Morrow Pivot
Available:November 1984
Weight:9.5 pounds with 1 drive, no battery
CPU:Harris 80C86 @ 3.33MHz
Memory:128K to 512K RAM
Display:monochrome LCD, white-on-black
 480x128 graphics, 80x16 lines text
Ports:serial, parallel, 300 baud modem
Storage:1 or 2 built-in DS-DD 360K floppy
OS:MS-DOS 2.0 on diskette
Power Supply:15vdc, center-positive

George Morrow had been designing and selling computers and computer components since 1976, when he was a member of the famous Homebrew Computer Club.

As the founder of Thinker Toys, Morrow's Micro Stuff, and Morrow Design, all of his eartlier system designs were S-100 or CP/M based. After the IBM-PC became the apparent market leader, CP/M fell out of fashion, as most new systems started to run Microsoft MS-DOS. In order to remain current, in 1984 Morrow released his first MS-DOS based computer - the portable, battery-powered Pivot. It was also the last computer system sold by George Morrow and his company, partly due to his dealings with Zenith, but more on that later.

The lunchbox-style portable computer was designed and manufactured by Vadem, a 1983 silicon-startup founded in part by Chikok Shing, who previously held positions at both Morrow and Osborne (director of strategic planning department-1983). The same computer system design was also licensed to Osborne as the Osborne Encore for the European market, but Osborne later renegotiated the contract for domestic (US) sales as well, as the Osborne 3.

As the Morrow Pivot, the system was first introduced to the public at the spring 1984 Comdex computer show in Atlanta GA, with general availability planned to be in August of 1984.

The Pivot runs Microsoft MS-DOS version 2.0, with one or two built-in 5-1/4-inch drives, which were the standard of the day. Although not fully IBM-compatible, it is claimed by the manufacturer to run most of the top productivity software.

Three special built-in modes are accessible at any time via dedicated keys, independant of any software programs running:
  • Clock/calendar - List and set the date, day, time, time zone, and the month's calendar.
  • Modem/terminal - Dial a local network, bulletin-board, or another computer, using the built-in 300-baud modem, or an external modem.
  • Calculator - Four-function calculator with memory keys.

  • The LCD display on the first version of the Pivot, of which there were many, has only 16 lines of text, as opposed to the standard 25 lines, and is not backlit. This results in low contrast and poor readable, except in ideal lighting conditions.

    Prices were:
    Pivot with 128K + 1 floppy drive: $1,995
    Pivot with 256K + 2 floppy drives: $2,895 (model 1622)
    Pivot with 640K + 2 floppy drives: $3,695 (model 1662)

    After only four months on the market, in February the display still has only 16 lines of text, but a new electroluminescent (EL) backlight is added, greatly improving the display readability in all lighting conditions. It is now considered ..."the best LCD display I have ever seen" , according to one enthusiastic PC Magazine reviewer.

    In need of immediate cash, Morrow licensed the Pivot to the Zenith Electronics Corporation. Instead of asking for a royalty on every Zenith system sold, Morrow instead accepted a one-time payment of $1.2-million from Zenith. This decision will come back to haunt Morrow in the following year.

    In March of 1985, Morrow dropped the prices of the Pivot by $1,000, and in May the new and improved Pivot II is announced - a totally redesigned system with a full 25 line (640x200) EL backlit LCD display, optional VGA/composite color video output ($300), an optional faster 1200 baud modem ($400), faster disk access, and claimed 100% IBM-PC compatibility running MS-DOS 2.11 with a maximum of 640K of RAM.
    Prices were:
    Pivot II with 256K + 1 floppy drive = $1,995.
    Pivot II with 256K + 2 floppy drives = $2,995.
    Pivot II with 640K + 2 floppy drives = $3,795.
    Owners of the older Pivot could trade-in their old system plus $1,000 for the equivalent Pivot II.

    Meanwhile, the Zenith version, known as the Z-171, is almost identical to the Morrow Pivot II, and in early 1986, Zenith wins a huge $27-million government contract and sell over 15,000 Zenith Z-171 systems to the IRS. Those potential royalty payment would have been nice for Morrow.

    On March 11 1986, still $millions in debt, and just a few weeks after Zenith wins the IRS contract, Morrow Designs files for bankruptcy. The accounced The Pivot XT ($3,115), a Pivot II system with an internal 10MB hard drive and 3 1/2-inch floppy drives which the company planned to begin shipping in June 1986, is never released.

    Seen above are just two examples of the numerous manufacturer-installed repairs to correct design mistakes.

    Related Links

  • George Morrow from the IEEE Global History Network.
  • Computer Chronicles - Pivot on "Portable Computers" - 1985
  • Computer Chronicles - Pivot II on "Mobile Computing" - 1995

  • Return to the Obsolete Technology Homepage