McLaren’s F1 supercar is special in more ways than one. Even now it’s still the world’s fastest production car with a naturally aspirated engine, and McLaren only built 106 F1s in total. Jalopnik visited McLaren recently, and discovered another special aspect to the F1: a 20-year-old laptop. McLaren is still servicing the existing 100 F1s with a Compaq laptop from the early ‘90s.
“The reason we need those specific Compaq laptops is that they run a bespoke CA card which is installed into them,” explains a McLaren spokesperson to Jalopnik. “The CA card is an interface between the laptop software (which is DOS-based) and the car.” If you’ve never heard of a CA card, then Jalopnik commenter Mike Herbst helpfully explains it’s a Conditional Access card. Modern PCs use smart cards or USB keys with special access codes to access sensitive systems, and the CA card was used as custom hardware as part of an integrated system for security and copy protection.
Sure, software from 20 years ago is slower and less sophisticated than what we have right now, but there’s many instances where older technologies are more robust and less prone to crashes. Of course, you need 20-year-old hardware to run the 20-year-old software.
This doesn’t mean McLaren shouldn’t upgrade their systems (they should), but there’s a method to their madness.