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Let's build the perfect palmtop with todays tech...

Posted: Sun Nov 12, 2017 10:56 pm
by Kyodai
This is a thought I've had since ages. If we were to built the perfect palmtop with todays tech - how would we design it, what features would it have and how would we do it?

There is no answer. Well not a single one since every person got a different oppinion and different preferences. So let's sum up what makes a palmtop important to you. I'll start with my own ideas.


What's important to you about a palmtop?

- It must be x86 compatible, able to run at least MS-DOS and hopefully Windows (3.1 or 95?)
- It must be incredibly power saving. I loved how i took out my HP 200LX like 3 months after last playing with it and it turned on fine.
- Definitely use AA-Batteries. Rechargable ones would be OK, too, but it must work with ordinary non-rechargable AA-Batteries.
- It must fit in my pocket. I love how the HP 200LX fits in my pocket. At least it shouldn't be much larger.
- It must be able to synchronize data with my normal PC. PCMCIA was a solution but these days i would prefer USB i guess.
- Display should be VGA (640x480) compatible or better.
- Sound should be sound blaster compatiblea and a small internal speaker (nothing fancy though) would be included.
- Keyboard should be a bit better than the HP 200LX, maybe more like the "MBook" UMPC. I don't mind having a few keys on "FN" combinations.
- Main "HDD" should be an inexpensive Micro-SD card that the device boots from. So it could easily be replaced if broken or full.


So how would you build your palmtop?

- I would use the lowest energy X86 chip possible. I was thinking of maybe an Intel Quark. I heard they are basically a 486 and extremely power saving.
- I would incorporate a latch to hold a rechargable AAA Battery and put solar panels on the lid. Rechargable AAA are easily available and the solar panel would charge that one whenever possible. The palmtop would try to at first run dry the rechargable AAA before using the normal AA Batteries.
- Display would be an e-ink display with VGA res (640x480). It would probably suck for games, but power saving should be enormous.
- I'd offer an option to build the case from aluminium or so - so unlike the HP 200LX i won't have broken hinges due to cheap plastic.

Re: Let's build the perfect palmtop with todays tech...

Posted: Fri Jun 14, 2019 10:33 pm
by ratco

Well, I don't have any palmtop or pocket pc (unfortunately) but I like to read about them and hope to get a couple to play with one day.

As for building the perfect one, I don't think we need the modern technology. What always amazed me was the fact that no company ever tried to "combine" different technologies into one single device.

Some ideas:

1. Include a radio chip similar to the ones used in the radio-watches that were popular. Small, lightweight, not very power-hungry. It would allow you to listen to radio while doing work on the palmtop computer. A DOS TSR program would be able to change frequency, turn on and off, etc.
2. BACKLIT SCREEN! Really... I hate devices that don't have that feature. I have a gadget at home that uses one of those screens and has no backlight, sometimes I can't read it. A button to turn it on and off would spare battery when not needed. Speaking of which...
3. AAA batteries. I mean, if the machine is power efficient those will provide many hours of usage, while being lightweight compared to AA batteries.
4. One really cool thing would be to have a MIDI synthesizer inside, that could play (hardware mode) midi files from the internal storage, with a TSR DOS program to play, pause, next, etc. I don't know how small those were but would be a nice addition. A device such as this couldn't play MP3, and the storage is always small. However a 256kB storage would hold dozens of files in MIDI format. Using the earphones output of the radio chip I mentioned in point1 would allow the user to listen to music while working on a word processor or doing email.

So, yeah, I just think the old tech was good enough to make a much better device than the ones that existed. Companies just never made them...

What do you think?

Re: Let's build the perfect palmtop with todays tech...

Posted: Fri Jun 14, 2019 10:38 pm
by ratco
Oh and as for the OS... I would go with something new. FreeDOS ;)
Which would mean being able to flash new software into the device, or like you suggested, using a memory card. Not a bad idea, and I think there were some kind of "flash cards" already back in the day.

Re: Let's build the perfect palmtop with todays tech...

Posted: Fri Jun 14, 2019 11:54 pm
by ratco
Hope you forgive me the triple posting, but I just thought of another thing that would be a KILLER...

Teletext receiver.
Granted, I don't know if such a receiver could be made small and energy efficient for a palmtop, but the idea is tempting... Being anywhere, and being able to read the news, updated throughout the day, as if you were at home in front of your TV. The teletext was already common in the 70s 80s an 90s. TV companies could even (if the idea became popular) have specific pages that would be designed to be easier to read in palmtop computers.

Even today my parents still check sports results in the teletext. So, yeah, I would want this in a palmtop computer ;)

Re: Let's build the perfect palmtop with todays tech...

Posted: Wed Jul 03, 2019 8:48 pm
by Kyodai
OK late reply is late, but some good point here! So here's my 2 cents - please keep in mind: Just a personal opinion not final wisdom. :)

- Radio chip. Excellent idea. Could maybe even fumble and make it possible to turn on radio without the CPU or screen which would save even more power. Not sure how easy the TSR would be but I say at least "possible", I did have a PCI FM radio card back in the days.

- Backlit screen: Agreed as long as you can turn off the backlight and it's the most power saving solution ever.

- AAA Batteries. I have ONE palmtop which uses AAA instead of AA (Mitac 1600A). Keep in mind that AA usually have around double the capacity of AAA and for typical palmtop sizes I find their size still reasonable. Also they are the most common type. One of my favorites is the Instant tech PTP-20 which uses AA and is significantly thinner (Just 20 mm!) than the HP 200LX. Personal opinion but I won't need them thinner. Would stick with double capacity instead.

- About MIDI... I do have a DOS midi player (search lxmidi or midiplay DOS) that works fine on all DOS palmtops and I'm fine with that. I usually carry an excessive midi collection with me. But yeah maybe a midi synthesizer would save CPU power?

- Freedos is usally fine. I'd go for a memory card (CF) so you could boot any flavor of OS

- Teletext. Love it but difficult. To get Teleext you need...drummroll... a TV receiver. Here in germany analog TV has been shut down like a decade ago. DVB-T was shut down 2 years ago, now we got DVB-T 2. Not even sure if that got teletext. prolly yes. But I was tired of going with the tech every few years. Wish we still had old fashioned analog TV. Maybe suitable for some countries, but not here.

Re: Let's build the perfect palmtop with todays tech...

Posted: Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:37 pm
by ratco
Hey there,

Yeah, pretty late but it's ok xD xD xD

Anyway, I agree with the need for backlit to be turned on/off at will. As a power saving mechanism maybe having a two backlit levels, one that is regular and another one that only gives some light but not full power...
Teletext is hard to know, there was never wide usage of it on computers. BUT I think you don't need a TV receiver. Only an antenna capable of receiving UHF/VHF signals. It's not the same thing. The decoder would only have to decode a small portion of the signal. But it's hard to be sure, I only thought of it because in some countries (England for example) Teletext was widely accepted and a very useful center of information, even better, free for all, unlike internet which you have to pay, expensively so. Also, in analogue form Teletext was available in many countries until 2010. So having that in a 70s machine and being able to use that machine up to 2010 was not a bad deal I guess ;)

Re: Let's build the perfect palmtop with todays tech...

Posted: Thu Jul 11, 2019 8:01 pm
by Kyodai
Yeah a pretty dim super-power saving mode would be neat.

About Teletext - I do remember that in the 80s there were some teletext addon modules, but I guess these days if you wanna find an all-in-one chip you'll have to go for a TV receiver chip with teletext i fear. Well or create a custom chip or circuit, but after all is said and done it should still fit in a palmtop. :3

I am really sad that with the end of analogue TV Teletext is also dead. My dad always used it to read news, sports results, stock market stuff and so on. I must admit I never used it excessively but I'm still sad it's gone. I think it was also kinda popular here in Germany.

If we make a palmtop with a color screen it should definitely also have DVB-T TV built in. :)

Re: Let's build the perfect palmtop with todays tech...

Posted: Fri Jun 19, 2020 4:45 pm
by aoresteen
Since I just joined I will jump in here with things I have thought about over the years.

1. Batteries are fine but you need to be able to use an external DC source. I say design it to use 11.5v to 13.8v DC. That way any 12V DC source will work. As a HAM most emergency systems have a 13.8 V DC tap on them . Plug size should be a barrel plug 5.5mm x 2.5mm.

2. Batteries should be rechargeable and when plugged into a 12V DC supply, they should auto recharge.

3. Full VGA screen 640x480 screen. VGA out.The Libretto U105 uses a propriety connector for the VGA out via a short dongle that works well so a similar solution would work. Or VGA from a docking station. 640x480, 800x600, 1024x768, 1280x1024, and 1600x1200 native support. Needs only 32/64MB RAM to do this

4. BlueTooth for mouse & keyboard. I use a mouse all the time with my MS-DOS programs. When docked, having a full size keyboard is nice.

5. 2 GB RAM from a single SODIMM. BIOS should let you selected MAX RAM from 1MB, 4mb, 8mb, 16mb, 32mb, 64mb, 128mb, 256mb or 2 GB. Programs that choke on large RAM could be accommodated. BIOS should let you set up a RAM drive with the extra memory.

6. I do not like SD cards used as a hard drive. I would suggest a single mSATA SSD card. Easy rear access to the mSATA card is a MUST! HD should be MBR!!

7. I DO like SD cards for data storage and data transfer.

8. With the right CPU Win98SE should be possible. Win2K is a must for me but I'm weird.

9. I'd like to see a CardBus slot (PCMCIA) if there is space. You could add Serial ports, a printer port, WiFi, Ethernet, Token Ring (Yes I still have one of those :) ), USB 2, or FireWire ports via PCMCIA. Plenty of used PCMCIA cards are available.

10. USB-C 3.1 port. DOS Drivers?

11. No OS in ROM. Let the used install their choice of DOS flavors. I like IBM PC DOS 7. Other do not. Hence the easy access to the mSATA SSD. Heck, have a couple with each having it's own OS installed.

12. Let's go wild. Bump the RAM to 4GB and the CPU to 2GHz. Now load ANY 32bit OS including Win10 that you like. I'd load Win98 & WinXP. BIOS should let you slow the CPU down to any speed from 8MHz to 2GHz to save power. I'd also have a mSATA drive with Linux Mint on it.