View Full Version : General Computer Frustrations!

September 5th, 2006, 06:24 AM
Sorry in advance for the long post!

I have been using micro computers since 1982. In that time I have used pretty much every type of computer imaginable (except for a tablet PC). For on-the-go use, probably the best computer I've used was the TRS-80 Model 10x family (100, 102). It didn't have much internal storage capacity (32 KB at best, which gives you 29,638 KB, if you don't have any files on the machine), wasn't the fastest thing in the world, but was almost perfect for what it was designed for: on-the-go writing and data entry. There are still quite a few of these little gems being used on a daily basis. Indeed, they are very hard to kill.

I bring this up because I wish we had a more modern analog of the Model 100. I have used several PDA's, which are usable, but not quite what I want. The whole stylus thing might be Ok for short note taking, but just doesn't cut it if you've got some real writing to do. I have also purchased the little fold-up keyboards that plug in to the PDAs, and while they are better than the stylus, they strike me as a hack, at best. I also purchased (and still use) a QuickPad Pro. This is closer to what I'd like, but it also isn't quite there. No real built-in communications capability, limited capacity of built-in software and fairly difficult file transfer, along with software compatibility issues and no built-in programming language make this unit an also-ran. With a little bit more effort, the folks at QuickPad could have had a real winner.

I guess what I'd really like is a small computer, around the size and weight of a Tandy 102. I don't want a flip-up screen like a notebook, I'd prefer a unit with the screen and keyboard sharing the top panel. It doesn't have to be the most modern system, and could be based off of a low-power single-board computer you see in the trade mags. The LCD display should be back-lit, or at least have the option of turning on back lighting if needed, but for me, it doesn't really need to be color. Color is nice, but not strictly necessary. I'd like for it to have at least an 80 column by 24 row display (no GUI required either, which would allow the use of a much lower power CPU and less on-board RAM). I would like for it to be powered by Linux, with a full complement of console-based Linux tools. Boot-up time would have to be very fast, under 30 seconds, and it should automatically come up to the menu (similar to the QuickPad Pro's menu), to allow instant use. I also would like to have the ability to drop to the shell prompt, to be able to use the machine as a terminal. While GCC/G++ wouldn't be strictly required, it would be nice, and an option to add it should be avilable. Also, the unit should come standard with at least Perl and Python, perhaps Ruby as well, too allow the user to hack together some useful programs.

This "dream" system of mine should have no hard drive storage, using compact flash for everything. Perhaps allowing the user to add their own external compact flash (or SD) card for expanded storage. The fewer moving parts the better. I would like for it to have built-in wireless networking AND at least one standard PCMCIA slot for user-expansion. Perhaps external USB ports, maybe a 100 Mb/s ethernet port, I'm not sure about an external video, audio, keyboard or mouse port. If they fit, no problem though.

Actually, I'd love to take a DOA Model 100, gut it, and try to build a SBC Linux system in the case. That would be awesome! (note: I'm not saying I will, I've got too much going on in my life right now)

Any thoughts from the rest of you on this?

September 5th, 2006, 06:46 AM
The industry tends to develop very small laptops rather than big handhelds. I see there are a number of new products coming out, but maybe none that matches your needs. Among the smallest seems to be the Taiwanese company Flybook: A33i, V23i, V33i and upcoming VM, which have rotatable push screens as well as real keyboard, but unfortunately 2.5" hard disks.

September 5th, 2006, 07:49 AM
Thanks for the info, I'll check them out.

I could live with the 2.5" hard drives. I was mainly looking for something that would be very rugged, like the Model 100/102.

I still haven't given up on the idea of building one myself. I'm pretty sure I could get all the components, probably a lot cheaper than a finished product. I was an electronics technician in a previous life, and could probably do a half-way decent "case mod" on a dead Model 100.

I think the most difficult part of the job would be hacking the Model 100 keyboard into the SBC. I really like the Model 100 keyboard, and want to keep it.

I also wanted to say I signed up to purchase one of those "One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)" notebooks. It is fairly close to what I'd like, except for the clamshell style. It uses a low power CPU, is Linux-based and uses Flash memory for storage, no hard drive.

September 5th, 2006, 08:44 AM
This is just a thought, and impractical, and I don't know how big the model 100 is, but if size is permitting, the subnotebook/laptop or whatever has input for a PS/2 keyb you have a lot of time and you don't mind a lot of soldering, you could take apart a modern PS/2 keyboard, take the PCB in the upper left hand corner, and use that. Most PS/2 keyboards have 2 sets of 12 contacts on the PCBs to which all the intricate tracery on the acetate and silicon go. A combination of one from each will generate a keystroke. By trial and error you could figure out each pair of contacts for each keystroke, then solder pair of wires from each pair of corresponding contacts to its keyswitch underneath.
I've seen a typewriter modded to a ps/2 keyboard using this method, but his keyswitch was contacts between the hammer and behind it where it would hit on the way back.

September 5th, 2006, 10:41 AM
I was mainly looking for something that would be very rugged, like the Model 100/102.
Toshiba Dynabook SS S30 has a waterproof keyboard and is supposedly built to survive a drop from 70 cm (a bit over two feet). Dimensions: 283 x 197 x 26.9 mm, weight 1.19 kg. Japanese price tag: 252,000 Yen.

Panasonic ToughBook CF-74 and CF-Y5 also has a waterproof keyboard and mousepad, vibration proofed hard disk and will withstand a drop, not said from which height... That is a whole series of laptops built to be durable. These computers are significantly bigger and heavier than the Toshiba (and maybe meant for other applications).

So it is possible that manufacturers will work towards more durable computers as an alternative to extreme prestanda. At some point, someone might look into making smaller units, and before you know it, your handheld "TRS-80 Model 2006" might exist, however for a price that will make you think twice.

September 5th, 2006, 11:00 AM
So it is possible that manufacturers will work towards more durable computers as an alternative to extreme prestanda. At some point, someone might look into making smaller units, and before you know it, your handheld "TRS-80 Model 2006" might exist, however for a price that will make you think twice.

Unfortunately, you are probably correct.

September 5th, 2006, 04:13 PM
That's pretty amazing, DoctorPepper. My mom rants about the exact same thing all the time. The closest she's found in more modern hardware is the NEC MobilePro 780.

September 6th, 2006, 02:19 AM
Quick thought: HP Jornada 720 / 728. With CF storage and PCMCIA [although 16bit] you can do quite a few things with it, and it's small. It's off the market now, but it's till a good ideea.

September 7th, 2006, 05:51 AM
I used to hate using the Palm stylus. I've since upgraded to a Treo 650, and I long for the stylus again. If ya got fat thumbs like me, those tiny keyboards are a pain in the ... thumbs.

Terry Yager
September 9th, 2006, 02:22 PM
If cost is no object, you might want to look at the OQO, which seems to meet most, if not all of your criteria:



September 9th, 2006, 03:22 PM
Flack, I agree with you on the Palm. I've had a HandSpring Visor and a Sony Clie, both of which use the stylus. I did buy an external fold-up keyboard for the Visor, which works surprisingly well. The big downside is you have to manually attach it to the Visor (or Palm if that's what you've got).

I currently have a BlackBerry 7290 that I got when my wife was going through her breast cancer stuff. I used it to stay in touch with work via email and the built-in cell phone. The keyboard is somewhat better than the Treo, but you still have to type with your thumbs. I guess it beats a sharp stick in the eye, but just barely! ;-)

I've also thought about the HP Jornada 720 / 728, like fxg recommends, and I may even have one I can get my hands on. I sent out the email, let's see if I get a response.

Terry, the OQO looks intriguing. The major downsides to it are battery life (3 hours) and the fact it runs Windows XP. It could probably be reimaged with Linux, but you're correct, the price is quite high.

September 19th, 2006, 01:17 PM
I've got an old Toshiba Libretto (http://www.ottaky.com/lib70ct.php) that I use occasionally. It's small (it'll fit in a loose front pocket) and has decent speed. It runs Windows 98 and has a PCMCIA slot which I have a network card in. I'd like to get wireless working on it ... I've never actually tried. I used to just use it as a photo album, having it display random pictures on my end table. The only reason I don't use it more often is that due to work I'm so used to taking my laptop bag with me everywhere that between that and the Treo, I've got most of my mobile computing needs covered.