GRiD Defence Systems turns 30: the story so far

GRiD Defence Systems celebrates its 30th birthday on 1st September, a remarkable achievement for the rugged computing manufacturer. The defence business has achieved a lot over these three decades, establishing itself firmly as a market leader in rugged military computing and building on the significant legacy of the original GRiD company. In this blog we look at GRiD’s rich history, and how it got to where it is today.


The early years

While GRiD Defence Systems will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year, the story of GRiD goes back even further. GRiD Systems Corporation was founded in the US in 1979 by John Ellenby, a British entrepreneur who previously worked for Xerox in Silicon Valley. Taking colleagues from Xerox with him, Ellenby was motivated to make computing portable, and from this dream, GRiD was born.

While there were several manufacturers working on portable designs at the time, GRiD was the first to create a device with the clamshell design (the screen folds against the keyboard) that has become synonymous with laptops today.

Progress over the years of Rugged Portable Computing

Progress over the years of Rugged Portable Computing

The GRiD Compass 1101 – designed by fellow Brit William Moggridge – was the first clamshell laptop. It was introduced to the market in 1982 and went on to be used onboard NASA’s Space Shuttle spacecraft in the 1980s. It featured an Intel processor, something that still features across all GRiD products today – the small ‘i’ in the GRiD name is, in fact, a nod to that commitment.

Astronaut John O. Creighton poses with onboard GRiD Compass computer, aboard Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-51-G on 18 June 1985. Taken from NASA website, and as such falls outside copyright.


A very high retail price resulted in the Compass being most suited to specialised missions, and the laptop was favoured by various US government agencies, not least because of its ultra-rugged design, understood to be a favourite feature of then-president Ronald Reagan.

Notably, the laptop included the GRiD-OS operating system that featured a multitasking, text-based user interface. This was also a first of its kind because it enabled operators to switch between different windows, and was essentially a predecessor to Windows 3.1.

In 1988, GRiD released the first battery-powered laptop, the 1530, firmly introducing portability into the devices that Ellenby had sought some ten years prior, and a year later introduced the GRiDPAD, the first pen-and-display tablet.

GRiD also pioneered the invention of the CRM, releasing the Field Automation Sales Tool – or FAST.

The first GRID Tablet to the latest GRiD Tablet


GRiD Defence Systems Limited

In the late 1980s/early 1990s, GRiD underwent several ownership changes, starting with a sale to Tandy Corporation – a leather goods company and electronics retailer, but also the fifth largest computer manufacturer in the world at the time – in 1988.

AST then acquired the computer division of Tandy Corporation in 1993, although the GRiD brand did not fit with the business objectives of the new owner.

At this point, GRiD’s Defence Manufacturing and Engineering Rep, Piers Rushton, who was based in the UK, established GRiD Defence Systems.

In the beginning, GRiD Defence Systems distributed and repaired GRiD Systems laptops that were still being manufactured in the US, but as this function started to close down (AST was then sold to Samsung in the late 1990s before the brand was dissolved in the early 2000s), Rushton sought other ways to sell rugged computers for military requirements.

He opted to purchase well-known commercial laptops from Ireland, strip them down and rebuild them on a rugged enclosure before reselling, effectively repurposing commercial PCs for military applications.

Changes in the market then opened up new opportunities for GRiD.

One was the rise of embedded computing allowing GRiD to purchase motherboards separately as opposed to having to purchase, strip and rebuild commercial PCs. Additionally, previously in-built features such as disc drives were becoming available to buy separately, so GRiD was then able to buy all internal parts and begin manufacturing computers in house from the ground up.

Only purpose-built laptops were going to truly offer best-in-class for military customers, so bringing manufacture in house was an optimum choice for the company, which now had more control over the design of the computers it was selling as well as the overall supply chain.

The first device designed by GRiD Defence Systems was the 15” 1580 laptop, a precursor to the highly successful 1590 that is still being sold today and is the cornerstone product for GRiD that all other laptops derive from.

In 2008, GRiD Defence Systems introduced its first tablet, the 2500, the first one the company had launched since the GRiDPAD was launched nearly 20 years before.

From these two products has stemmed the product line available today, which features some 12 products.

The GRiD Factor

Over the life of the company – from the creation of GRiD Systems Corporation in 1979 to establishing GRiD Defence Systems in 1993 – innovation has been at the core of everything associated with the brand.

We have always pioneered the development of disruptive computing, designing the clamshell chassis that has not only become the standard design for military computers, but all laptops as they are known today.

From the very early days of the Compass onboard the Space Shuttle to the computers used onboard a wide variety of aircraft, vessels and vehicles in service today, ruggedness has always been at the core of GRiD.

GRiD is also proud to be a British OEM, and we maintain the sovereignty of the UK supply chain by designing, manufacturing and delivering from the UK using skilled employees based here.

With 30 years under our belt built on a legacy of pioneering computer design, GRiD continues to lead the way in the rugged military computing market. Designing computers that are truly rugged from the ground up has been at the core of what GRiD stands for from the offset, and it is that value that we continue to deliver to our customers today.

We’re thankful for all of our customers and partners who have supported us this far, and look forward to what the next 30 years will bring!


So, GRiD Defence Systems celebrates its 30th birthday! If you would like to discuss anything GRiD Defence Systems or just want to learn more about our story so far, please get in touch on +44 (0)1628 810 230 or drop an email to