Dauphin DTR-1

Year: May 1993

Initial Price: $2,495 $ ($4,351.80 in 2018)

“… the world’s smallest Windows-based, 486 computer”

Chinese businessman Alan Yong founded Dauphin Technlogy in 1988. For years afterward, Dauphin had been a seller of high-performance color laptops, including their $10,000 color 386SX laptop from 1990. 

Things were looking-up for Dauphin, who in 1992 become the Pentagon’s largest supplier of laptop computers, winning a huge $395 million contract.  In a February 1993 interview with Washington Technology, Yong extolled the virtues of the DTR-1, which he said would render desktop computers obsolete.

“If you can put everything a desktop computer does in a small package, how do you justify having a 25 to 40 pound unit sitting on your desk?” asked Yong. “The desktop computer as we know it is running on borrowed time.”

With industry accolades and a lucrative Pentagon contract in his pocket, Yong appeared capable of making good on his boast. Now, however, it appears that Dauphin itself is living on borrowed time.


See also Dauphin Files for Bankruptcy.

For $2,495, you received the DTR-1 hand-held computer, keyboard, pen-stylus, and a carrying case.It came standard with 4MB of RAM, and a 20MB internal hard drive. An additional 2MB of RAM, to bring the total to 6MB cost an additional $199.Optional internal ethernet capability added another $299.A larger 40MB hard drive was an additional $199.An external 3 1/2-inch floppy drive costs $199.

The internal hard drive is the tiny and amazing Kittyhawk 20MB 1.3-inch micro-drive from Hewlett-Packard, at the time the smallest hard drive in the world.

Picture from my Dauphin DTR-1
Comparison (www)

A built-in accelerometer parks the drive heads to protect itself from hard falls, in fact making it the most reliable hard drive available. Kittyhawk was claimed to be able to survive a 3-foot drop onto concrete while operating without loss of data – perfect for use in a handheld portable computer system. The EO-440 from 1993 also utilized the tiny Kittyhawk hard drive. 

Hewlett-Packard C3013A Kitty Hawk drive made in Japan (www)

The operating system of the DTR-1 is Microsoft Windows 3.1 (with Pen Extensions), which was released one year earlier in 1992. While Microsoft Windows had been available for a number of years, in one form or another, Windows 3.1 was the first really useful and popular version. 

As it turns out, a palmtop computer running Windows operating system wasn’t convenient enough to become successful, and the too-small keyboard, and short 2-hour battery life of the DTR-1 didn’t help matters either. Dauphin filed for chapter 11 federal bankruptcy protection in January 1995. 18 months later, in July 1996, Dauphin was discharged from Chapter 11 reorganization, and continued operations well into 2006, when they were acquired with GeoVax of Atlanta GA.

At the January 1993 Pen Expo in San Fransisco, Dauphin introduced their DTR-1 (Desk Top Replacement) hand-held pen-based computer, at the time considered the world’s smallest 486 computer, and one of the first palmtops to run Microsoft Windows. 

In May of the same year, the DTR-1 was also displayed at the Summer COMDEX in Atlanta, and became available to the public shortly thereafter. The Dauphin DTR-1 had been called “The wave of the future – a complete, modern, conventional computer in a wholly unconventional guise.” – November 1993. 

The DTR-1 was actually manufactured by IBM, in part to better serve their underutilized manufacturing factories. 

Long story short, this is my DTR:

DTR-1 issues

The DTR-1 is known for all kind of flaws but most of them can be easily repaired.

Flaw 1: There is a sound inside the unit when you shake it around and not all memory is present.

If the DTR-1 is dropped the memory module may fall out of place. You need to disassembly the unit and insert the module back on the mobo.

Flaw 2: Ni-Cd RTC battery fails and leaks

The fortunate thing here is that the 6V Ni-Cd battery leaks but not enough to destroy the mobo, of course if you leave it for some more years it will destroy everything! As a fix I cut it out from the mobo using a fine wire cutting tool.

The battery is placed in the red marked area

Flaw 3: HDD fails to spin-up

For this particular failure there might be a possibility for the drive to be damaged but mine had a different issue. The drive is made of 2 parts, the electronics and the mechanical part like in the picture below. The fix is that you have to take apart the 2 pieces and use some contact spray. It is a known issue for this drives to fail because of corrosion between the 2 metals. Spray in the red marked zones.

HDD taken apart 1
HDD Taken apart 2

I faced all 3 flaws with my unit and I had to google a lot for this fixes so I hope this will help you get the DTR-1 up and running. I could not find any repair manual so I guess this is the best you`ll get on the web.

This is my tablets first RUN! I am very happy with the result. Will post more pictures in the following days!

Also I want to thank LGR for the awesome review on this little thing!

The Dauphin Desktop Replacement 1 was a fully featured 486 DOS PC with a stylus-controlled touchscreen! Too bad it had a melting power supply, odd design quirks, and a starting price of $2,495 in 1993.

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