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User to User: 32 Meg HP Palmtop Upgrade!

User to User: 32 Meg HP Palmtop Upgrade!

Hal discusses the new upgraded palmtops, rechargeable batteries, and whether DOS is still alive and well.

By Hal Goldstein

The big news this issue is the availability of the "Thirty-Something-Meg" upgraded HP Palmtop. Once again, pioneering work took place in Japan. Independently, U.S.-based Mack Baggette of Times2 Tech took a different approach and developed the 32 Meg chip set and has written the required special software drivers. We, Thaddeus Computing, along with two other trained retailers (see page 9 sidebar) will be performing upgrades.

 The details

 The 8 Meg upgrade requires removing the original C drive RAM chips. The 32 Meg upgrade is actually added on to the original configuration. So, an upgraded 1 Meg 200LX still retains its 1 Meg C drive. In addition, the user gains a second new 32 Meg internal drive (usually F). Similarly, a 2 Meg 200LX has a 2 Meg C drive and a 32 Meg F drive. However, due to hardware reasons, 4 Meg 200LX users also end up with a 2 Meg C drive and 32 Meg F drive.

 The new 32 Meg drive requires a device driver, and a line that gets placed in the CONFIG.SYS file. That driver allows users to access the 32 Meg as a RAM (e.g., F) drive. Further, Mack supplies another piece of software that allows the user to swap the C and F drive. In other words, running this software the C drive becomes the 32 Meg drive and the F drive, 1 or 2 Meg.

Mack reports that the upgrade is quite safe based on several months of beta testing. I only received a unit a day before this article deadline so I can't yet give you a hands-on report.

Upgrading 8 Meg users

 Users owning 2 or 4 meg palmtops with serial number SG6 or greater will be able to upgrade to 32 Meg right away. Mack is working on a solution for 1 meg palmtops and those palmtops with earlier serial numbers that have already been upgraded to 8 Meg; it should be ready by next issue. The solution will most likely create a 2 Megabyte C drive and a 32 Meg F drive.


 The nice thing about this solution is that the cost per megabyte of the upgrade is roughly the same as the cost of a PC Flash Card with comparable memory. The advantage, of course, of this internal memory upgrade is the PCMCIA slot remains open.

 See the sidebar for details on the pricing of various combinations. The 32 Megabyte upgrade with double speed will be $499.95. Original 2 or 4 meg palmtop users already with the 8 meg double speed upgrade and serial numbers starting with SG6 or greater can deduct $125 (5 or 6 meg palmtops can be upgraded in all cases. Users can deduct $50).

 Battery power and compatibility considerations

 According to Mack, the 32 Meg upgrade makes about the same power demands as the 8 Meg upgrade, maybe slightly more. These memory upgrades make an additional 10-15% demand on the palmtop. The doublespeed upgrade takes another 10-15% toll. In other words, users should expect about a 25% reduction in battery life for a memory-upgraded doublespeed unit.

 Mack recommends rechargeable batteries. He has found a pair of 1350 MaH nickel metal hydride rechargeables that he strongly recommends - significantly better on the palmtop than others available. Initial charging takes 16 hours with the HP adapter. After that you can charge the battery, as convenient, to top it off. In Mack's experience, normal/light use of a non-upgraded unit lasts about 4-6 weeks; very heavy use of an upgraded unit, 2-3 weeks. Mack tells me they hold charge much longer than alternatives, even when not being used. These batteries can be purchased from Thaddeus Computing ($29 for a 4-pack in North America, includes shipping; $35 outside North America).

Mack also recommends the ABC/LX software program from D&A Software ($34.95, available now from Shier Systems) to monitor battery life. Besides the environment and long-term cost, a chief advantage of rechargeables is that users won't have to depend on the backup battery system when changing batteries - in other words, data on internal drives are safer using rechargeables. Batteries are charged in the HP Palmtop using the Palmtop's AC adapter (HP F1011A).

 We are often asked about compatibility. These upgrades have proven quite robust. There are no known problems with memory upgrades. The Silicom PCMCIA Ethernet card is the only problem we are aware of with the doublespeed upgrade, and Mack is looking into that.

 Possible uses and configurations

 Freeing the PC Card slot, the 32 Meg upgrade is enough storage space for most users. The slot can be used for a modem card, a wireless card, or the Trans Digital parallel port printer/backup card. Specialized vertical databases such as ones for physicians or other professionals can be stored internally. I'll be very interested to hear of the uses as they evolve. I'm at hal_goldstein@thaddeus.com.

 DOS: alive and well?

 I read with interest Nicholas Petreley's Jan 19 InfoWorld column entitled, "Reasons you may be using DOS again soon and actually (gasp!) liking it." It seems that in mid-1996 Caldera purchased Novell DOS and gave it back its original name, Dr DOS. They are developing a DOS web browser, a beta of which is available at www.cal dera.com/dos/html/webspy.html. (Unfortunately, according to their Web page, it requires a 486 to run). The main point of the article was that DOS will be a popular embedded systems operating system.

 Embedded systems refers to the fact that many electronic devices have built-in computer intelligence. You've probably read about Bill Gates' high tech house - a prototype for the rest of us in the coming years. Toasters, TVs, and car navigation systems will all have a brain; that is, a CPU computer chip. The software operating system that will allow us to take advantage of the intelligence (CPU) in the appliance is called an embedded system.

 Microsoft is positioning Windows CE as the embedded systems operating system of choice. In fact Microsoft recently announced the Windows CE-based AutoPC, which we discuss in the March/April issue of our sister magazine, Handheld PC Magazine, For Users of Windows CE. AutoPC takes voice commands and functions as a car's entertainment and navigation system.

However, for many developers DOS may be the embedded systems operating system of choice. The reasons will sound familiar to HP Palmtop users: There are legions of programmers familiar with DOS and its most subtle inner workings. As Petreley points out, DOS will probably remain smaller, faster and more familiar than Windows CE. It runs on cheap X86 processors. Dr DOS supports protected-mode multitasking, will support networking, and can execute directly from ROM. The DOS kernel is open, and can be downloaded from. That means DR DOS developers can fine-tune anything and will never be dependent on undocumented, moving-target specifications.

 I am not sure whether this development will have a direct impact on HP Palmtop users. DOS may be dead on desktop machines, but the incredible uses of the HP Palmtop, written about in these pages over the past seven years, document the usefulness of small DOS systems.

32 Megabyte Upgrades

Upgrade Pricing from Thaddeus Computing

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