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These retro PC gaming laptops use the real hardware, and I want one

With real 386 and 8086 CPUs, Yamaha OPL3 sound cards, and VGA graphics, these new laptops are ideal for vintage PC gaming on the move.

Retro gaming PC laptops - Pocket 8086 and Pocket 386

I’ve just found out about these new retro gaming laptops based on ancient PC hardware, and I just had to tell the world all about them too. If, like me, you have fond memories of playing Doom and The Secret of Monkey Island on an off-white 386 PC then read on, because these new laptops don’t just run these old games, but they’re even based on genuine retro hardware. There’s no Raspberry Pi emulation, just real old-school x86 CPUs, VGA graphics cards, and even genuine sound cards.

Retro gaming might be big right now, but it so often involves emulators on small-board computers, and I always like to use the original hardware when it isn’t a massive pain in the butt. When I decided to build a retro gaming PC for myself, I used a newish Fractal Design case, Corsair PSU, and CompactFlash reader, but I also made damn sure it used an original Intel Pentium MMX CPU, along with a Sound Blaster 16 sound card.

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I can’t take it on the train with me, though, and that’s where these new laptops from China come in. Let’s take the Pocket 386, which is indeed based on a genuine 40MHz 386 SX CPU. It has 8MB of RAM, which is all I had in my 386 back in the day too, and it also has an upgradeable VGA card.

Sensibly, storage comes from a CompactFlash card, rather than an IDE hard drive, and it also has a Yamaha OPL3 sound card. In case you don’t know what that means, the latter enables the laptop to play basic synthesizer music, as featured in many game soundtracks from the time – Dune sounded amazing on this synth, and it works great on a 386 too. Like a modern-day laptop, it also has a lithium-ion battery.

Retro gaming PC laptops - Pocket Pocket 386

That’s not it, though. Along with having a USB port as a modern convenience, it also has output sockets for various dongles, which enable you to expand it further. This even includes the ability to add a 16-bit ISA expansion card, as well as a parallel port, serial port, and a VGA output. It all measures just 21 x 12 x 3cm (W x D x H), which means you can technically put it in some pockets too, though that’s a bit of a stretch in more ways than one.

But what if, like me, you want to go back even further, to the age-old days of the 8086? There’s a laptop for you too. The Pocket 8086 comes with an NEC V20 8086 CPU, which can run at up to 10MHz (I always wanted one of these in the late 1980s, as my AMD 8086 only ran at 8MHz). You also get 640KB of RAM, which was the gold standard back then, plus you get a VGA graphics card, a Yamaha OPL3 sound card, and a 512MB CompactFlash card.

Retro gaming PC laptops - Pocket 386 outputs diagram

That’s enough hardware to run Windows 3.1 (badly), but it’s also the DOS system I’d have dreamed of in the late 1980s. Now you can play those old Sierra (I recommend Space Quest III and King’s Quest IV) and LucasArts adventure games on classic, genuine hardware, and get the real experience. As with the Pocket 386, the Pocket 8086 can also output to various ports via dongles, including PS/2 and VGA, as well as serial and parallel ports.

As a veteran PC hardware nerd, I absolutely love to see these machines running on proper old hardware, and thanks go to Tom’s Hardware for its report on the Pocket 386, which brought them to my attention. Who would have thought in the 1980s that you would still be able to buy a new 8086 PC four decades later?

If you’re interested in the PC’s past as a gaming machine, make sure you also check out my features on CGA graphics, as well as the Nvidia GeForce 256, which was the first PC gaming GPU.