Dell Latitude CPx, non-Matrix laptop

My favorite category of retro laptops are models released in the very late nineties and early zero. It was then that a unique combination of features developed in portable computers. Sufficiently powerful Pentium III processors, which then lasted with someone until the mid-to-late 2000s. Large hard drives. An interesting graphics subsystem, which in some cases provides a decent scaling of “non-native” resolutions, and sometimes it can do some kind of graphics acceleration. And at the same time – compatible with MS-DOS sound. The result is a moderately versatile device that is compatible with a wide range of software. I already have several similar laptops in my collection, for example IBM

ThinkPad X21


ThinkPad T22


What I didn’t have in my collection were laptops from IBM’s competitors. When I saw for sale an inexpensive laptop released at the turn of the century by Dell, I decided to add a nice variety to the retrofan kit. And at the same time, to study how different the approach of this company to the development of such a typical corporate laptop of those years, with a serviceability unseen in modern times. And yes, I had a suspicion that Trinity was working on such a laptop in the very first scene of the film “


“. The signal turned out to be false, but today there will be a small addition to my New Year’s review of the film.

The diary of a collector of old pieces of iron I keep in

The model range of IBM laptops in the nineties and early 2000s is diverse, but more or less understandable: there are some series with a clear division. There are many models, but at least some logic can be traced. Dell and, for example, Toshiba have a mess of digital and alphabetic indices, which you can probably figure out, but I didn’t succeed. Page Wikipedia about Dell Latitude laptops (still in production) offers a list of dozens of modifications in the period of interest to me. It seems that all the small changes in the configuration were made in the name of the model.

In February 2000, the Dell Latitude CPx version with the letter H


in PC Magazine Benchmarking. In the photo, it is installed in an extremely fashionable, rounded style of the beginning of the 2000s, a docking station. In August of the same year, the model appears in another test

Dell CPxJ

configuration, which is almost exactly the same as my instance.

Thanks to this, we know how much such a laptop cost. $3,552 adjusted for inflation is about $6,000. This laptop did not receive any awards in either test. The Pentium III 700-powered ThinkPad T20 proved to be the best. In the Winstone 99 benchmark, it was 23% faster than the Dell. But such a laptop from IBM was even more expensive – $ 3,900.

My laptop was released in March 2000, and its configuration is like this:

  • Processor: Intel Pentium 3 650 MHz, system bus frequency 100 MHz
  • Memory: 128 MB SDRAM, maximum 512 MB
  • Display: 14 inches with a resolution of 1024×768
  • Video system: ATI Rage Mobility M 8MB VRAM, AGP 2x interface
  • Hard disk: 30GB IDE 2.5″
  • Interfaces: 2xPCMCIA Type II, 1xUSB 1.1, VGA, IrDA, headphone output, two audio inputs – line and microphone, parallel and serial ports, docking station connector, S-Video video output, PS / 2 combo connector for keyboard and mouse
  • Battery: Li-Ion 53 W*h
  • Dimensions: 319x252x45m
  • Weight: 3.06 kg with optical drive installed

The main difference from the previous version of CPx H is the support for Intel Speedstep technology, which allows you to change the processor frequency.

Immediately, we note the presence of both a trackpoint and a touchpad – the latter was far from always present in laptops of those years.

On the left are headphone jacks, microphone and line inputs, as well as an S-Video output for connecting to a TV.

On the right are the PCMCIA slots and the most convenient hard drive bay. If necessary, the compartment cover slides down, forming a ledge for which the hard drive is pulled out of the laptop:

Behind the standard set of connectors for zero laptop:

The feature of all “business laptops” of those years was modularity and the ability to quickly replace components. The Dell Latitude is doing very well with this. On the bottom is a compartment for RAM modules:

The already mentioned hard drive changes in a minute. And, for example, in

ThinkPad 380E

To do this, it was necessary to disassemble the device almost to the ground. But the main thing in this approach is the compartments for external devices.

Both compartments are accessible from the front. One is for battery only. Second, the CD-ROM drive is installed by default. Together with the laptop, I got a drive that can be installed instead of an optical drive:

Theoretically, you can find modular drives

ZIP and LS-120

. But in 2000, another option was relevant: to put a second battery instead of a drive. And thus double the battery life. Even with one battery in the BatteryMark test, the laptop lasted 4 hours and 11 minutes. With two batteries, you’d get a fantastic 8 hours of battery life. But this is in the past, now the battery, although not dead, allows at best to move the laptop from outlet to outlet.

The end buyer of such models is the business, not ordinary users. And for them, both maintainability and high-quality support from the manufacturer are important. 22 years ago, the Dell Latitude laptop received a three-year warranty, and repairs were carried out with a visit to the customer’s office. In 2022, I’m more interested in the availability of at least some drivers on the manufacturer’s website. The old laptop already has a service tag – a unique number by which you can easily access all information from the manufacturer. I enter:

Alas, it just won’t work. But a simple search by model name returns driver list, as well as links to the manual and service manual. Let’s put Dell in the same group as IBM / Lenovo and Toshiba, most often the drivers for these laptops are preserved and available. But in the case of models from HP / Compaq and Sony, retrofans were not lucky – all information was deleted. Okay, does it work at all?

Working. From the previous owner, Windows 98SE remains, and this is my most preferred OS for a laptop of this period. The possible range of operating systems is large. Windows 2000 will work quite adequately on such a configuration. Windows XP will take off without any problems, especially if you limit yourself to the second service pack. Even Windows 7 can theoretically be “stretched”, but this will already be too much. Windows 98 provides maximum compatibility with DOS programs. Unlike a slightly later

ThinkPad R31

DOS games on a Dell laptop will have (almost) no problem with sound.

For tests, I had to upload data to the laptop. The easiest way to do this is to use a flash drive, but Windows 98 does not support removable media by default, even if a USB controller driver is installed. You can burn the generic USB driver to a CD or a floppy disk, but this time I decided to use infrared.

An infrared port is installed in almost every laptop released between 1995 and 2001. A quarter of a century ago, it was a fairly convenient interface for communication between a laptop and a pocket computer. In those years, I didn’t have any laptop, and it was generally impossible to imagine a situation where I have two laptops, and somehow I need to transfer data between them. There were many options for transferring data then – a parallel port, an external drive for ZIP drives, and a trivial data transfer over the simplest null modem cable. Infrared is perhaps the most hassle-free way to transfer data from one retro laptop to another. If Windows is installed on laptops and the infrared port is recognized in it, it will work.

Another important advantage of the Dell Latitude is the availability of the ATI Rage Mobility graphics accelerator. And no, not because this laptop can play late 90s games that require some sort of 3D hardware. In terms of its functions, this card is severely curtailed. But ATI Rage has one side feature: this accelerator scales quite well the entire zoo of extensions from DOS to the display’s native resolution of 1024×768. This is what Prince of Persia looks like on a laptop:

Not perfect: the image is quite blurry. But it seems to me that this is better than the common “simple” scaling when, for example, every third line is duplicated. Such a primitive mode is typical for most video systems in laptops of the nineties, for example, in the peer of Dell, the ThinkPad T20 laptop with the Savage video system. Like other laptops, the Dell Latitude allows you to disable scaling. In this case, the picture in non-native resolution will be displayed with black bars on the sides. But it will be clearer, albeit with the wrong proportions:

The best picture from an old laptop is obtained by connecting it to a CRT monitor:

In conclusion, let’s look at the results in the Speedtest DOS benchmark:

The Dell Latitude CPx is a decent retro laptop. By modern standards, it is heavy, but it is almost entirely made of iron. It doesn’t have the soft case cover that becomes sticky over time, like on IBM laptops. Its hinges are not broken, as is often the case in

Toshiba thin laptops

. The laptop has a great keyboard with great key travel. This is the only laptop of those years in my collection equipped with a touchpad. It has a great sound system that is fully compatible with DOS, and thanks to the correct scaling, old games do not look terrible. It also has stereo speakers, which is generally an exception to the rule for devices of those years. It remains to find out what this laptop has to do with the Matrix.

Trinity’s laptop mystery

This particular one has nothing to do with it, since it was released in 2000. The first “Matrix” was filmed in mid-1998. But there are certain similarities. Here is a frame from mine


retrotech in the movie:

All a few seconds of screen time laptop is very hard to see. Let’s try to increase it a bit:

Very similar. Approximately the same arrangement of loops, although slightly different. There is definitely a touchpad. Maybe it was a previous Dell Latitude CPi based on Pentium II?

Although no, the loops are different here too. The close-up of the laptop is never shown in order to unambiguously decide. However, there is also this scene from the movie:

It clearly shows that this is still not a Dell Latitude C. The models of this series have a characteristic protrusion above the display, there is a button and a hook that holds the laptop closed. In this frame from The Matrix, it is noticeable that there is no such thing. With this rather useless knowledge, I leave you. The mystery of the laptop from The Matrix remains unsolved. But I hope that someday I will get a laptop just like the movie.

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