A laptop is a personal computer that can be easily moved and used in a variety of locations.
Laptops typically have all the features of a desktop model but have a flat display screen, either a plasma panel or an LCD display, that folds over the keyboard when not in use.
They are constructed from components chosen for their lightness, small size, and low power consumption. These tend to make laptops more expensive than their desktop equivalents.
The first portable computer was the IBM 5100, released in September 1975. It weighed 55-pounds, which was much lighter and more portable than any other computer to date. While not truly a laptop by today’s standards, it paved the way for the development of truly portable computers, i.e., laptops.
Developed by Adam Osborne in April 1981, the Osborne I was the first truly portable computer and is recognized as the first true laptop computer. It weighed 24½-pounds and had a 5″ display.
The first “laptop-sized notebook computer” was the Epson HX-20, released in July 1982. It had a four-line, liquid crystal display (LCD) screen, a rechargeable battery, and a receipt-size printer, in a 1.6 kg (3.5 lb)
body, the size of an A4 notebook. It was described as a “laptop” and “notebook” computer in its patent.
The first computer to use the “clamshell” design which is used in almost all modern laptop designs, was the GRiD Systems Corporation’s GriD Compass, released in April 1982. This computer was one fifth the weight of any other computer used at that time, however, it required mains power, because it had no battery. Despite this, they were very popular with the Military of the United States amd NASA, who used the laptop in its Space Shuttle program, in the 1980s.
Also in 1982, two computer designers from Microsoft, Kazuhiko Nishi and Bill Gates, worked on a new portable computer. The prototype was presented to Radio Shack, who agreed to start making it. It was launched in 1983, as the TRS-80 Model 100, which had an eight-line LCD screen. In 1986, the improved version, called TRS Model 200, was released, which had a much larger, fold-down LCD screen, and looked pretty much like the laptops that we know today.
IBM released their first laptop, the PC Convertible, in 1986. It weighed 12-pounds, making it the first laptop under 15-pounds.
Hewlett-Packard released the Vectra Portable CS laptop in 1987. It was one of the first laptops to feature a 3 ½” floppy disk drive capable of using 1.44 MB diskettes.
Compaq released their first laptop computer in 1988, the Compaq SLT/286. It was the first battery-powered laptop to feature VGA graphics and an internal hard drive.
Apple released their first laptop, the Macintosh Portable, in September 1989. Costing $6500 at release, it did not sell well and was not a popular laptop.
NEC released the NEC UltraLite in 1989, considered to be the first notebook style laptop, weighing less than 5-pounds.
After the flop of their Macintosh Portable laptop, Apple re-worked their laptop concept and released the PowerBook line of laptops in October 1991.
Toshiba released the Toshiba Portege 2000 in 2002, the thinnest laptop to be developed at only ¾ of an inch at the thickest part. It also featured the first 1.8-inch hard drive in a laptop.
Optical disc drives became common in full-size laptops around 1997 – this initially consisted of CD-ROM drives, which were supplanted by CD-R, DVD, and Blu-ray drives with writing capability over time. Starting around 2011, the trend shifted against internal optical drives, and as of 2021, they have largely disappeared; they are still readily available as external peripherals.
While the terms laptop and notebook are used interchangeably today, there is some question as to the original etymology and specificity of either term. The term laptop appears to have been coined in the early 1980s to describe a mobile computer which could be used on one’s lap and to distinguish these devices from earlier and much heavier portable computers (informally called “luggables”). The term notebook appears to have gained currency somewhat later as manufacturers started producing even smaller portable devices, further reducing their weight and size and incorporating a display roughly the size of A4 paper – these were marketed as notebooks to distinguish them from bulkier mainstream or desktop replacement laptops.