DOS Palmtop: Memorex Commuter Computer Details and specs

Memorex Commuter Computer

About this machine:

The Memorex Commuter Computer (and its various clones) would probably have made it to the top of my list of my favorite DOS-based palmtop PCs if it wasn't for some flaws that can be annoying. But before i go into detail i of course need to bore you a bit with my research about the company and history. Most of you probably know Memorex - but not as a computer manufacturer but rather for their blank DVDs, CDs and floppy disks. Memorex was founded in 1961 in Silicon Valley (San Francisco) and originally specialized in making computer tapes. Later on they also got into the consumer market and sold audio tapes, floppy disks and other media. Throughout the 80s they also produced floppy disk drives and other hardware. However - it seems the "Commuter Computer" was the only computer they ever sold. The brand and parts of the company were sold several times throughout the years, the latest owner is imation. But let's get back to our Commuter Computer - it was introduced around February 1992 for 649 USD. So it came out a few month earlier than the notorious tidalwave clones, had a quite competitive price tag and unlike most other palmtop PCs it came with a full size serial and parallel port. In Theory a quite attractive machine among palmtops but like most of them it didn't sell too well. In fact i don't know how many were produced or sold, but the facts that it is quite rare on ebay today and that Memorex never produced any other computer after this seem to underline my point. Technically speaking this is a really nice machine. I already mentioned the full size parallel/serial ports so unlike most other palmtops that come with proprietary connectors this one ensures "Plug and Play" while for most others you might have problems getting the right cables and always have to carry these around. Another REALLY unique feature is that besides the common "on/off" button to "suspend" the machine ("Instant on") there is actually a real power switch that physically separates the battery power from the machine. Unlike with using the "suspend" button you of course lose all work and the machine reboots after you power it on again. I can guess that many users that were new to this feature "fell" for it. Also the power and status LEDs keep on when suspended and can even be seen when the lid is closed. That looks cool but i guess it also costed a bit of energy if you suspend for many days or so. The machine is also a bit unusual as it comes with DR-DOS, not MS-DOS. The worst flaw of this machine? SLOW! Yes while in theory it should be on par with most other palmtops while it is in "Turbo mode" (7.15 MHz) it simply performs like a snail on sandpaper. Even if you are not much into gaming you will notice that already a simple "DIR" command reveals the poor performance of this machine, you can literally read every line as it slowly scrolls by. Also in games this is quite obvious. Some games that "Work perfectly" on other machines @ 7 MHz are really much slower on the Memorex, sometimes even so slow it's unplayable. Some guy analyzed these and wrote that it's due to the screen refreshes - these consume much processing power. So he explained that any computing intense app could benefit from the 7 MHz, but as long as you have something going on the screen it will slow down. Which happens in every app or game I could come up with. Another flaw is that it only has one PCMCIA slot. While today noone will probably come to the idea of using a megahertz 14.400 baud PCMCIA modem any more it might be a disadvantage if you are used to copy data from one PCMCIA card to another. Especially as this machine has a choice between "no" Ramdisk or "128KB" which is considerably small. The especially weak built-in PIM software is really sub-par and can only be compared to other fail implementations like in the Poqet. A riddle i could not yet solve is the manufacturer behind this machine. If you look at this machine and the other "clones" it is quite apparent that some taiwanese company like Tidalwave made and rebranded them as OEM. I'd like to see the insides of one but i never open machines unless they are broken. A successor was announced in February 1993, supposedly the "Memorex Commuter Computer II", which was claimed to have a built-in modem, Communications software, PCMCIA II and 1 MB RAM. However, i have never seen the successor model.


CPU: 80C88-8 (CMOS) @ 4.77Mhz(default) or 7.16Mhz (Turbo mode)
Graphics: Monochrome CGA, 80 x 25 character text mode, CGA 2 color monochrome graphics mode
Display: 640 x 200 monochrome Supertwist LCD , 4 grey scales, 7.2 inch
Memory (RAM): 640 KB
ROM (Software): 640 KB
I/O ports: RS232 Serial, PCMCIA 1.0 Type I slot, Parallel port, 20 Pin Mini D-Sub Connector (Floppy)
Sound: PC Speaker - Piezo
Operating System: DR-DOS 6.0
Software: Just some VERY basic PIM software.
Size: Length 11.0 cm, Width 27.3 cm, Height 2.9 cm
Powered by: 4 AA batteries - rechargable or non-rechargable or AC adaptor (optional accessory), CR2025 Lithium button cell as memory backup
Weight: 580 gram (21 ounces) without batteries
Special features: Full sized parallel and serial ports. Can use full 640 KB as RAM or 512 KB + 128 KB RAM Disk
Released: February 1992
Originally retailed for:: 649 USD
Clone of: Unknown, several clones exist. Pobably taiwanese OEM manufacturer
Similar models: ASI Pocket Computer, Super Mini Pocket Personal Computer

- Full size serial and parallel port
- Fully CGA compliant, so most CGA based DOS appz and games work
- Excellent keyboard

- PCMCIA Type I won't let you access any flash cards
- Not really the smallest Palmtop ever
- Power management is rather average
- Slow performance
- Small Memory
- Only one PCMCIA slot

Collector Value:
7 of 10

Usage Value:
7 of 10

Slow and big if compared to the HP 200LX. If you don't care about speed and definitely want full size ports you can give it a usability value of 10/10.

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