DEC Hi Note Ultra II – a retro laptop

… or DOS FTW! \o/


1337 team straight from the 70/80s sends greetz from RetroKomp/LoadError party …


Background info

This small project started because I wanted to have a standalone and compact machine with DOS and run some old school games like DUNE 2, Blackthorne, Flashback 😀
I’ve started looking around on a local bidding portal and I’ve found a very pretty Olivetti laptop with 486 inside.

Obviously, I’ve bought it … but a while later I’ve received an email from a seller about another unit that he had – DEC HiNote Ultra II Laptop with a Pentium 100 onboard – straight from 1996!
I was like …

… and I’ve bought it too 😀

When a package with both laptops arrived, I’ve figured that I’ll go with DEC as a first patient, because I already had a good plan for it! 😀
Olivetti restoration was automatically postponed and will be covered in another blog post.

I’ve made some pics of it after unpacking and during disassembly just to show you how an elite laptop looked back in a day.

It came with an external floppy drive.

The battery connector is IMO very neat. You won’t find such a thing in modern laptops.

A mandatory bay for an RTC battery.

Back in a day, we’ve had chips serving various tasks. You won’t see it nowadays … Everything is SoC now …

Can you actually believe this is a mainboard from the 90s? :O


Modding and fixing

Sure DEC was a bit dirty and required nice cleaning but it also had a dead battery and a weird charger socket. That had to be addressed 😀

Charger socket was first in line 😀

After a while of poking around, I’ve figured a pinout and implanted a socket that matched PSU plug that I had on a shelf.

Initial test – YAY! it works! 😀

I’ve skipped the cleaning and assembly process but took some pics afterward.

Battery hack

Obviously, I wanted this laptop to work on battery power, but unfortunately, all cells were dead. I’ve decided that I’ll simply swap ’em all. I had several 18650 cells lying around so my next step was obvious 😀

Rotary tools are awesome 😀

Mandatory failure while working with traces wrapped in Kapton …

… aaaand after a while … FrankenCell ready and working!!!

… a bit drained though. I had to charge it for a while.

OS installation

I didn’t realize that it will be a problem to install an OS onto this machine until I’ve figured that floppy drive is not working.
Kinda hard to install an operating system when there is NO USB, NO CD-ROM, NO NETWORK … plus a dead floppy drive 🙁
A floppy drive was constantly running but nothing booted.
I’ve opened it and to my surprise, the main belt was disintegrated lol

I’ve then tried to put a rubber as an alternative …

… but that just didn’t work at all so I’ve skipped further repairs because I was way too impatient to run a new OS on that machine. I had another idea in mind.
I’ve wanted to use a VirtualBox VM to install DOS from images straight to a Compact flashcard. It turns out that you can actually set VM to use a physical drive instead of virtual.
Here is how the installation process looked.

… aaaaaand TESTING 😀

Another mod was to use an IDE to CF adapter. The goal was to get more disk space and save battery power. CF card drains battery way slower than HDD from the `90s

Final tests and a Flashback ;P

“HIMEM is testing extended memory…” daaaamn, I missed that 😀

Soooooo …


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3 thoughts on “DEC Hi Note Ultra II – a retro laptop

  1. Hey, I just got myself the same model as well but it’s also lacking a charger. Could you tell me the pinout for the charger socket?

    1. Hi, I’ll be honest, I did it quite a while ago an I really cannot remember what the pinout was. That should be rather easy to lookup with a multimeter though.

  2. I have one of these – it’s a great machine. Picked it up years ago when I was working a temp job helping to decommission an old telemarketing firm. They didn’t want it so I took it home. Could use a CF to 2.5″ IDE adapter though. It still has the old hdd in it.

    The removable floppy drive wedge is quite cool. I think there were other wedges available, maybe a CD-ROM.

    I actually threw away the battery because it was dead, lol. Really wish I hadn’t done that.

    IIRC there is an old BIOS update / tool that will allow you to sometimes “revive” old batteries. There is protection circuitry that is supposed to kick in when the charge gets too low, and sometimes the PC will not even boot to recharge it once that happens, resulting in “permanently” dead battery. The fix was to allow boot just enough to get the charging going, which can sometimes help give it enough juice that the main battery charge routine will kick in. Look around and see if you can find it 🙂

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