19. Apple iMac, Second Generation (2002)
The first-generation iMac of 1997 may have been the machine that told the world that Apple, and its recently returned co-founder Steve Jobs, were back. But, its second-generation successor was a vastly different, far more inventive computer. And, even though it didn’t turn out to be an influential one, it remains a high point in PC design history.
With its dome-shaped base and its flat-panel screen that “floated” on a swivel arm, this iMac was, quite literally, like no computer that came before it. It had a friendly, anthropomorphic feel, in part because it bore a spiritual resemblance to Luxo Jr., the plucky desk-lamp hero of the Oscar-winning short film from Pixar, Steve Jobs’s other company.
The design looked cool, saved space and provided near-infinite adjustability for the display. But, it didn’t last long: in 2004, the second-gen iMac was replaced by yet another all-new model, which squeezed the entire computer into the back of the flat-panel monitor. That elegant design is probably more practical than its lamp-like predecessor, but it lacks the older machine’s whimsical exuberance.
18. Hewlett-Packard OmniBook 300 (1993)
The innovative OmniBook 300 wasn’t just one of the first sub-laptops–it was one of the most innovative hardware designs ever, albeit one that didn’t prove particularly influential. Weighing 2.9 pounds, the system stored Windows 3.1, Excel 4.0, Word 2.0 and MS-DOS 5.0 in ROM memory rather than on a hard drive; this allowed it to boot up instantly. User storage was solid-state too, on a 40MB PCMCIA Type III hard disk or a 10MB PCMCIA Type II flash-disk drive.
Productivity was a central theme for the OmniBook. The unit came with LapLink Remote Access and HP’s organizational tools (contacts, appointments and a financial calculator, same as in the HP 100LX) and provided one-button access to all applications. It also had a unique integrated mouse that popped out of the laptop’s right side on a thin piece of plastic; the design eliminated the need for an annoying mouse cable, but the mouse was small and awkward to move about.
Given the OmniBook’s basic 386SXLV CPU, monochrome 9-inch VGA screen and power-friendly ROM storage, it’s not surprising HP gave the notebook a high battery-life rating–up to 9 hours of power for the 10MB flash-disk version. (In a pinch, the unit could run on AA batteries–unheard of for a computer with a full-size keyboard). Although the solid-state approach to laptop storage didn’t catch on at the time, it’s back today in products like Samsung’s new 16GB and 32GB flash-memory drives. Funny how things come full circle.
17. Toshiba T1000 (1987)
Toshiba’s wildly popular T1000 brought DOS in a truly lap-friendly portable size. The T1000 measured 12 by 2 by 11 inches and weighed 6.4 pounds–a veritable featherweight compared with suitcase-sized luggables, and more than 3.5 pounds lighter than its nearest competitor, the Datavue Spark. It was also cheaper than most laptops of its time.
The T1000’s durable clamshell design accommodated a full-size 82-key keyboard, a 720KB 3.5-inch floppy drive, 512KB of RAM and an internal modem. The unit embedded MS-DOS 2.11 in ROM–which eliminated the need to have two floppy drives, as some competing notebooks of that era had, but also made it impossible to use certain software (such as WordPerfect Executive, which required two disks to run).
To achieve its size and cost, the T1000 made some sacrifices in CPU and battery performance. Nonetheless, this model helped catapult Toshiba to the fore of mobile computing, and it paved the way for the next wave of laptops, including number 18 on our list, HP’s OmniBook 300 (above). (You can read the T1000 quick-reference guide at this fan site.)