Zenith MiniSport Laptop Hacker

1998-2011 by Brian Mork


Before World Wide Web days, I distributed a regular newsletter called the Minisport Laptop Hacker to Amateur Radio and Usenet newsgroups via my UUCP host. Zenith offered only minimal and expensive support for this popular but discontinued ZL-1 and ZL-2 8088 based MSDOS-compatible Minisport notebook computer. My newsletters contain technical notes, construction projects, operating hints, resources, architecture details and other related goodies. The Minisport Laptop Hacker (TM) series is the result of owning and repairing Minisports and, probably most significantly, donations of hardware and information from others on Internet and the Amateur Radio packet networks.

The October 1989 issue of REMark magazine (The official Zenith/Heath Computer Users' Magazine) had two good articles introducing the MiniSport, and the July 1991 issue had an article on the "care and feeding" of Minisports.  As late as Spring 2006, Chris Bryden is using Linux on the Minsport, booting Minix 2.0.2 from disk.

If you bring up the Infoseek search engine, it will find a number of hits on the phrase "MLHACK" or "Minisport Laptop Hacker", from which you can chase down several places to get your own copy of the compendium. Look for a file named MLHACKxx.ZIP, where XX is the latest issue in the compendium (MLHACK28.ZIP as of 2/98). In addition, Matthew Jachimstal snagged the original MLH series from its ftp SimTel archive , and has made all issues available through his web service as html-ized MLH files. Unfortunately, Matthew moved his web pages and I have not yet been able to find them again. If you want to initiate a download of the .zip file compendium right now, you may do so here.

Minisport Power SupplyBy far the most common failure associated with a Minisport is the power supply. To the left is a picture of the culprit. Click on the picture if you'd like to see the full-size image. The second most common failure is the serial port. Both have straightforward fixes documented in the MLHacker series. Not knowing hardware passwords seems to be another common problem, but I don't consider this a failure since deleting the hardware password is not difficult.

I found a museum computer webpage that highlights the Minisport. The Minisport is only one of several 8088 computers, and 8088 based computers, in turn, are only one of many other types. I actually owned an IBM-9000 for about 2 years that housed a 68000 based microprocessor!  For me, the coolest feature of the Minisport compture was the ROM-based FastLynx software. While deployed overseas, flying aircraft during Desert Storm, I used FastLynx and a cross-over serial cable to hook my Minisport up to any other contemporary Windows computer, and FastLynx would propagate itself over onto the other computer and then provide an ASCII-GUI interface like Midnight Commander to move files back and forth.

A thread in Bob Pease's mailbox column (Sep 16th and Nov 18th 1997 (?) Electronic Design Magazine) speak of virtues of the older, but actually more useable notebook computers -- available at great prices. If you can't go first class with a Minisport, you may wish to look at a Tandy (Radio Shack) Model 100 notebook. No, it's not of the PC genre, but one served me well while I owned it. Check with Richard Hanson at Club 100, PO Box 23438, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523-0438, or check the Club 100 web page. Other contact info is in the Nov 18th issue of Electronic Design.


This page is maintained by Brian Mork, owner & operator of Increa TM // It was last modified July 2011. Suggestions for changes and comments are always welcome. The easiest way to contact me is via e-mail.

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