Vintage NEC ProSpeed 286 Computer Revived with Raspberry Pi

To resurrect their broken vintage NEC ProSpeed laptop, babtras added a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B single-board computer and a modern LCD screen.

Cameron Coward
4 months agoRetro Tech / Displays / Upcycling

As a retrocomputing enthusiast and collector of vintage computers, I always advocate for the restoration of original hardware whenever possible. But sometimes old components fail beyond repair and replacements are unavailable or prohibitively expensive. In such cases, it is worth reviving a vintage computer using modern hardware. That’s what Redditor babtras did by putting a Raspberry Pi into an ‘80s NEC ProSpeed 286.

NEC’s ProSpeed was a line of laptop computers and the first ProSpeed 286 released in October of 1988. Even compared to other laptops of the time, including NEC’s own UltraLite line, ProSpeed models were quite chunky. This model had a relatively powerful Intel 80C286 processor running at 16MHz and a 640x400 EGA monochrome LCD screen that was respectable for the era. Sadly, babtras was unable to repair their NEC ProSpeed 286. But instead of relegating it to the land fill, they took advantage of the generous enclosure volume to resurrect the computer using modern components.

Babtras’s first step was to replace the original LCD panel with something new. The original LCD was good for the time, but its low resolution and lack of color would make it difficult for use with a modern operating system. It also would have been difficult to connect to a new computer. The new LCD panel fit into the same space as the original with a custom-fabricated Plexiglass frame. The panel came with a controller board with various connections, including the HDMI used here.

It was the obvious choice, so babtras used a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B single-board computer. That’s compact enough to fit easily inside of the case. The original keyboard had an AT / PS/2 connection, so babtras was able to use a cheap PS/2-to-USB adapter with some jumpers in the keyboard’s ribbon cable connector. Instead of putting in a battery, babtras decided to stick to with the ProSpeed’s original power supply. Its hard drive connector provides both 5V and 12V, which is perfect for this project. The 5V rail powers the Raspberry Pi, while the 12V rail powers the LCD panel. To make the USB ports accessible, babtras fabricated a custom panel that fits onto the back of the machine for panel-mount USB extensions.

With the case buttoned back up, this looks like an original NEC ProSpeed laptop. But when it turns on, the user sees the Raspberry Pi Operating System on a crystal clear full-color LCD screen. Now babtras can keep using this piece of retrocomputing history for years to come.

Cameron Coward
Writer for Hackster News. Maker, retrocomputing and 3D printing enthusiast, author of books, dog dad, motorcyclist, and nature lover.
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