severely degraded. The image was almost entirely (FFFFFF-like) white, with some barely visible pale (FEFEFE-like) characters. After some time the screen got completely dead."
With a dead PSU and dead display, the poor Toshiba could have been destined for the landfill — but adalbert had other ideas. The maker's work started with the design and fabrication of a custom printed circuit board to replace the original power supply and a new LCD, which is "indistinguishable from the outside" and with the same VGA resolution and color capabilities, held in place with 3D-printed internal brackets.
Interestingly, adalbert decided against simply designing a PCB and sending it off to a manufacturer for low-volume production. Instead, he made his own — using UV-curable paint applied using a 3D-printed mask. "[This] method of creating a PCB for [a] power supply […] should be applicable to any other project with reasonably low complexity," the maker notes.
Though that would have brought the machine back to life, adalbert also targeted some improvements — including the ability to drive the new power supply board from USB Type-C powerbanks via a DC jack adapter, the addition of internal speakers connected to a sound card housed in the laptop's ISA expansion slot, and even Wi-Fi connectivity through an embedded OpenWRT router and an ISA Ethernet card, which at the time of writing was in the prototype stage.
"Even though Toshiba T3200SXC is a rather rare machine," adalbert explains, "the accomplishments of this project should be adaptable in some way to other PC-type machines. It's worth [it] to continue further discussion about preserving computer hardware in general, what is worth preserving and what is not, which methods should be used in that purpose, and how does digital culture heritage compare to 'non-digital' pieces that we know from museums."
Adalbert has published details of the project on Hackaday.io, along with 3D print files and Gerbers for the circuit boards.