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Mack Baggette: Designer of Speed & Memory Upgrades for HP Palmtops

Mack Baggette: Designer of Speed & Memory Upgrades for HP Palmtops

The president of Times2 Tech is interviewed about doubling the palmtop's speed and increasing its memory to 8Megs; palmtop repairs; and more.

About Mack Baggette: Mack Baggette is a staff analyst at Bell South, as well as the designer of the Times2 Tech speed and memory upgrades for HP LX palmtops. He lives with his wife and daughter in Maylene, Alabama. Mack can be reached via e-mail at mack@times2tech.com.

Q: How did you start using an HP Palmtop?

A: Years ago I saw an HP 95LX for sale on the Web, and I got interested in a program called RemCOM n which allows you to use the palmtop's IR port to remotely control your TV, VCR, etc. The system really didn't work out for me, since I didn't like having to turn the palmtop on every time I wanted to change channels. So I gave the 95LX to my wife.

Q: What did she think of it?

A: She loved it! The ApptBook application helped her organize everything. One day when I looked at her ToDo list I thought, "I need something like that." So I bought an HP 100LX and used it for scheduling and notes.

Q: What was your first experience with a clock speed upgrade?

A: I installed in my 100LX a speed upgrade kit that I bought from Japan, but the Japanese software driver wasn't compatible with some of the programs I was running on the LX. Also, the ApptBook alarms ran twice as fast as they were supposed to. Because I'm a programmer and I know assembler, I thought, "I can figure out what needs to be done, and I can create my own driver." That's what I did.

Q: How did you get in the business of selling upgrades?

A: Although there was the Japanese upgrade, nobody was offering a kit for the U.S. market. I found a manufacturer who would make a crystal for me to my specifications, and I started selling the kit.

Q: What does the clock speed upgrade do?

A: It doubles the speed of your 100LX, 200LX, or OmniGo700. That means that PhoneBook, ApptBook, and Database access/loading times (and Lotus 1-2-3 calculations) are twice as fast. It also means that DOS programs run twice as fast.

Q: What's involved in doing a clock speed upgrade?

A: The old crystal has to be removed. But since its leads, as well as its case, are soldered in, they need to be heated so they can be pulled up. Then the new crystal needs to be soldered in.

Q: How difficult an operation is it?

A: It's pretty tricky. You use soldering wick to remove the old solder from the holes, and if you're not careful, the traces on the board can be burned up, or ripped, or moved. And putting the new crystal in involves "through-hole" soldering. Holding the soldering iron too long in one spot can destroy other components. It's not recommended for the faint of heart.

Q: How easy is it to open up the palmtop and get to the motherboard?

A: Actually, that's probably one of the more complex parts of either a clock speed or memory upgrade. If you're not careful, and if you don't know what you're doing, you can easily destroy things, such as the display cable, or parts of the case.

Q: What about static electricity?

A: Anytime you open up the palmtop you need to have a static-free station, and the palmtop case needs to be grounded. You need a wrist strap, a mat on the floor, and a mat on your bench. And all your tools, such as soldering irons, need to be grounded. You're working with sensitive memory chips (as well as the processor itself) and these can easily be destroyed by static electricity.

Q: What's involved in the memory upgrade of a HP 200LX?

A: You have to remove all the existing memory from the motherboard. That means removing surface mount chips that are soldered in. You have to desolder and remove two chips from each unit.

Q: Is that the same process that's involved in desoldering the crystal?

A: No. For memory chips, you need a special soldering iron that can heat up all the leads on one side of the chip at the same time. You can't use a regular soldering iron. You need one that can do surface mount work.

Q: What do you do once the chips are out?

A: You need to remove the solder from the pads with solder wick, making sure you don't lift up any of the pads. (Solder wick can easily stick to a pad if you don't do it right.) If you lift up a pad, you then need to solder in replacement wires, which is not a nice thing to have to do.

Q: Are the new memory chips soldered to the motherboard?

A: No. We solder a connector to the motherboard, and our memory upgrade board gets plugged into that connector. Soldering of the connector is tricky because you're working near other surface mount components (capacitors and resistors and transistors) and you've got to be careful not to short over to those. Also, if you use too much solder, it will bleed over to some of the other components that are sensitive to heat. You also have to solder in a couple of new wires to tiny pins.

Q: What can you do with eight megs of memory that you can't do with a standard palmtop?

A: You'll have enough memory for large programs such as Word Perfect and Agenda and other programs. And you'll be able to really take advantage of Software Carousel.

Q: Are there any programs that have had problems running under the speed upgrade?

A: No, all software works fine with the upgrade. The only thing that hasn't worked is the PC Ethernet adapter card from Silicom Ltd., and we're trying to work with them to get their driver corrected.

Q: Given what you've said about how difficult it is to work on the palmtops, should people be wary about sending in their units for upgrades?

A: Not at all. The folks who do the upgrades at Thaddeus Computing have been trained by me and have me at their disposal if any questions arise. We have done literally hundreds of these upgrades, and we know how to do them so well that the palmtops don't even look opened.

Q. Why did you choose to have Thaddeus Computing start doing upgrades for you?

A: We wish to become more of a distributor of the upgrades so that they can reach a much wider audience. It also frees up time for us to pursue other upgrade options.

Q: Here's a more general question. Are there any maintenance procedures that a palmtop owner can perform that won't void the warranty?

A: About the only thing you can do is change the batteries and clean the screen. I recommend canned air for the screen. Don't ever touch the screen with your fingers. That will put grease and oil on the screen, and that will just attract more dust.

Q: Can an individual owner buy any parts for the palmtop?

A: HP sells a kit (part # F 1216-60998) that contains screws for the case, rubber feet, an IR cover, a battery cover, and a backup battery cover.

Q: What about opening the case?

A: The minute you do that you've voided the warranty.

Q: Here in Iowa the temperature sometimes goes down to 20 degrees F below zero. If I've left my palmtop in the car overnight, the screen is real dark. Does it hurt the palmtop to turn it on when it's that cold?

A: No. The screen is dark only because LCD panels are temperature sensitive. It isn't due to the computer not being functional. However, if the palmtop is actually that cold, the main batteries, if they're alkaline, may not work. The backup battery should still be ok, as it is lithium. Using lithiums for the main batteries would be a big plus, since they might still work and not allow the palmtop to go into backup mode.

Q: If you drop the palmtop in the bath tub, what should you do?

A: Immediately remove the batteries. You want to eliminate the possibility of shorts while it's still wet. If it's still in warranty, call HP and see if they'll accept it for repairs. If it's out of warranty, open the case and dry it out.

Q: Since opening the case is so difficult and dangerous, could you just tilt it and let the water drain out?

A: Some of the parts inside the palmtop might corrode. But if you're not going to open the case, at least tilt it so the PCMCIA port is pointing down. That way the water will drain away from the motherboard, which is near the serial port.

Q: What's the most common repair job?

A: Hinges coming loose. Second most common is latch problems.

Q: Are there any measures that end users can employ to deal with loose hinges and non-latching latches (measure that don't involve opening the case)?

A: A few drops of alcohol from a Q-Tip on the right hand hinge usually helps. All you need do is pull off the right hinge cap, turn the palmtop on its left hand side and drip a few drops down into the right hinge. Then work the hinge back and forth until it starts to grab a little better. We go a step further by opening up the palmtop, disassembling part of the hinge and giving it a thorough chemical cleaning.

As for the latches, the only things you can do from the outside are the "rubber band trick," or possibly adding a small amount of hot glue or silicon rubber under the latch to hold it in place to give it just enough flexibility to still close.

Q: What's the strangest repair or upgrade experience you've ever had?

A: Well, someone once shipped us an ammunition case. It was one of those metal boxes that the Army uses, and it felt like it weighed 25 pounds. Since there was no explanation on the outside of the case explaining what was inside, I at first wondered if somebody was sending me a bomb. When I finally opened it up I was still concerned because all I could see were towels, and I was afraid I was going to trip something. It turned out to be a single palmtop inside the towels, and the owner had just wanted to make sure it didn't get damaged in transit!

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to palmtop users, what would that be?

A: Make frequent backups. This is especially true if you're a speed upgrade user. Make sure you have your drivers on a Flash card so you can easily transfer them to your C:\ drive if your C:\ drive gets wiped out.

Q: Any other advice?

A: Yes. Don't use your palmtop while you're in the bathtub.

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