HP Compaq NC6120 laptop, the king of ports, a must-have for retrocomputing enthusiasts
In an attempt to find a laptop which has a parallel port but is modern enough to run Windows 7, I stumbled across the HP Compaq NC6120, which is equipped with a Pentium M 760 processor and 2GB of RAM (the maximum possible). Windows 2000, XP and Vista drivers for this laptop can still be downloaded from HP website here. I also managed to install Windows 7 using the Windows Vista drivers. This is the CPUID dialog running on this laptop:
One thing I must say about this laptop is that it has a lot of ports. There are 4 USB 2.0 ports, Firewire/parallel/serial/VGA/modem/Ethernet ports as well as a card reader slot for SD/MS-Pro/MMC cards. There is even an S-Video port for video output. For a while I tried to plug in my PS2 mouse, only to realize that there are no PS2 ports. There were also options for wireless, Bluetooth and infrared which did not come with my unit.
The laptop’s BIOS supports USB emulation and boots from USB hard disks just fine. The only complaint that I have about this laptop is just the BIOS will check the vendor ID and device ID of the installed PCI-e wireless card (installed at the bottom of the unit) and will refuse to boot if an unsupported card is detected. This is presumably done to support the Fn key combinations to turn on and off the wireless card. Unfortunately this also means that you can’t install a newer PCIe wireless card to support 802.11n and will have to use up a USB port for this.
What’s good with a parallel port without Windows 98 which allows direct port access? So I figured I needed to install Windows 98 on the NC6120. A basic installation finished without issues, leaving the following devices without drivers:
Display adapter: VEN_8086&DEV_2792 - Mobile Intel(R) 915GM/GMS,910GML Express Chipset Network: VEN_14E4&DEV_165E - Broadcom NetXtreme Gigabit Ethernet Audio: VEN_8086&DEV_266E - Realtek AC'97 Audio for Intel(R) Audio Controller PCMCIA: VEN_104C&DEV_8031 - PCIxx21/PCIxx11/PCIx515 PC Card Controller USB: VEN_8086&DEV_2658 - Intel Corporation 82801FB/FBM/FR/FW/FRW (ICH6 Family) Modem: Motorola SM56 Speakerphone Modem
At this point it is a matter of trial and error, searching Google for the relevant download links, while being careful not to install any so-called driver scanners, which will just install malware. It took me almost a day but eventually I managed to locate the drivers for all of the above, except for the display adapter and the card reader. Apparently there have never been any Windows 98 drivers for the Mobile Intel 910/915, so I have to resort to using VBEMP which works up to 1024×768 (32-bit colors) without 3D acceleration:
For the card reader, under Windows 98, I could not get the OS to detect any cards despite trying various drivers. The same card worked fine under Windows XP and Windows 7. I have to conclude that the card reader is not supported under Windows 98.
An NDIS2 driver exists for this network card so it’s possible to connect the laptop to my local network, with the help of Microsoft Network Client. I set BOOTGUI=0 in MSDOS.SYS so that I can choose to just boot to DOS and start Windows manually later if needed.
Although there are no packet drivers for this particular network card (none that I tried worked to be exact), I was able to follow the instructions here and create an NDIS to Packet Driver Converter (also known as shimming), allowing various DOS networking tools such as MTCP to work. The below photo shows a minimal startup of Microsoft Network Client (which loads the NDIS2 driver), followed by the shim converter taking over to set up the packet driver, and ended with MTCP being successfully loaded:
After successfully installing Windows 98 and setting up DOS networking, I am very happy with my NC6120. The laptop will be a valuable tool for me as I frequently work with the parallel port. The serial port will also be useful in monitoring output from the embedded devices. The rest of the ports could come in handy later.
You can download a copy of all the drivers I have downloaded for this laptop here. The DOS driver for the network card is located in the LAN.DOS folder.
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