Compaq: The Best-Selling PC Brand in the Late 1980s and '90s

Uncle Al

Posts: 9,436   +8,683
I had one of the compaq "lugable's" that worked great. Yeah it was heavy and since no battery not exactly portable, but in it's day it was a workhorse ... in fact the only problem I had with it was that it's parts were proprietary so just about impossible to work on yourself. Since then they had a number of good units but that proprietary issue stuck with them so I never bought another one ....


Posts: 529   +606
Until 1991, Compaq was a premium brand. They were pretty much what Apple is nowadays.

Before their 1991/92 reestructuring to shift focus to the average consumer market, Compaq PCs used to cost 2x to even 3x more than similarly-configured systems from Dell, Gateway and other clone makers. So, spec-wise I wouldn't call Compaq machines high-end since they had the same specs as their competitors. I do remember that reviews of the time always praised Compaq PCs for being much better built, sturdier and more rugged and reliable than their competitors - they took special care to only use high quality materials, very well designed cases with smart interior layout, oversized PSUs, etc. However the 2x to 3x premium you'd pay for all this wasn't worth it.

Just by reading Compaq-related magazine articles and their magazine ads, especially from 1988-1991, you could get a feeling that their upper management was boneheaded and fully ignoring the direction the market was going.

I have always loved the design of the Compaq CDS 524, still do. It's a damn cute machine. I never owned one of these but one friend of mine did. The problem with the CDS 524 was its low specs, the top of the line model used a 486 DX2 66 MHz with 8 MB ram and 500 MB HDD at a time when these specs were already touching the low end. I'd only consider purchasing one if it was fully upgradeable (aside from the screen ofc) with aftermarket components.


Posts: 203   +148
AMD' acquisition of ATI almost killed them off too
and years later turned out to be the one thing that SAVED AMD. THAT was hectors vision and reason why he bought ATI in the first place, he knew AMD needed graphics. And yet, the short term thinkers at AMD at the time fired him because of that purchase. In Hectors mind, he knew long term that purchase would save the company, and it did just that. Sad they fired him, he was back then their only true visionary.


Posts: 694   +728
I was never a big fan of the Compaq line of PCs. I was deeply in love with their Compaq Proliant Servers. In the mid 90s I had 3 Proliant Dual Pentium Pro 200s running Citrix Winframe 1.8. They ran like champs. I have no doubt they would still power on today.


Posts: 203   +148
I always liked compaq, good product. but I also saw clearly how over time the market was changing in the late 90's to early 2000's and compaq was no longer a big interest to the public. sales were dismal for years, and was such a dumb move that Carly Fiorina wasted Billions on that deal. had she not, compaq would have faded away anyway, and HP could have and should have retained all those billions she wasted, and had better long term financial strength. HP had to work through those losses, and it took them decades to do so. Such a dumb move wasting billions on a dying company. Much like how AOL wasted billions on many companies that are now long gone. So many ceo's make such dumb moves, how can they be considered so smart? I refer to people like that as articulate *****s, many are mesmerizing when they give speeches, and can talk anyone into believing almost anything. much like how Obama convinced billions of people that giving 6 billion in tax payer money to iran was a good idea, along with tanks and guns and fighter jets. He is the king at it...he is the number one snake oil salesman of all time.


Posts: 130   +69
It wouldn't surprise me if the datacenter you (or your companies) work at, still has at least one Compaq Proliant Server, either still in operation for some long unsupported app that is still in use, or at least the guts of one laying in the parts room.......... A true testament to how well those tanks stood the test of time and reliability!
I was a Compaq employee from 1999 through the merger, then laid off in 2003. Fun fact, I built / uploaded most of the Presario desktop Windows images to the factory during that time. It was surreal to upload an image, then take a five-minute walk over to the factory line a few hours later and pull a machine for testing. This was back when most Compaq manufacturing was done in Houston. Compaq was a great company to work for, HP, not so much.

Julio Franco

Posts: 8,965   +1,911
Staff member
My first PC was a 386 clone that I eventually upgraded with a multimedia kit, faster CPU, and so forth. Then my second PC was a Compaq Presario, one of the higher-end models of the time that was expensive for a home machine, but extremely well built and beautiful for a tower model. Even the monitor and speakers were well designed, and the software experience was custom tailored to the machines. That Presario also got upgraded over the years, I added a 3d graphics card and some other hardware, until I moved on to my own builds. That was how I ended up becoming a computer enthusiast.


Posts: 352   +44
Theme hospital was a goodie in retail version. not that old. now we got a new one game (2) to remember the 486 had a few problems with missing some componds like a pentium could run ie ?? flawlesly but 486 missing it. and then came 166mmx and pod voodoo 1 2 banchee 3 4 5. more memory in vram ddr1 2 but future holds ddr 3 4. tresspasser 3dfx (future patches) new version and o.c codes to it. remake of it was nice. every nglide pc game with 3dfx patches can now be run in new hardware pc win 10. tnt 1 2 ultra and mx 440 s3 virge 375-385 DX was running in half mode and missng many tings. that was a time when you just needed more space like 1 gb hdd. more ram better motherboard and so on.

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Posts: 883   +897
I worked on a Compaq Deskpro 286 for a couple of years. Built like a brick sh1thouse it was!
I have to say I preferred the IBM PS2 Model 60 we worked on at the same time. The engineering was just better done, less barn-door, but both would survive a nuclear bomb. IBM should start making machines again now - boutique high-end desktops built to the same standards as their early PS2's. Modern re-imaginings of their beige ancestors - I'd consider one!


Posts: 772   +203
I lived in the North Houston suburbs when Compaq set up shop here.

It literally transformed the area. Brand new highways and expensive homes sprung up almost over night. Property values in nearby tiny towns jumped.

But Compaq became a victim of their own success.

We forget that their big claim to fame wasn't simply making the first "Portable" (aka: "Luggable") PC's. It was the fact they were the first to reverse-engineer the IBM BIOS to make the very first PC clone. Before that, there were no "clone" PCs.

After that, clone BIOS's (AMI & Phoenix I believe were the big two) allowed *anyone* to build their own cheap IBM/PC Clone, undercutting even Compaq. Badly managed, they didn't move with the times, and today the area is but a shadow of what it once was (HP still operates out of the site, but it's nowhere near as big as it once was.)


Posts: 15   +8
I have Compaq laptop with an AMD processor I bought in 2007, upgraded the memory in 2010, running Windows 7, and I still use it today for little things, like Skype meetings, checking email when I travel... all light duty stuff. The battery needs replacing. But, still running like a champ, otherwise.


Posts: 268   +287
Had a Presario with a bad bios that wouldn't boot. Took the bios chip out of a running machine, booted the bad one with it, took out the chip and replaced it with the bad one while it was running, and reflashed the bad chip with a good bios. Things were TANKS.


Posts: 34   +58
Absolute classic case of poor strategy, execution and value destroying acquisitions. I was in the business when all this went down and it was a slow but persistent dive. The DEC purchase was awful same with the networking buys. The HP merger/acquisition was textbook fail. They were never great products, they were good and innovative for a time. I still remember when that Presario for $1000 launched at Best Buy. What a dog...but $1000 was nuts. Sold like crazy.