Photography, Hacking, Vintage Computers

Toshiba Libretto 50ct

A „new“ old portable computer in the collection – this time on the small side of things: the Libretto line was introduced in 1996 by Toshiba as the smallest, fully functional, mobile Windows PC at the size of a book – libretto actually is italian for booklet – measuring only 210 x 115 x 34 mm.

The 50ct was 4th in the series, released in 1997 with features that were considered relatively high end: 75MHz Pentium processor, 16MB Ram, 815MB IDE Harddisk, Yamaha sax-2 SoundBlaster Pro compatible soundchip, Chips&Technologies Super VGA chipset with built in active matrix color TFT display and a PC-Card expansion slot.

An external 3.5″ floppy disk drive was included in the package, docking stations – small and large – were optional accessories as well as a higher capacity battery.

The base machine cost 3.799 DM in 1997 which is 3.009 EUR in 2023, so this was not really aimed at the consumer market.

The machine in this case had been upgraded with additional 16MB Ram – giving a total of 32MB – a Xircom ethernet card and the high capacity battery pack. I got it second hand from a person who used it in a car workshop for making measurements and adjustments by connecting it to the cars data connector. For this usecase, of course the Libretto was perfectly sized, fitting in even the tightest spaces.


Unfortunately, it was missing the power brick, the hard-drive made noises indicating near end-of-life and the display was cracked when I got it. So the restoration work was a three step thing which was quite straight-forward with the help of the maintenance manual:

The LCD had cracked in the bottom left corner. Unfortunately, this made large portions the screen unusable.
  1. Ordering a 15v 3A power brick with the right 5.5 x 3.1mm connector. I ended up with some chinese made thing that outputs 16.7V idle which is just 0.2V above tolerances making the power LED on the Libretto blink out a 0x01 error code.
    Why 16.7V when the nominal value should be 15.0? To get around that, I installed a diode in line with the positive wire to drop 0.5V.
  2. Replacing the hard-disk is really easy with the Libretto – losen two screws from the underside on the left, flip open the drive door and pull the hdd out by the handle. It’s a standard 2.5″ IDE drive, so it’s easily replaced with a Compact-Flash card, a 64GB 133x one works just fine.
    I imaged the drive immediately to a file in order to safeguard the original software. It turned out to be a pretty basic Windows 95 install, so apparently the previous owner had removed any special software.It however included a folder with the original Toshiba drivers which is great since the original Libretto software is quite hard to find.
  3. The screen had to be replaced, it at some point must have had contact with something hard that broke the display glass and the electronics underneath since the left and bottom of the screen were all white lines. In the area of the crack, the liquid probably leaked creating a big black splotch.
    I ordered a compatible screen (Sharp LQ61D133) from a chinese website and was surprised to have it delivered only a few days later. I’m not sure if it was a NOS one – it still had a protective film on top but some marks on the back suggesting it might have been harvested from a recycled device.
    Swapping the display out is relatively easy compared to the T3200 which requires total disassembly of the whole machine. It is essentially just undoing two screws under the gray tapes bottom left and right of the screen and then pulling the bezel and the backside apart being careful not to break the plastic hooks. A guitar pluck works nicely for that job.
Libretto with a new screen fitted. Left is the inverter for the CCFL lamps, right is the speaker / power button and that damned AccuPoint thing. The screen opens without disassembling the rest of the computer.

Using the Libretto

With the machine restored close to factory condition, only one thing was left to do: Install an operating system on it. The Librettos of the period came both with Windows 95 and Windows 98 – depending on when purchased, so Win98 it should be. But how? No floppy drive, no CDROM and the CF card was blank….

Getting an OS loaded without access to removable media drives

The problem is booting some installation media to prepare the CF card and kick off the Windows 98 installation. The Libretto is too old to support USB and the built in PC-Card slot is not bootable – without the 3.5″ floppy this means the CF card has to be initialized by another machine to the point where the Libretto can take over. With some trickery it’s possible to mount the CF card as a hard-disk in the VirtualBox VM, then add some disk images and we should be in business:

1st attempt: Install MS-DOS 6.22 on the CF card via the VM – boot from virtual floppy disk 1, fdisk & format HDD, then copy Windows files and run setup on the target device. While that works, it has a couple of drawbacks: 1) DOS 6.22 supports max. 8GB harddisks with 2GB partitions – 56GB wasted… 2) No FAT32 filesystem and the conversion assistant in Win98 fails due to no disk-space 3) The result felt a bit slow and seemed to have stability issues.

2nd attempt: Format CF card to FAT32 and copy Windows install files to it. Problem: This way it’s not bootable neither on the VM nor on the Libretto. Start the VM from Windows 98 boot disk to find out neither fdisk /mbr nor sys C: do what we want – the modern FAT32 flavor seems to be different enough to prevent Win98 from coming up.

3rd attempt: Format CF card once more, then mount in VM as a hard-disk and start from Win98 boot disk, this time choosing the „Install Windows 98 from CDROM“ option. That actually works out, CF card is formatted to the full capacity, Windows 98 files are copied etc., VM boots from the CF card and … configures Win98 for the emulated hardware which of course is incompatible with the real stuff in the Libretto, making it crash when trying to boot it off the CF card.

4th attempt: Same as 3rd one BUT: When the installer wants to reboot for the FIRST time, shutdown the VM instead of rebooting. This way, it has already made the CF card bootable but not made any hardware specific configurations. Then, mount the CF card on the host computer (not the VM) and copy all the files from the Windows98 CD to the root of the CF card. If you don’t the next step won’t work which is:
Boot the Libretto off the CF card, this will bring up the installer where it left off earlier to reboot and it will ask some question on the desired configuration, whether to create a emergency disk (no thanks – remember we don’t have a fdd?). Then, it will start to identify hardware, copy and configure drivers etc. From this point on, it’s straight forward, just let it complete.

This is the point where you want to shutdown the VM and continue on the Libretto. Mind to copy the Win98 files to the CF card first.

Enjoying (?) Windows 98 on the Libretto

Technically, Win98 is actually a good match for the Libretto, everything works already out of the box, no „question mark hardware“ on the system control panel. The Toshiba provided Yamaha sound driver might be a slight bit newer and there’s an additional energy setting „Toshiba Power mode“ available – both not strictly needed.

After adding the MS Plus pack, a contemporary MS Office and a few tools we have a nice, tiny but fully functional and relatively quick Pentium based Windows 98 computer. I would totally like it:

1) if it had a decent pointing device – the mouse nub („AccuPoint“) is either too stubborn („down? naah, not now“) or too quick („look, I’m up here already“), driving me nuts. Using the buttons on the display backside looks like a clever idea at first but is difficult in practice – pushing a button inevitable moves the mouse, leading to surprising results, thus requiring a two hand action to stabilize things. Also, there is no way to connect an external mouse without the docking station.

2) if the keyboard was more usable. Toshiba just overdid it with the miniaturization, the keys are too small to type on without hitting are least two simultaneously and they feel really terrible – mushy and totally not tactile. There are good mini keyboards out there – the HP Jornada 720 has a great one and the PSION 5’s is legend – why did they add a crap one to a 4k USD machine?

DOS (Gaming) on the Libretto

This works. And it works nicely! After all, it’s a Pentium 75 with 32M ram, a SoundBlaster pro chip and vast amounts of storage in a ultraportable package – now we’re talking 🙂

All the key mid 90s DOS software packages do run fine – Doom, Quake, Duke 3D, Wolf 3D and all of the Sierra / Lucasfilm point and click adventures that I tested performed nicely. For the latter, even the built in AccuPoint thing is acceptable, for anything faster paced an external mouse via the small docking station is needed. The above mentioned keyboard shortcomings can be worked around in most games by re-configuring WASD to WRYF or something the like so that thing get useable even with fatfingers.


The Yamaha soundchip is a genuine OPL-3 synth + SoundBlaster Pro compatible 16bit PCM at the default IO port locations; no TSRs or configuration programs are needed for use in DOS. All the settings can be done from the BIOS setup screen that can be called up with „tsetup“ from the commandline. The only downside in this area is that Toshi decided to install a 2mm headphone jack instead of the regular 3.5mm one, requiring an adapter.

Also nothing to complain on the graphics side of things, the C&T chip is connected via VLB to the processor so it definitely is speedy enough in DOS and the active matrix LCD is crisp, it shows no smearing or ghosting neither in Windows nor in key DOS softwares.

All in all, the Libretto is a nice DOS retro gaming machine for 2D titles of around the mid 90s that work with VGA on the built in LCD or even Super-VGA on a external display. The P75 w/o MMX and 2nd level cache is not powerful enough for 3D titles above Quake or Duke3D. For mobile office use, it’s however totally unsuitable due to the maldesigned input devices. It could have been a nice, pocketable word processor hadn’t Toshi screwed up the keyboard, especially since it’s totally silent – no fan, no hard-disk after the CF upgrade and the larger battery give it about 4 hours of continous use.

Technical Specs Libretto 50ct

Standard SpecThis Libretto
CPUPentium 75MHz
Hard Disk815MB IDE64GB CompactFlash
Floppy3.5″ external-/-
VideoC&T SVGA w. 6.1″ Active Matrix LCD
OtherPC Card Slot, on-board SBPro chip+ Small Docking Station
Manufactured1996 / 1997
Introduction Price3.799 DM
(~3.009 EUR in March 2023)
Toshiba Libretto 50ct Tech Brief


Librettos Granddad – the Toshiba T3200 portable

Libretto 50ct / 70ct Maintenance Manual

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