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Help... Looking for a 386 or 486 DOS AA palmtop to do all this:

Posted: Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:18 pm
by Kingeorg
Hello fellow Palmtop lovers!
I just subscribed to this forum, because despite visiting the list of DOS-based PCs for ages, I never realized the forums were active again! :shock:

Well, actually I'm looking for a 386 or 486 DOS-based Palmtop that runs on AA batteries. So if anyone has one for sale or if anyone knows of one being sold, please let me know.

The reason for being so "picky" about the type of processor is that I would like to be able to do the following with it:
1. Be able to play Nethack (Version 4.2.4 or 3.6.0[latest]) If you don't know this old game, well. you should! It is awesome
2. Be able to use QuickBasic or GW-Basic with a comfortable (CGA minimum) resolution.
3. Be able to use a C compiler, without the machine stuttering.

I know I should be able to run any of these if I lower my overall performance expectations and probably bump down to early software versions, but in reality all I want is a:
-Off the grid (Non doomed-to-die batteries)
-Portable (as in AA batteries liberty).
-Small (Clamshell Palmtop).
-Unobtrusive (non flashy CGA or low comsumption VGA Monochrome LCD?).
-Reasonably powerful for its age (386 or 486 processor).
In other words; all the same reasons you probably all love about these pocket machines.

Now, I do have a HP Omnibook 425 running DOS 7.1 and I simply love it, because it fulfills many of the "requisites" mentioned above, except I can only get like maybe 30 minutes on 4 AA batteries, and it is definitely a Sub-notebook and not a (Hand-held) Palmtop.

I was thinking maybe one of the many Tidalwave clones mentioned on the wonderful Tankraider list would do, but unfortunately I've never seen anything besides HP LXs, Atari portfolios, Poqet PCs and Sharp 3000s...

Finally, I am open to other OS, like Linux-based or Windows, provided I can run DOS (I do own a Psion 5, but no DOS)but unfortunately they normally require much more power and therefore no AA batteries are utilized, but if you know of any that does use regular (off the shelf) dry batteries I would be glad to hear about it. I have a Libretto 50 as a DOS gaming machine and it goes to DOS nicely, but I prefer the old school fuzzy feeling of monochrome and the main problem is the defunct battery (meaning it is doomed to run plugged-in). I also know the IBM PC110 has an alternatively cheap compromise (and widely available) battery source, but unfortunately can be sometimes found on Ebay prohibitively expensive, therfore it is out of my price range. Heck i'm even willing to try the phone Nokia Communicator 9110, but will it run my dos programs? Anybody tried?

Thank you for any future feedback, and just excited to be able to post again.
Let me know your what you think.

Re: Help... Looking for a 386 or 486 DOS AA palmtop to do all this:

Posted: Thu Feb 22, 2018 4:27 pm
by Kyodai
Sorry for the late reply - owner here - but we had some issues with the database after upgrading the hosting platform of this website.

You may have noticed that there's not much choice regarding a 386/486...

1. Classic is obviously the Tidalwave PS-3000 - but it is rare as hens teeth. So actually unlikely you'll find one for sale.

2. "Nearly" a good choice is one of the NEC mobile Gear. Technically speaking they don't have CGA, but there's an emulation driver that will make them run most stuff. See my MK32 Mobilegear site for a link to the tools. Downside of the MobileGear is - besides the lack of "proper" CGA that they are all in Japanese, so just getting to the DOS prompt can be difficult. Until you changed the autoexec.bat it will be difficult to use.

3. You already noticed the Omnibook 300/425/430. The battery life depends on the model (OB300 burns through batteries a bit slower), the harddisc (Flash discs consume less battery than classic PCMCIA HDDs),the battery capacity (Some "Photo" batteries lasted much longer) and what you do with it. But yeah after all is said and done battery life is crap with these. But VGA, yay. Oh well.

4. Gecko Edubook. Not really classic - but hey it works on AA-Batteries. At least a bit longer than the Omnibooks.

5. Gateway 2000 Handbook. Actually "SOME" contained an AA-Battery adaptor instead of a rechargable battery. I think this was an accessory, so it's rather rare. Battery life is better than with the Omnibooks but still rather weak.

There were some other oddities - some old 386 Samsung Laptop also used AA-Batteries. Loads of them and they lasted short.

Replacing the cells in your Libretto is not even that hard, but get batteries with soldering tabs.

The Nokia 9110 will basically run nothing due to custom BIOS calls, so don't exoect any app to work.

Re: Help... Looking for a 386 or 486 DOS AA palmtop to do all this:

Posted: Tue Feb 27, 2018 9:39 pm
by Kingeorg
Thank you for taking the time to reply.

i will look into the devices you suggest, and report back when/if I get a hold of one of them.

One more question though. What is your opinion on the Sharp PC 3000? lately I've seen a couple of them (over $200) and though I know they are not even 286, they seem to be the right size (meaning nice sized keyboard), unlike the HP 200LX (Which would be my last option).

I'll keep looking for the "Hen's teeth" ;)

Re: Help... Looking for a 386 or 486 DOS AA palmtop to do all this:

Posted: Wed Feb 28, 2018 8:11 am
by Kyodai
I really do like the Sharp PC-3000/PC-3100. Besides the flaws it is still a nice machine.

But let's get to the drawbacks:

- The PC-3000 (3100) runs MS-DOS 3.3. So even though it's possible to use PCMCIA Flash cards with a special driver you can only use a maximum of 32 MB.

- The parallel/Serial ports use a special connector. So if your PC-3000 comes without serial and parallel cable you will most likely never be able to use these ports

- No Flash driver in ROM. So unless you have the serial cable or a PCMCIA SRAM card you won't get any software onto it, that old bootstrapping problem

- The included software in ROM is rather weak. You can belittle the Tidalwave PS-1000 as much as you want - but the included MS Works wasn't all bad.

After all is said and done this is still one of my favorite machines. The screen is pretty good, you can inverse colors in BIOS (Great for games) and the keyboard is really good.

Re: Help... Looking for a 386 or 486 DOS AA palmtop to do all this:

Posted: Wed Mar 07, 2018 5:28 pm
by Kingeorg
That's what I thought (about the Sharp 3000 series).
Well, I'll keep my eyes open for a Tidalwave (or clones) and Gecko Edubook (Interesting AA-powered machine, too bad they are so scarce). Meanwhile I'll just keep using my Omnibook 425.
Thank you for your advice and wisdom.

Finally, can you recommend any modern OS that uses a command line only/minimalist-based OS (closest to what DOS looks like)? If Linux which flavor?

Thank you again.

Re: Help... Looking for a 386 or 486 DOS AA palmtop to do all this:

Posted: Thu Mar 08, 2018 9:08 am
by Kyodai
Love the Gecko Edubook. Actually I love it so much I have 2 of them. Especially in Japan - where "Hi Power AA-Cells" in an 8 Pack are dirt cheap - it was always very handy. And the good point is that it has a charging mechanism built-in, so if you insert some Ni-MH AA batteries you can just plug in the typical "shaped like an 8" power cable and recharge (The power supply is kinda built-in). Battery life is not as bad as with the Omnibooks, but obviously still much less than the 8086 palmtops (Try to get close to 50 hours battery life with ANYTHING).

It's difficult to compare a "Modern" GUI-based OS to DOS. FreeDOS is a great OpenSource DOS version that is pretty much like what MS-DOS would look like today.

About Linux - there's loads of lightweight distros - some even supporting 386/486 processors and "low RAM scanarios". I like the wikipedia article about it - you can sort by disk space. But for most stuff with a GUI you should calculate around 300-400 MB if you add some tools. ... stribution

I used "Puppy Linux", "OpenWRT" (On my Ben NanoNote) and "Damn Small Linux", these were all pretty small and quite nice.

There's also some "minimalistic" WIndows Versions. I used MicroXP - a Windows XP Version that gets rid of so much stuff that the WIndows folder gets down to like 200MB. There's also "Tiny7", probably one of the smallest Windows 7 installers around...

Re: Help... Looking for a 386 or 486 DOS AA palmtop to do all this:

Posted: Thu Mar 08, 2018 5:27 pm
by Kingeorg
Wow you surprise me every time!
You are definitely the right guy to talk to about these things, and to think I thought I was a lonely weirdo who liked old DOS computers, with nobody to understand me... :cry: But alas I'm not alone!
Thank you for your OS recommendation, I will try them all when I have some time.
Now, I'm envious you have two Edubook while I can't even find one... Well, would like freeing some space in your house by selling me one ;) ? Or at least give me a tip about where to find them. Actually, if you have anything for sale, please let me know.

Vielen dank.

Re: Help... Looking for a 386 or 486 DOS AA palmtop to do all this:

Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2018 3:42 pm
by Kyodai
There's actually loads of weirdos like us who love old monochrome DOS machines. At least if you look at the prices some fetch on ebay you get the impression some people are crazy. A used HP 200LX without box or manuals for 300 USD? A SHarp PC-3000 without any accessories, not even cables for 400 USD? Crazy.

I guess there's just not many of us organized in forums.

I must admit I am a bit crazy about the Gecko Edubook. It's probably the only notebook i ever bought as "used" and paid significantly more than what it originally costed when new. But yeah - they are impossible to get. Really.

I'll definitily have to sell some stuff sooner or later. I mean i can argue with myself that it makes sense to have a second unit of one specific model as a "spare", but in some cases i have like 4 of them - which really makes limited sense no matter how big the craziness is. So yeah I do have to get rid of some stuff sooner or later. But at first i wanna sell of the UMPCs i still got. Having 10 used Sony UX280P - just gotta reinstall Windows and make them ready for ebay. Or the 3 Wibrain i still got. and and and... Sometimes i wish the day had 48 hours. Ah yeah and i gotta keep programming on the games I'm working on. Oh and play "Kingdom Come deliverance". Did i mention i have a family? Needless to say that I'm constantly cutting down on sleep at night.

Re: Help... Looking for a 386 or 486 DOS AA palmtop to do all this:

Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2018 10:24 pm
by Kingeorg
Ha, ha ,ha. I know exactly what you mean by the day not having enough hours, I have a family too :lol:
10 Sony's!!! Wow
I never heard of the Wibrain, but after "Googling it", it looks like a neat little PC, even though a few reviews speak of it as "ugly". How much would you ask for it? The battery seems pretty bulky and destined to die of course (That is why I like AAs). Anyway, let me know.

Sorry to keep pestering you, but I'm kind of excited to discover there other people out there that like old PCs (you are so right, the prices for some items are really ridiculous). So I have another question for you:
What do you think of the so called pocket Computers? I'm starting to like the idea of "pocketeablility" of course, and the fact one can program directly in Basic and in some models even C language. In fact I'm almost sure I'll be buying a Sharp PC G850VS tonight (20% eBay coupon) because it is the last model produced and I am learning Basic and planning on learning C afterwards.

Well, I bought it from Japan, so it will take around a month for me to get it... I hope I can find a way to transfer my programs to a PC if I create something.

Re: Help... Looking for a 386 or 486 DOS AA palmtop to do all this:

Posted: Mon Mar 12, 2018 9:37 am
by Kyodai
Yeah love my family, but you don't have much time for other hobbies... :D

I bought the Sony UX in bulk. I knew i could sell them for a good profit, so i bought a box with 10 of them.

The Wibrain... yeah i understand people calling it "ugly". But maybe it's also a bit charming to be "Ugly" and have kinda unique look.

I'd need to look more into them. For a complete boxed version with included and additional accessories I'd probably get somewhere between 300 and 400 Euro. I'll not be going into detail if they are "worth" that - the price just reflects how rare these are. Imho there are other UMPC that are less rare (Like the Sony UX), have better features and are more affordable. A bit like with classic cars - some classics fetch a 50 grand and they are slower and have less features than your 20 grand family car. After all is said and done it just depends on how crazy you are about that model.

I do like these old pocket computers - but not as much as the palmtops from my list. My main problem with the pocket computers is the compatibility thing. So you can't run anything but some homebrew appz that were made for the Sharp G850VS. It's kinda fun to program in BASIC or C - but in the end the display is limited (144x48 res), RAM is limited (32KB) and the Z80 processor @ 8MHz is far from being impressive. It kinda surprised me that there's still a market for these in Japan in like 2011 - when even the cheapest 50 Dollar cell phone outsmarts that unit from every aspect by like a thousand times.

Imho these are the same "Problem" for me like the TRS-80 in the early 80s. No appz for these that i would be interested in and no interesting appz i could think of to make myself. I've always been a big friend of "Graphics", so the monochrome CGA has always been my minimum standard - that's also why the HP 95LX or Atari Portfolio got kinda bashing in my articles. What i really love about the monochrome CGA DOS Palmtops is that i can always grab like a dozen games that i could play for weeks, grab office applications like Word Perfect, MS Works and so on to be productive or just use it as an ever lasting note keeping machine at work.

So in the end - yeah i still like the pocket computers. But for me don't ever expect them to be more than just a collectible. You'll rather not see me holding one in my hands and playing around with it.