Zenith Z-171 PC
Introduced:May 1985 at COMDEX
Available:late 1985
Weight:14.4 lbs
CPU:80C88 @ 4.77MHz
RAM:256K - 640K
Ports:serial, parallel, expansion slot
optional VGA and composite video output
Display:10-inch backlit LCD, 80 x 25 text
640 x 200 graphics
Storage:dual 5-1/4-inch floppy drives
OS:MS-DOS 2.11 on disk
Power:12.8vdc @ 2.5A, tip positive

The Z-171 portable personal computer is a lightweight, briefcase-sized computer than can take care of any number of personal or business computing needs. It is a portable system with all of the features of a full-sized system, and it can run virtually all software from IBM's vast library.

According to Stan Veit's pc-history.org, the Zenith Z-171 is based on the Morrow Pivot, which was conceived and designed by George Morrow, of Morrow Designs, as far back as 1983.

In 1985, Morrow contracted with Vadem to manufacture the Pivot, and also licensed the design to Osborne as the Osborne 3 computer. Due to design and price considerations, these early systems had a non-backlit display with only 16 lines of text instead of the usual 25 lines of text.

At about this same time, the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was looking for a portable computer system for their field auditors during on-site tax audits. In order to get the lucrative contract, The Zenith Corporation licensed George Morrow's design for the Pivot, and released it as their own Z-171 portable computer system, upgraded to a new backlit display with 25 lines of text. This new screen made the Z-171 one of the most useful portable computers at the time.

According to February 1986 The New York Times, Zenith was sucessful in winning the $27 million contact to supply the IRS with around 15,000 portable Z-171 computers.

Due to its early design, possibly as far back as 1983, the Z-171 is one of the few battery-powered computers which utilize the large 5-1/4 inch floppy drives, instead of the more recent 3-1/2 inch floppy drives. This made it much more compatible with desktop systems, as at the time, they also mostly used 5-1/4 inch floppy drives.

The Z-171 keyboard has four "icon keys", which initiate functions to make the Z-171 more than just a basic laptop computer (their words). These keys function are built-in and work without booting into MS-DOS.
  • Clock/calendar - show the "home screen" - the world map with clock and calendar.
  • Phone dialer - dial into a remote computer system using the optional internal modem, or use the Z-171 as a dumb terminal.
  • Disk access - Boots the computer from the A: floppy drive, or switches back to the current MS-DOS screen.
  • Calculator - four-function calculator pops-up in the upper corner of the screen.

  • The Z-171 is also known as the Z-170 - apparently the Z-170 designation on the manual was for the "series" of which the Z-171 was the only one released.
    You can read the Zenith Z-170 operators manual (147 pages, 6.5MB PDF document) for information.
    The Z-171 is listed in the 1985 Zenith consumer computer catalog (from pestingers.net).

    From the 1985 Zenith computer catalog
    Part number
    ZFL-171-42dual drives, 256K RAM$2,699
    ZA-170-1extra battery pack69.00
    ZA-170-2padded carrying case69.00
    ZA-170-3optional video card229.00
    ZA-170-4optional 300/1200 baud internal model379.00
    Z-205-4256K memory upgrade chip set199.00

    Related Links

  • Starring the Computer
  • old-computers.com
  • Morrow Pivot II from Wikipedia
  • LA Times (February 28, 1986)
  • Heathkit/Zenith catalogs from Richard Pestinger's site

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