$200-ish laptop with a 386 and 8MB of RAM is a modern take on Windows 3.1 era

0-ish laptop with a 386 and 8MB of RAM is a modern take on Windows 3.1 era


Of the many oddities you can buy from Aliexpress, some of the weirdest are the recreations of retro computer systems in semi-modern designs. We’re most intimately familiar with the Book 8088, a recreation of the original 1981 IBM PC inside a chunky clamshell laptop. The people behind the Book 8088 are also responsible for the Hand386, which is a bit like a late-80s PC stuck inside an old Palm Pilot or Blackberry, and a second revision of the Book 8088 with more built-in ports and a VGA-capable graphics adapter installed instead of a basic CGA adapter.

Whoever is selling these systems is now back with the Pocket 386, which combines Hand386-style internals with a clamshell design similar to the Book 8088. The result is the kind of IBM-compatible system that would have been common during the Windows 3.1 era, when MS-DOS still dominated (especially for games) but Windows was on the upswing.

The heart of the laptop isn’t a genuine retro 386 but an Ali M6117 embedded processor. This is a newer chip that integrates a 40 MHz 80386SX CPU core along with an ALi M1217B chipset. The system also includes 8MB of RAM, one of three different replaceable VGA adapters (either a Cirrus Logic CL-GD542X, a TVGA9000i, or a CHIPS F655x5), a Yamaha OPL3 sound card, an 800×480 IPS display panel, a 4,000 mAh battery, and a CompactFlash slot for storage. There’s no built-in trackpad, though the arrow keys can be used to simulate a mouse. The system also includes a USB port, though as with the Book 8088, it may be usable for mass storage but not for typical USB accessories.

Enlarge / The Pocket 386 supports standard ports like PS/2 and VGA via a number of custom ports and external dongles.

DZT’s Store

For accessories, the laptop includes a few ports on the back that can be attached to external dongles; included dongles can be used to add PS/2, VGA, parallel, and serial ports to the system. The Pocket 386 is available in both a semi-translucent black finish and a clear finish, and though its normal list price is $300, it’s currently listed for $187. An adapter for adding external ISA expansion cards is sold separately.

This system could technically run Windows 95, and the seller will send you a working Windows 95 disk image (in the GHO format used by the ancient Norton Ghost backup and restore software, so you’ll need to figure that out). The Pocket 386 is just over the minimum requirements for Windows 95, which wanted a 20 MHz 386DX processor or better and at least 4MB of RAM. But even running off of a CompactFlash card instead of an ancient spinning HDD, expect Windows 95 support to be slow at best, particularly because of the technically inferior 386SX processor and the still-pretty-scanty 8MB of memory.

This system will work best if you stick to Windows 3.x and MS-DOS, though the extra CPU speed and RAM will make it infinitely more useful for retro apps and games than the Book 8088 running the same MS-DOS and early Windows software.

Listing image by DZT’s store

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