GRiD Compass 1101
Weight:10 lbs, 12 oz
CPU:Intel 8086 @ 8MHz (?)
Display:6-inch electroluminescent
80 x 24 text
320 x 240 graphics
Ports:RS-232/422 serial
GPIB parallel port
Storage:internal 384K bubble RAM
external floppy drive(s)

GRiD onboard Space Shuttle "Discovery"
mission STS-51G - June 1985.

Designed to be the ultimate portable computer, the clamshell-style GRiD Compass 1101 is the grand-daddy of all present-day laptop computers.

The Compass is very high-tech, with its flat-black, die-cast magnesium-alloy case, and bright, sharp electroluminescent display (ELD). No other system packed so much speed and power in as small a case, and none had such a unique and large, easy-to-read screen, allowing full 80x24 text.

Of course, all of these great features raised the price significantly. At $8150, the GRiD Compass 1101 was the most expensive personal computer you could buy.

Originally developed for business executives, GRiDs were also used by the U.S. military 'in the field', and by NASA on the Space Shuttles during the 1980's and 90's. It's even been said that the US President's "nuclear football" at one time included a GRiD computer.

Few, if any, non-IBM computers in 1982 ran MS-DOS, and the GRiD is no exception. Although MS-DOS compatibility was eventually added, the original GRiD 1101 ran only the GRiD-OS operating system - its design started in 1979, before MS-DOS or the IBM PC existed.

But GRiD-OS is no slouch - the suite includes:
-GRiDManager -communication and utility functions
-GRiDPrint-control format and appearance of text files
-GRiDWrite-full-screen text editor
-GRiDPlan-electronic worksheets
-GRiDFile-database facilities
-GRiDPlot-converts data to graphs
-GRiDBASIC-programming language

Controlled almost entirely my menus, GRiD-OS is a full-function, powerful operating system. It displays data by DEVICE, SUBJECT (folder), TITLE (file name), and KIND (file type). Files can be password protected if desired.

Pressing the <CODE> key in conjuction with another, i.e. <CODE> U, activates commonly used functions, minimizing typing and speeding system operation.

While the Compass 1101 has no built-in floppy drive, its internal (non-removeable) 384K of bubble memory takes its place, and will hold your data indefinitely, even if all power is removed.

An optional external 360K 5.25-inch floppy drive (model 2102 Portable Diskette Drive) was available, as well as an external 10 Meg hard drive/5.25-inch floppy drive combo (model 2101 Disk System).

The GRiD Compass 1101 has three large bubble memory modules on the motherboard, as seen here to the right, for a total of 384K of data storage.

Bubble memory was once the next-greatest thing in computer technology, being non-volatile, and having no moving parts. But bubble memory is serial, and thus the larger it is, the longer it takes to cycle your data through.

Hard drive technology eventually eclipsed the capabilities of bubble memory, and 'bubbles' faded into oblivion.

Still, until large non-volatile EEPROMs appeared, bubble memory was still used for another decade or so by the military, NASA, and applications which required small, reliable, and shock-resistant data recorders.

The rechargeable battery for the built-in clock/calendar can be seen above with the 'bubbles'. It is glued down and soldered in, thus difficult to replace once it goes bad.

The 'bubbles' are on the back of the motherboard, which is installed face-down inside the GRiD case.

There is no room or sockets for any upgrades. All of the chips, including the memory and operating system ROMs, are soldered in and not easily replaced.

The GRiD's built-in 300/1200 baud modem (a separate card from the motherboard) and GRiDTerm software application allowed easy and convenient access to GRiD Central - an on-line file storage system which provided dial-up access to software libraries and remote data storage (up to 50K) for GRiD owners. The battery-backed clock/calendar helped keep track of the long-distance phone charges.

The GRiD 1101 must be operated with the 'leg' in the down position, otherwise it stands a good chance of overheating. The 1101 runs very hot, almost too hot to touch.

Not quite the ultimate portable, the 1101 does not run on batteries, it must be plugged into a 110/220 VAC wall outlet, although any standard computer power cord will work. It also, strangely enough, lacks a carrying handle. An official GRiD cloth carrying case came with the 1101, but it also lacks a carrying strap.

GRiD did not just sit on its laurels and wait for the rest of the world to catch up to it, they created many state-of-the-art peripherals and a networking system to link multiple GRiDs together.

In addition to the previously-mentioned dial-up GRiD Central, a local server, the GRiD Server 1701, based on the Intel 80186 microprocessor, could link up to 32 GRiD Compass computers together as a personal version of GRiD central.

Along with the GRiD Compass Central 2701 external hard drive, Compass users can share data and peripherals and exchange messages directly with each other.

While the Compass 1101 had no internal floppy drive, later systems did, such as the GRiDCase3 seen above.

The rear panel of the GRiDCase3 also shows the battery compartment. Most GRiD systems released after the 1101 can run on battery-power. The internal power supply is ejected and a battery-pack is installed in its place.

The MS-DOS compatible GRiD 1530 from 1988 was the world's first battery powered Intel 80386DX Laptop. This one has attached to the bottom the optional 16-bit ISA compatible expansion bay, allowing the use of two full-size IBM compatible expansion cards.

GRiD Systems Corp. was bought by Tandy (Radio Shack) in 1989, but GRiD computers continued to be produced.

Related Links

  • GRiD-UK
  • GRiDs in Space
  • "Engineering the GRiD Compass" from Google Video
  • Wikipedia
  • Hrothgar's Cool Old Junk Page

  • Return to the Obsolete Technology Homepage