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HP OmniBook 300 find!

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    HP OmniBook 300 find!

    Hello, everyone. Among other things, I collect HP calculators, as well as some of the related equipment they made back in the day. One of my favorites of the related items is the 200LX palmtop, which I've owned two of (one of which sports a shattered LCD panel, sadly). It's quite amazing that they managed to pack quite a bit of power into such a small package, being a (nearly) full DOS 5.0 PC which isn't much bigger than some of their graphing calculators.

    Anyway, I recently picked up a HP OmniBook 300 "superportable" laptop at a local hamfest. Weighing in at under 3lbs (1.4kg), the OmniBook 300 would've been classified as a "netbook" had the term existed at the time. It has both Windows 3.1 and DOS 5.0 in ROM, and features a 'mouse' which pops out from the right side of the case. Outwardly, it very much resembles a nearly-2x-scale version of the aforementioned 200LX, down to the relief lines on the top and the lid latch on the front. It came with the original box, power supply, several manuals, and a (likely dead) battery pack. Anyway, here are some pictures of it:



    And some comparison shots of it alongside my HP 200LX:


    My home page My collection
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    #2
    Very nice. 16 shades of grey would be very useful in Windows 3.1. Does it have a hard drive installed? With OS in ROM it should boot pretty fast.

    I guess I am not the only one who uses the dryer in the basement as a workbench.
    What I collect: 68K/Early PPC Mac, DOS/Win 3.1 era machines, Amiga/ST, C64/128
    Nubus/ISA/VLB/MCA/EISA cards of all types
    Boxed apps and games for the above systems
    Analog video capture cards/software and complete systems

    Comment


      #3
      Nice find! Hope you know, that this model can use AA batteries as well? No charging inside the unit though....

      Comment


        #4
        Cool find! In many ways this reminds me of the Atari ST Book because of its lines in the back and LCD screen. Dare I ask how much it got you for? =)
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          #5
          Thanks for the replies!

          Originally posted by Unknown_K View Post
          Very nice. 16 shades of grey would be very useful in Windows 3.1. Does it have a hard drive installed? With OS in ROM it should boot pretty fast.

          I guess I am not the only one who uses the dryer in the basement as a workbench.
          Yep, this model has a conventional 40MB HD as a PC card; they were also available with a 10MB flash memory card (the first SSD-based laptop?), which cost about $400 more than the HD-equipped version in spite of the smaller amount of storage. And yeah, once it gets past POST, it boots in a matter of seconds.

          And yeah, I don't have a whole lot of well-lit flat space around here, so when I needed somewhere to arrange the OmniBook stuff for a 'photo shoot', the washing machine was it...

          Originally posted by Adventurer View Post
          Nice find! Hope you know, that this model can use AA batteries as well? No charging inside the unit though....
          Yeah, I'm aware of that, though I'd probably need to buy lithium AAs since this is the hard drive version. Since I have the charger with it, I'd like to have the rechargeable pack as an option, and am considering buying some NiMH 4/5 A cells (which is apparently what the pack uses) in order to re-cell it.

          Originally posted by MindThreat View Post
          Cool find! In many ways this reminds me of the Atari ST Book because of its lines in the back and LCD screen. Dare I ask how much it got you for? =)
          Yeah, there definitely seem to be some similarities, though I think/hope that the OmniBook is less fragile than the ST Book! HP was generally quite good about designing rugged devices back in the day, considering all the tales of the thought put into the durability of the HP 35 (the first pocket scientific calculator ever!), and the unauthorized 'drop tests' which followed.

          And as for cost, I threw out the figure of $40 to the seller, and he took it. I'm pretty sure he would've taken less, but I figured that since I'd paid $20 for my second HP 200LX, and the OmniBook was roughly twice the size...
          -Adam
          My home page My collection
          My wants list My goofy music

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            #6
            I have used these for ham radio logging and CW operation and they are nice little computers. I think I still have a few in the junk box along with some of the accessories. Small enough to be portable with a large enough keyboard to type at 50wpm. With a solid state pcmcia drive they are fast and quiet running DOS programs.

            BEWARE!

            the power jack is reversed from most power jacks in that the center pin is negative. Check as this may vary from model to model.

            I borrowed my first Omnibook from a friend and wired a 12 volt adapter to use it in the car. I don't know why I didn't check the documentation first, probably I was just in a hurry.

            The result was the instant releasing of the magic smoke from the unit. Lovely volcanoes all over the PCB. Lo and behold I had bought myself a non-functioning notebook. Fortunately, it was not a notebook he was using so we negotiated a fair price.

            Comment


              #7
              I bought one of these new, back in the early '90s. It was sort of the first Macbook Air. In order to pack that much functionality into a small, low powered package, there were some interesting choices made. For one, even though the processor was a 386 class CPU, Windows ran in Standard mode (16 bit protected mode), not enhanced mode (32 bit protected mode). The big mod was to install the files needed to run in enhanced mode, but doing so really unstabilized the system (which was a little iffy to begin with). The ROM based Windows files were XIP, execute-in-place modules. The 40 MB HD used compression to get the most out of the limited storage. My original machine died of the dreaded battery leakage syndrome. I bought one off ePay many years ago with full manuals and everything, but non-functional. It had a bad trace on the MB that was easily fixed and it runs like new today. Cool little machine.

              Dave...

              Comment


                #8
                Originally posted by GeoNomad View Post
                I have used these for ham radio logging and CW operation and they are nice little computers. I think I still have a few in the junk box along with some of the accessories. Small enough to be portable with a large enough keyboard to type at 50wpm. With a solid state pcmcia drive they are fast and quiet running DOS programs.

                BEWARE!

                the power jack is reversed from most power jacks in that the center pin is negative. Check as this may vary from model to model.

                I borrowed my first Omnibook from a friend and wired a 12 volt adapter to use it in the car. I don't know why I didn't check the documentation first, probably I was just in a hurry.

                The result was the instant releasing of the magic smoke from the unit. Lovely volcanoes all over the PCB. Lo and behold I had bought myself a non-functioning notebook. Fortunately, it was not a notebook he was using so we negotiated a fair price.
                OUCH! Thanks for the heads-up. Mine came with the original charger, so I don't really have to worry, but I'll definitely keep it in mind. The HP 200LX also has a reverse-polarity (center negative) power jack, but since I generally just use good ol' alkaline AAs with it, I don't think I need to worry too much at the moment. I like the fact that the OmniBook 300 can also make use of regular AAs (imagine someone making a modern notebook PC, even a netbook, capable of doing that!) as a backup, even if that isn't entirely applicable to the HD version.

                Originally posted by resman View Post
                I bought one of these new, back in the early '90s. It was sort of the first Macbook Air. In order to pack that much functionality into a small, low powered package, there were some interesting choices made. For one, even though the processor was a 386 class CPU, Windows ran in Standard mode (16 bit protected mode), not enhanced mode (32 bit protected mode). The big mod was to install the files needed to run in enhanced mode, but doing so really unstabilized the system (which was a little iffy to begin with). The ROM based Windows files were XIP, execute-in-place modules. The 40 MB HD used compression to get the most out of the limited storage. My original machine died of the dreaded battery leakage syndrome. I bought one off ePay many years ago with full manuals and everything, but non-functional. It had a bad trace on the MB that was easily fixed and it runs like new today. Cool little machine.

                Dave...
                Thanks for the tips. Yeah, HP definitely cut a few corners with these things to make them come in at under 3lbs (even with the HD!). At the least, they didn't compromise the ruggedness of the unit. My main complaint about the OB300 is that goofy pop-out 'mouse'; couldn't they have managed a trackball (which existed at the time) or somesuch? It's rather awkward, and I can only imagine how much frustration a 'leftie' would have trying to use one of these...

                Which battery are you referring to? I know mine came up with a few BIOS errors the first few times I used it, and I'm guessing that the main battery pack is used for CMOS/BIOS/whatever as with other notebooks I've seen, but did HP also use some sort of internal BIOS battery for the OB300? I know the 200LX uses a CR2032 for backup purposes, but I have yet to spot any signs of a holder for one on the OB300. The main NiMH pack in my OB300 shows no obvious signs of leakage, but I don't trust it, and haven't attempted any long-term use of the unit with it installed (not 100% sure if it's OK to run the OB300 from the power adapter without said pack installed).
                -Adam
                My home page My collection
                My wants list My goofy music

                Comment


                  #9
                  Originally posted by AdamAnt316 View Post
                  OUCH!

                  My main complaint about the OB300 is that goofy pop-out 'mouse'; couldn't they have managed a trackball (which existed at the time) or somesuch? It's rather awkward, and I can only imagine how much frustration a 'leftie' would have trying to use one of these...

                  Which battery are you referring to? I know mine came up with a few BIOS errors the first few times I used it, and I'm guessing that the main battery pack is used for CMOS/BIOS/whatever as with other notebooks I've seen, but did HP also use some sort of internal BIOS battery for the OB300? I know the 200LX uses a CR2032 for backup purposes, but I have yet to spot any signs of a holder for one on the OB300. The main NiMH pack in my OB300 shows no obvious signs of leakage, but I don't trust it, and haven't attempted any long-term use of the unit with it installed (not 100% sure if it's OK to run the OB300 from the power adapter without said pack installed).
                  -Adam
                  Hi Adam,

                  Great little computer - congratulations.

                  The pop-out mouse is a little different, but still pretty ingenious for the time. I use my OB's only in MSDOS, CPM/86, or command line Xenix or Linux. So I really don't use the mouse much. But it is nice to have it, if I need it.

                  Maybe someone else here can correct me, but I don't think the OB-300/435/430 systems have a separate battery for CMOS. Several years ago, I opened up a broken OB-425 and did not find any CMOS battery. I'm assuming that they just use a capacitor to retain the settings. But I may be wrong on this.

                  As to the internal Hard Drive. These will fail - sooner or later. I have had a bunch of them and they all eventually failed. Plus they have a higher power consumption rate and are slower than a flash card. Recommend going with a compact flash card. This makes it easy to copy files to in a standard PC using a CF/USB adapter. While full size PCMCIA flash cards will also work, it's hard to find an USB adapter for them (to use with a PC).

                  Depending on the version of your ROM application card, you may be limited on the size that it will recognize. Later cards will recognize up to 512mb, but I think the earlier ones will only recognized 128MB (and I'm not really sure if this large). I no longer have my OB-300, but you may be able to use a larger card but only FDISK the partition to a small size. I have used up to 5gb flash cards/micro drives on my OB-430 with the MSDOS partition being 512MB.

                  Enjoy it and have fun.

                  Bill
                  Smithville, NJ
                  Last edited by natcha; May 23, 2016, 12:30 PM.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    What i really recommend is to use a larger flash card and the "OBMAX" utility which makes it easy to get rid of doublespace and other annoyances that just eat up RAM.


                    The ROM cards of the OB300 and OB425 are a bit...hmmm restricting. Which means if you install a different DOS they will just format the card and throw DOS 5.0 on it again. The OB430 does not have that "feature".

                    On the left side there's an expansion slot, but the only accessory ever released was a modem. Base RAM is 2MB, expansion RAM boards were available as 2MB and 4MB modules, so a maximum of whooping 6MB.

                    These units have a mind of their own, so if you ever find one not responding to turning on/reset then just leave it powered for an hour and try again, sometimes they just do that if you leave them alone for too long.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Originally posted by natcha View Post
                      Hi Adam,

                      Great little computer - congratulations.

                      The pop-out mouse is a little different, but still pretty ingenious for the time. I use my OB's only in MSDOS, CPM/86, or command line Xenix or Linux. So I really don't use the mouse much. But it is nice to have it, if I need it.

                      Maybe someone else here can correct me, but I don't think the OB-300/435/430 systems have a separate battery for CMOS. Several years ago, I opened up a broken OB-425 and did not find any CMOS battery. I'm assuming that they just use a capacitor to retain the settings. But I may be wrong on this.

                      As to the internal Hard Drive. These will fail - sooner or later. I have had a bunch of them and they all eventually failed. Plus they have a higher power consumption rate and are slower than a flash card. Recommend going with a compact flash card. This makes it easy to copy files to in a standard PC using a CF/USB adapter. While full size PCMCIA flash cards will also work, it's hard to find an USB adapter for them (to use with a PC).

                      Depending on the version of your ROM application card, you may be limited on the size that it will recognize. Later cards will recognize up to 512mb, but I think the earlier ones will only recognized 128MB (and I'm not really sure if this large). I no longer have my OB-300, but you may be able to use a larger card but only FDISK the partition to a small size. I have used up to 5gb flash cards/micro drives on my OB-430 with the MSDOS partition being 512MB.

                      Enjoy it and have fun.

                      Bill
                      Smithville, NJ
                      Hey, Bill! We discussed this topic on the HP Museum forum. As I said over there, it has the V1.0 ABA ROM card, but at least works with the 32MB Sandisk flash card I use with my HP 200LX (are those as fussy about flash drives as the ABA-ROM OB300 is?). A rather odd limitation, but hopefully I'll be able to work within it.

                      I figured the OB300 didn't have a built-in BIOS battery, but the mention of leakage had me worrying after what I've heard of happening with Apple Lisas and whatnot. The main battery pack in my OB300 has yet to leak, but I'm trying to take as few chances with applying charging current to it as I can. As I've asked before, is it OK to run one of these with the power adapter connected, but the battery pack removed?

                      Originally posted by kyodai View Post
                      What i really recommend is to use a larger flash card and the "OBMAX" utility which makes it easy to get rid of doublespace and other annoyances that just eat up RAM.


                      The ROM cards of the OB300 and OB425 are a bit...hmmm restricting. Which means if you install a different DOS they will just format the card and throw DOS 5.0 on it again. The OB430 does not have that "feature".

                      On the left side there's an expansion slot, but the only accessory ever released was a modem. Base RAM is 2MB, expansion RAM boards were available as 2MB and 4MB modules, so a maximum of whooping 6MB.

                      These units have a mind of their own, so if you ever find one not responding to turning on/reset then just leave it powered for an hour and try again, sometimes they just do that if you leave them alone for too long.
                      Yeah, I've heard of OBMAX, and will consider it if I successfully manage to change out the HDD for a flash card. The OB300 is rather restricting, but I'm not looking to bring this thing too far into the future, and I have somewhat of a fondness for Windows 3.1, so I'll probably keep it equipped as thus (unless I come across the ROM card from the OB430 for a good price or something, and even then, who knows).

                      I'm hoping to upgrade the base RAM to at least 4MB, but these F1041A modules seem to be rare outside of harvesting from a junker. What would happen if you put two 4MB cards in one of these? I wouldn't mind getting some of the more complex DOS games (like Wolfenstein 3D or the original DOOM) running on this thing for the heck of it.

                      Thanks for the pointer. I haven't seen mine randomly go unresponsive as of yet, but I'll definitely keep your tip in mind if it does. The only thing I've seen thus far which caused my OB300 to go wonky was when I tried running some 200LX-specific DOS programs on it. The screen went blank, and nothing happened. Pressing the reset switch brought it back around. Haven't had any issues thus far running more-conventional DOS programs on it.
                      -Adam
                      My home page My collection
                      My wants list My goofy music

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Originally posted by AdamAnt316 View Post
                        Hey, Bill! We discussed this topic on the HP Museum forum. As I said over there, it has the V1.0 ABA ROM card, but at least works with the 32MB Sandisk flash card I use with my HP 200LX (are those as fussy about flash drives as the ABA-ROM OB300 is?). A rather odd limitation, but hopefully I'll be able to work within it.

                        I figured the OB300 didn't have a built-in BIOS battery, but the mention of leakage had me worrying after what I've heard of happening with Apple Lisas and whatnot. The main battery pack in my OB300 has yet to leak, but I'm trying to take as few chances with applying charging current to it as I can. As I've asked before, is it OK to run one of these with the power adapter connected, but the battery pack removed?
                        Hey Adam,

                        I thought that was you.

                        Yes - you can run the OB's on A/C adapter without the battery pack.

                        The HP-200lx can use larger CF cards. But it is a little picky on which cards will work. I think I have used 64 & 128MB. I just did a test with a 128MB and a 256MB and both worked on the HP-200LX.

                        Bill
                        Smithville, NJ

                        Comment


                          #13
                          I can't believe you managed to pick that up for such a small amount! What a phenomenal deal, congrats!
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                            #14
                            If for whatever reason , highly unlikely, you decide you may want to sell this, please let me know!
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                              #15
                              Originally posted by AdamAnt316 View Post
                              Thanks for the replies!
                              Thanks to your original thread post where I first discovered this lovely machine, I've finally landed one! It only took me 5 years but found a nice Omnibook 300 in brand new condition that came from a former Fujitsu engineer. Really pleased with it and hope to manage to figure out how to get this 64MB flash card to format so that I can use it in place of the original 40MB mechanical drive.

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