Digital DECpc 425SE
Best retro purpose
Early DOS and Windows 3.1 era gaming, for titles released before 1993 or as a classic office computer. Unfortunately, the CPU does not have any mathematics coprocessor and harddrive compatibility is limited. The video chipset is decent at 320x200 resolution and 640x480 resolution performance is decent on Windows 3.1. DOS games support is acceptable only if you do not need any soundcard and the PC beeper is enough and no mathematical coprocessor is required.
Durability and Repair-ability
The plastic quality of most of the chassis is quite good for such an old laptop. Unfortunately, the laptop is not as easily serviceable since some parts, such as the RAM module, is proprietary. Also, the older BIOS and its configuration has problems in accomodating modern harddrives, especially as slimmer models were not as popular at that time. On the other side, circuitry durability is very good, so these laptops have good prospects of surviving for a few more years. The LCD screen has a fluorescent backlight that is potentially difficult to replace as screens used, at that time, on similar laptops, can be quite cumbersome to dissassemble (the IBM Thinkpad 755 series, for instance). Also, another issue is that the monochrome LCD that is supplied with most models may not be easily replaced with the colour one.
Greatest features & flaws
|Average Windows 3.1 and DOS Gaming platform||Very slow CPU and no maths coprocessor|
|Very compact laptop||Too slow on Windows 95, limited RAM expansion capability|
|Durable, comfortable keyboard and trackball||Harddrive compatibility issues due to old BIOS|
|Durable floppy drive||No soundcard, very poor screen even on own colour LCD|
A very compact, low-end, business laptop, released in 1994. It had a below average mix of parts for a 486. The CPU was already obsolete as the laptop was supplied with an older model that did not have mathematical coprocessor and it run at only 25MHz, the lowest CPU frequency on a 486. The video chipset is somewhat reasonable, even if it is supplied with a bare-minimum 512kb of memory. The laptop also lacks any soundcard. Expandability is reasonable as the laptop has two PS/2 ports and a PCMCIA slot.
It is very difficult to understand why Digital insisted on using such such a weak combination of CPU, harddrive, RAM on a 1994 laptop as it was already impossible to do any serious upgrades to allow running a Windows 95 system launched just a year down the line. A slight guess would be that the platform was actually older, designed for 386 laptops and used, due to economy of scale, on a 486 laptop.
The screen that is supplied with the laptop is another weak point. There was no modern TFT, active matrix screen, that could be purchased, which means that, colour or not, the passive display was awful. A very poor contrast ratio and response time is typical for laptops such as this, although the practice of suppling these screens was also common on other manufacturers. RAM capability is mixed. The lack of standardization means that memory upgrades are quite difficult to find, as the laptop require a proprietary memory module standard.
The included standard capacity harddrive is not adequate as even modest Windows 3.1 installations with a Microsoft Office 4.3 package can take almost the entire 80MB capacity. The harddrive itself is also prone to failure, due to age, and a replacement may be difficult to find.
The keyboard is one of the highlights of this laptop, as it is quite good for a laptop with quite a small chassis. The supplied pointing device, consisting of a small trackball and clickable buttons, is not so pleasant to use, as fatigue settles quickly when navigating a screen. This points at graphical interfaces such as Windows being only an afterthought of designers, although solutions such as side hanging pointing devices were common on Digital and Toshiba laptops of the era. Overall, the laptop is not comfortable on graphics applications and the combination of CPU, screen, trackball make clear this statement.
Software support is, also, a mixed experience. While hardware capabilities are outright limited by the CPU and screen, slight DOS gaming possible even though anything newer than Wolfenstein 3D is barely playable, as is the case for the venerable DOOM. Overall, the laptop seems to be a wrong choice in modern times, valuable only for the heritage of being one of the last series of laptops sold by the previously successful Digital Equipment Corporating of America, or DEC.