Tadpole Technology was a small British computer company formed in 1983 and originally based out of Cambridge, who amongst other things manufactured VMEbus boards for industrial applications, along with military spec, small server and laptop computers. During the 1990s and perhaps most famously, Tadpole produced a range of high-end laptops that were based on the SPARC, PowerPC and Alpha RISC architectures, running Solaris, AIX and OpenVMS respectively.
A previous series of articles followed the restoration of a SPARCstation IPX, noting how Sun UNIX workstations were a much-coveted object of geek desire in the early 1990s. However, Tadpole laptops which boasted a RISC processor were a great deal rarer than such workstations, with an almost legendary status and you were lucky if you even got to see one in the flesh.
In this series of posts, we’ll take a look at restoring a third-generation Tadpole SPARCbook, which was introduced in 1994 at a starting cost of $10,950 — which with inflation would make the price tag equivalent to almost $20,000 or £15,000 in today’s money!
SPARC hardware in general has a special place in my heart, but the Tadpole SPARC laptops are in a whole league of their own – mythical beasts I know exist, but which are incredibly rare, and even more stupidly expensive when they come up for sale than even regular SPARC hardware.
I’d not give up my firstborn for one, but we can talk about a kidney. Or two.
I have a Sparcbook 3GX, They keyboard is OK but it isn’t wonderful it has limited travel and has a dampened feel to it… and I’m pretty sure it isn’t mechanical its just a membrane though I could be wrong I haven’t opened it up.
The trackpoint is also basically a first generation one and not very good… it works but drifts much more than modern ones.
My particular model is a 3GX which has a 110Mhz microsparc and 64MB ram but there was a factory upgrade to 128MB with double thick low profile modules (you could custom make them these days probably with enough effort).
NetBSD and the last version of OpenBSD run on it well. And obviously Solaris. NetBSD is the go to OS for it these days unless you acutally intend to run 30 year old software in which case the solaris compatibility later probably can still do that just fine on NetBSD anyway.
I do have a dead battery pack for it… that could be rebuilt. There is nothing too special about it I think…. perhaps it has an management chip on it but that shouldn’t be terribly hard to figure out even without the battery.
It shares many parts with early IBM thinkpads.
The follow on model the 3000ST is pretty nice also probably the nicest 32bit sparc laptop (I expect we’ll see some open source FPGAs implement something even nicer in the coming years though).
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