Toshiba’s 35-year run in the laptop business is at an end, but what a journey it has been.
Toshiba was among the first vendors to offer consumers personal computers that were small and affordable enough for our homes.
In a time where the phones in our pockets have far more power than PCs ever could hope to have back in the 1980s, it seems odd to think of when laptops were out of the reach of most of us — but this is one industry that has completely transformed over the past few decades.
Let’s take a look at Toshiba’s PC career, starting with the first consumer-grade laptop made available in Europe, until the present day.
1985: The world’s first laptop?
In the 1970s, hobbyists created a market for home PC assembly kits, leading to the creation of Apple II in 1977, various Sony desktops, and the IBM PC in 1981.
Toshiba was falling behind in this evolving market, having focused on Japanese word processors. While the company had formed a PC unit, the department was running on a deficit and Toshiba was on the verge of giving up.
However, according to the Toshiba Museum, the firm believed a PC focused on “mobility, smaller size, and power-saving” could save the day — and it did.
In 1985, the T110 debuted in Europe, described by Toshiba as the “world’s first laptop PC.” The T110 wasn’t perfect — using a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive rather than the 5-inch standard at the time — and cost 500,000 yen ($4,700). However, at least 10,000 were sold, giving Toshiba the drive to develop new models.
1986, 1987: Toshiba T3100, T5100
The Toshiba T3100, a PC equipped with a 640 x 400 resolution, 9.6-inch orange gas plasma screen, operated on the Toshiba MS-DOS 2.11/3.2 OS — as Microsoft Windows builds were not yet mainstream — and came with an 80286 CPU running at 8MHz, as well as a 3.5-inch 20MB hard drive.
Basic setups offered 640KB memory, but this could be upgraded to 2.6MB. The T3100, weighing 15 pounds, was considered portable back then.
In 1987, the T5100 Desktop Portable 386 came on to the scene. Toshiba said it was the only portable PC using the Intel 80386 engine, which at the time was more commonly found in larger and more powerful desktop computers.
Weighing in the same as the T3100, the MS-DOS 3.2 PC (.PDF) was geared towards business users who needed computers able to work with office applications and databases.
An 8/16Mhz 80386 processor, an internal 40MB Winchester hard disk, a 1.44MB 3.5-inch floppy, 2MB RAM — upgradable to 4MB — and a 640 x 400 resolution gas plasma display completed the setup.
1989/1990: DynaBook J-3100SS
Dynabook, Toshiba’s PC arm, has been around for decades and a product of note, released between 1989 and 1990 was the DynaBook J-3100SS.
The J-3100SS was an A4-size notebook PC that used an LCD 640 x 400-pixel display and was far lighter than previous designs, coming in at 2.7kg. An Intel 80386 processor and 1.5MB RAM were standard — but this could be upgraded to a maximum of 3.5MB — as well as a 3.5-inch floppy and a 20MB hard drive.
1992 to 2000
From 1992 to 2000, Toshiba released a number of laptops improving in function and specifications every year.
Released in 1992, for example, the DynaBook V486 J-3100XS portable PC featured a memory boost, coming in with 4MB as standard but upgradeable to 12MB. The DynaBook EZ486P was one of the few portable PC models sporting an inbuilt printer, whereas the DynaBook GT-R590, introduced in 1995, came with two operating systems pre-installed; Microsoft Windows 3.1 and Windows 95.
As we moved into 2000, the DynaBook DB70P/5MC was developed in deference to a growing demand for devices able to support media playback. It’s a world away from our current consumption of streamed media, but back then, CD-ROM, CD-R/RW, and DVD-ROMs were sought after, and this laptop was marketed as the first of its kind able to write to CD as well as play DVDs.
2001: Toshiba Satellite Pro 4600
A year later, Toshiba launched the Satellite Pro range, a line of laptops (.PDF) intended for business and power users. The Satellite Pro 4600 series was offered with a range of Intel processors, a wireless LAN module, and accessories designed to switch from a laptop to desktop setup in the office.
2005: Portégé M100
If you explore Toshiba’s laptop history, you can’t forget the Portégé range. In 2005, the launch of the Portégé M100 signaled a move to Intel Pentium M and Intel 855 chipsets, coming in as a thinner and lighter model than previous business PCs.
This laptop, too, sported a far better battery life than its precessors — going from roughly two to four hours on a single charge — and also came with 40GB storage and 256MB RAM.
2008: The gaming scene
During its long stint in the laptop industry, Toshiba also dipped a toe into the gaming world. In 2008, Toshiba launched the Qosmio X300 series, stylish laptops designed with gamers in mind.
The flagship 17-inch laptop sported an Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 and Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 processor, NVIDIA GeForce 9700M GTS/9800M GTS SLI graphics, 4GM RAM, and 520GB storage.
2016: Business pivot
From 2008 to 2016, Toshiba developed a range of consumer and business laptops, improving over time in processors, memory, chassis, and speed.
However, Toshiba began to break away from consumer models in 2016 to focus on the enterprise market, as shown with the 2017 release of the Toshiba Portege X20W-D.
The 1.1kg Toshiba Portege X20W-D is a 2-in-1 laptop and tablet, sporting a 12.5-inch 1,920 x 1,080-pixel display, an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics, and the Windows 10 operating system.
In 2018, Toshiba sold its PC business to Sharp for $36 million, with 80.1% of shares transferred over.
The company’s PC unit also rebranded to Dynabook, pivoting to enterprise-ready laptops including the TECRA X40-E, Portégé X30-E, and Portégé X20W-E.
2020: End of an era
In August, Toshiba formally exited the laptop business with the final transfer of its remaining Dynabook shares, 19.9%, to Sharp.
The Japanese tech giant has weathered accounting scandals, nuclear power plant lawsuits, and drastic restructuring efforts to survive, and now, the company sees the future in industrial and energy solutions, digital signage, and the manufacture of IT components including semiconductors.