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Not So] Old Compaq Laptops Keep McLaren F1s Alive

Before I go any further, let me give you some context. In the 90s, McLaren produced the best naturally aspirated supercar in history, the McLaren F1. State-of-the-art technology of the time was used, including computer resources for the maintenance of the electronics, as told in Jalopnik. For that task they still need some laptops from that time, the Compaq LTE 5280.

McLaren relies on these computers because they use special peripherals with CA (Conditional Access) anti-copying technology, prepared specifically for them. It's a physical anti-copying system. A program is easily replicated, but hardware is not. It is a security measure that was used in programs such as Autocad to make it more difficult to hack or use outside the workplace. Older people may refer to these things as "licenses", and they could be placed in serial (COM) or printer (LPT) ports.


The Woking-based company is getting hold of several units of these computers, no matter what they cost, so that they can continue to maintain the F1 cars.

Anyone who has used computers in their life will know that over 20 years starts to be a long time for a machine, although if it has been treated with care and luck, it can still work as well as it did on day one. McLaren is looking for a way to replace those old machines, but in the meantime, the LTE 5280s are vital, and it's been a long time since Compaq made them.

Now grab your popcorn, here comes the interesting part.

According to various media outlets consulted - they say the sin, but not the sinner - the Compaq LTEs have an Intel 8086 processor, a 20MB hard drive, and run only in MS-DOS mode. Those specs are for computers from the mid 80s, not the 90s. Only someone who doesn't know anything about computers, or who hasn't researched beyond Wikipedia, can say that. Right there they distinguish between the first LTE, which had very basic hardware, and the final 5000 series with Pentium processors.


Turning to a more serious source solves the problem. For starters, the 5000 series of the Compaq LTE family came out with Intel Pentium processors (80586, not 8086) with clock speeds between 75 and 150 MHz. Specifically, the LTE 5280s ran at 120 MHz and came with an internal hard disk of 810 MB at 1.35 GB capacity, not 20 MB. The operating system is Windows 98, a bit more modern than MS-DOS, and with its graphical environment. Look what you can find on Youtube:

Come on, I would love to know how to run Windows 9X on an 8086 with a 20 MB hard disk. Whoever can do it, tell me how. The most sophisticated thing I've seen running on an 8086 is the graphical environment GEM, only the most puretastic of the place will know what it is. Specifically, I'm referring to an Amstrad PC 1512, with 512 KB of RAM and a 20 MB hard disk, which came out a decade before the LTE 5280s.

Maybe some people got confused about the operating system. One thing is what the computer runs on, in this case Windows 98 (it integrates a modern MS-DOS version), and another, how the McLaren software works. To communicate with the guts of the car you don't need a graphical environment, a 100% text interface is enough, which is lighter and faster. To confuse the technical specifications so much is not even halfway normal anymore.


It was just as rigorous to say that the McLaren F1 uses carburettors, 13-inch tyres and torsion bar suspensions. That's why more than one would be shocked, but in this case only a geek is going to be shocked.

Come on man, it doesn't cost so much work to document...

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