larwe.com logo


laser pc5:

Laser PC5 from Vtech


quick facts

Overview Photograph Laser PC5
FCC ID Not specified; unit is rebadged by Perfect Solutions and the FCC ID was probably on the original label they removed. I wonder if they're aware they were breaking Federal law by selling this Class B computing device without a permanently-affixed FCC ID?
Model or Part # PC5
My unit's vintage Serial #US9611486 and US9611485
CPU Zilog Z80180 (enhanced Z180 with dual UARTs and 1Mb memory addressing; the specific chip on the board is Z8018010VSC, which is a 10MHz, 68-PLCC, 5V variant)
Memory 256K SRAM (battery backed-up), 256K of EPROM (socketed).
Operating System Proprietary software suite; copyrights are 1988 Artsci, Inc., 1990 Vtech Computers Ltd., 1995 Vtech Computer Systems Inc., 1995 Imax Technology Ltd., 1996 Perfect Solutions Software Inc. (this last is probably for the typing tutor). The inbuilt software comprises a word processor, spellchecker, calculator, database program, spreadsheet and telephone directory. The original software bundle from Vtech also included BASIC, but most units you'll find in the USA were resold through a company called Perfect Solutions, who removed BASIC and added a typing tutor. They do mention a downgrade program on their website (to get BASIC back), but I have not, as yet, been able to obtain the original firmware from them. I'm working on it!
Ports Proprietary 15-pin female D connector implementing a serial port and parallel printer interface, DC input jack, proprietary expansion card port that appears to be wired on the memory bus; i.e. it's probably intended only for expansion ROM.
Video/audio output Internal 480x64 pixel monochrome LCD, capable of displaying 80 columns x 8 lines of text. There is also a piezo buzzer.
Available peripherals AC adapter; printer cable; Mac connectivity cable; PC connectivity cable; thesaurus cartridge; carry pouch with hand strap (pouch also holds serial cable and AC adapter).

The Laser PC5 is Vtech's successor to the Laser PC4. I used to own a PC4 as part of my collection back in Australia, and the machines still seem to be reasonably widely available on eBay. The PC5 has twice the memory of the PC4, and purportedly better software features. I acquired two PC5s from eBay as part of a small technical research project I'm doing.

Besides being the OEM for several generic TV-connected home computers in the 1980s, Vtech is rather big in the educational market. They sell numerous "kiddie laptop" type edutainment devices that you'll see in Toys-R-Us. The PC5 appears to be something of a crossover product. The PC4 was pretty clearly targeted at low-end business type applications. By the 90s, these applications were moving over to portable PCs or pocket-sized data bank type devices. So the PC5 seems to have been originally designed as the next step up from the PC4 (for "real" productivity applications), and then side-tracked into the educational market when it became apparent that it wouldn't sell to the original target consumer. Perfect Solutions, a company in Florida, distributed the PC5 (they now distribute the PC6) to school customers; schools issue them to students instead of expensive PC-compatible laptops and the students learn keyboarding skills on these little devices. This portable word processor space is still an active market, interestingly enough; there's a PC6 device still in production, and there are other products (DreamWriter, Alphasmart Dana, Laser PC6, etc) running various operating systems including Palm OS. Apple's Newton-based eMate 300 device was presumably competing in the same space. Anyway, there's absolutely no information anywhere on the web (that I could find) about the internals of these machines, so this page of mine appears to be breaking some new ground.

The PC5 runs off four "AA" cells, with two AG44 (LR44) button cells for memory backup. The plate on the back incorrectly describes these as lithium cells. The main battery life appears to be in the neighborhood of 18 hours of more or less constant typing. The socketed 27C020 EPROM containing the software is conveniently located under a metal hatch on the bottom of the unit, in the same location as the backup batteries. In the bottom-side picture of the unit below, note that I removed the cover off the expansion slot and battery compartment so you could see inside. Also observe that there are a couple of unused breakouts; one labeled as being for a cassette port (there is no space on the board for this connector), and two unlabeled spots above the expansion bay that look as if they're intended for RJ11 connectors; perhaps Vtech made or planned an internal modem for this device.

Similar to the Tandy WP2, the word processor module is limited to a maximum file size of approximately 22K; the remaining memory is used as a RAM disk. The screen responsiveness is much better on the PC5 than on the WP2, but this ergonomic benefit is totally negated by the horrible keyboard on the PC5. I haven't used the database or spreadsheet modules, since they don't directly interest me. The calculator is rather better than I expected; it has some scientific functions as well as the usual memory and four arithmetic functions. What I REALLY wanted, though, was a terminal emulator and better yet BASIC (though I could make do without the terminal emulator as long as I had BASIC).

Take a browse through the photos below (clicking any photo, including the one up top, will take you to a larger version in a new window) and you'll see that the PC5 is a rather typical Vtech piece of engineering; cheap and quite nasty. The keyboard is usable, but has a horrible feel compared to the electric-typewriter feel of the WP2. The nasty feel of the keyboard is also partly because it's only about 75% of fullsize. It might be better for childrens' hands than it is for my stumpy engineer fingers. For more subjective review-type information, please refer to my little research project.


downloads

There isn't much available for download regarding the PC5. This datasheet might be helpful if you plan to hack the firmware. Connectivity software for DOS is also available from Perfect Solutions' website, I won't mirror it here.


larwe.com and all original content herein is © Copyright 2005 by Lewin A.R.W. Edwards. "larwe.com" is a trademark protected under U.S. and international law. Infringement or attempted dilution of the intellectual property rights held by Lewin A.R.W. Edwards will be prosecuted to the fullest possible extent.