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Weekly Project: The $250 Tablet PC and a Project Gone Horribly Awry

Picture of Weekly Project: The $250 Tablet PC and a Project Gone Horribly Awry

Tablet PCs are hot. In early 2007, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and MacWorld Expo in San Francisco, no less than three landmark tablets made their public debut:

  • Flybook A33i - an 8.9-inch foldable touch screen computer by Holbe Dialogue Europe; $2,670 (approx)
  • Model 02 - the 60Gb hard drive ultramobile PC by OQO; $1,850
  • ModBook - a Mac tablet by Axiotron; $2,279

All of this tablet news isn't new, though. Tablet PCs have been on and off, again, since the late 1990s. In fact, some savvy surfing will yield an irresistible surplus Tablet PC product: the Fujitsu Stylistic 1000--for less than 30 bucks. Buyer beware, however. This is not a sleeper product that can be easily (or, cheaply) converted into a modern Tablet PC clone. Rather, most (if not, all) surplus Fujitsu Stylistic 1000 purchases will end up as expensive door stops.

At first glance the stumbling block that prevents a vintage Stylistic 1000 from becoming a useable modern Tablet PC might seem to be a hardware issue--lack of styli, rechargeable batteries, memory, and hard drives. Not so; all of these issues can be successfully resolved.

The real trick in making a Stylistic 1000 work like a modern Tablet PC is trying to get an operating system to boot. Take your pick: Linux, Windows, DOS, and even Mac each OS attempt is fraught with failure.

And therein lies the tale--a tale of a project gone horribly awry.

 
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Step 1: How to Create a $250 Tablet PC

Picture of How to Create a $250 Tablet PC
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Time: Days to Weeks
Cost: $217.77 w/o option
Difficulty: Maybe impossible

Parts List


Option

Step 2: Buy a Fujitsu Stylistic 1000

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There are two popular sites for purchasing a surplus Tablet PC:

The model sold at HSC is a transmissive monochrome LCD FMW2430M.

You can purchase three different types of Stylistic 1000 tablets from Surplus Sales of Nebraska:

  • FMW2430M Transmissive monochrome LCD; $39
  • FMW2430F Transflective monochrome LCD; $39
  • FMW2430S DSTN Color LCD; $65

You can find product information for the Stylistic 1000 on the Fujitsu support Web site.

NOTE: Surplus Sales of Nebraska sells a 16Mb DRAM expansion memory card (#FMWEM16; 95-0676-00). This card will NOT fit the Stylistic 1000 PCMCIA slot. According to Bob Grinnell of Surplus Sales of Nebraska, these cards fit a "separate slot" on older Stylistics not the Stylistic 1000.

NOTE 2: Surplus Sales of Nebraska claims that a local IT "expert" was able to load both Windows (sic) and Linux (sic) on the Stylistic 1000.

Step 3: Buy a Stylus

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Not just any stylus will work with the Stylistic 1000. This Tablet PC uses an active electromagnetic digitizing technology designed by Mutoh in 1995. Today FinePoint Innovations sells a stylus that will work with the Stylistic 1000. The KCP6 (P/N 10977-0034E) is a sleek, battery-powered pen that will fit smoothly inside the stylus storage bay of the Stylistic 1000.

Step 4: Buy a Battery

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Don't bother trying to find a Fujitsu rechargeable battery that will actually fit the Stylistic 1000. Instead use an external 16V battery from batteryspace.com. This battery comes with an adapter connector that will fit the external power input jack of the Stylistic 1000.

House the external battery inside the Stylistic 1000 battery compartment with hook and loop fasteners and plug the battery's connector into the Tablet PC's power input jack. Insulate the Stylistic 1000's battery contacts from accidentally touching the metal box of the external 16V battery. The computer will behave just like its been plugged into an external AC power supply--without the power brick and lacking the tether of an AC power cord.

Step 5: Buy a Memory Module

Picture of Buy a Memory Module

A 16Mb memory module for the Stylistic 1000 can be purchased from MemoryTen (aka MemoryX). The 16MB Fujitsu Stylistic 1000 72pin SODIMM module is installed inside the computer and provides the maximum amount of RAM that can be addressed by the BIOS (e.g., 24Mb).

Step 6: Prepare a CompactFlash Drive

Picture of Prepare a CompactFlash Drive
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Format an appropriately-sized CompactFlash memory card for holding a target operating system. For example, a 128Mb card will work for an "embedded" installation of Damn Small Linux. Load the OS on the formatted card. Insert the formatted and loaded card into a PCMCIA card CompactFlash adapter and install the adapter in the large Type III PC card bay of the Stylistic 1000. Turn on the tablet PC and see if the operating system will boot. After trying countless CompactFlash cards (i.e., different manufacturers, different capacities, different operating systems), the following errors prevented a successful boot:

  • Operating system not found
  • Invalid partition table
  • Disk error

The following OS were attempted:

Another annoyance with the Stylistic 1000 centers around its picky PCMCIA ports. The card "fingers" that guide the PC card into the computer's port will only tolerate a thin edge. Therefore, you might have to trim some of the guides for an occasional PCMCIA card.

UPDATE: This is a work in progress and new information will be added as soon as results can be verified.

Step 7: Or, Buy a PenCentra 130, Instead

Picture of Or, Buy a PenCentra 130, Instead
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If you're still looking for a surplus steal in Tablet PCs, consider the Fujitsu PenCentra 130. For less than $120 from HSC, this handheld PC comes with Windows CE embedded in ROM, stylus, battery, memory, dock, keyboard, and carrying case. Don't expect to load Windows CE applications and games on this PenCentra 130, though. The embedded OS is very finicky, but this sampling of Windows CE-MIPS-formatted products should get you started: Bubblets and Tascal Registry Editor. Also, a recent HPC:Factor forum posting by HSC suggests that the memory module might not be available anymore.

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kbhasi2 years ago
I wonder if these surplus tablets DO come with hard drive and ram. Then it's easy to connect a PCMCIA floppy drive and install ms-dos 6.22 and windows 3.1... right?
Also have you been experimenting with partitioning software to set things like "primary partition", "boot" flag and "active partition"? I'm not sure if these surplus tablets also come with drivers on floppy disk...
bwpatton14 years ago
I know Im REALLY late to this discussion. But I want to know If anyone has ANY info on the Pencentra 130s, as they are still going for $50 over at Nebraska Surplus and I want one, but I dont know if I can use it. Im interested in possibly using it as a virtual client (RDP) to do touchscreen X10 stuff or just maybe using it at the least as a PDF reader/whatever kind of reader. Thanks!
Can you plug a VGA cable into The PenCentra and use it as a touchscreen?
Another annoyance with the Stylistic 1000 centers around its picky PCMCIA ports.

You are probably referring to 16-bit ports (and older) slots. Trying to fit a newer card in there could be damaging to the unit.

Also - maybe look at your boot order in the BIOS and ensure that it is booting from the hard drive first. This is most likely why it isnt working.
Chris015 years ago
hey ricercar, have you used the thing much (apparently if you've determined it has 7 hours of battery life. Not maxing out, but still very good)? What are you doing w/it and what apps have you used thus far? Which memory cards have you gotten to work? If you're willing to perform a test that will undoubtedly benefit all the readers on this site (or at least me :), I'd like to e-mail you a small group of files (scans of various books I've made w/a digital camera). I'm curious to find out how long it takes to move one or more of these files from the cfcard into memory (this is assuming there's an app that will accept such files - obviously the thing must come w/something like a paint program I guess). If you're willing please e-mail me at chrism3667NOSPAM(at)yahooNOSPAM(dot)com. Remove everything in caps and substitute appropriate symbols where needed. I assume we all need to know where to find apps for the Pencentra or the Stylistic. The Pencentra has got to be rough, being it uses the MIPS chip. But so did many of the late 90's handhelds, so maybe it isn't all bad.
Chris015 years ago
there's a guy that sells brand new pens on eBay for around 13$

assuming you have a *complete* unit now...what do you do for pen recognition (i.e applications)? Is there a programmer's manual for this unit, particularly specifics regarding the API or whatever that's specific to pen utilization???

the pens are pretty high quality. I bought 3 off the guy over a month ago when they were only 10$ LOL LOL. And no sooner did I obtain the most critical component for the unit did my screen develop a blemish. It's still usable, but I didn't abuse it. I think it was heat related (left it in the car, but not in direct sunlight or anything).
ricercar6 years ago
Now $50 barebones NIB.
http://www.halted.com/ccp20981-fujitsu-pencentra-130-pen-tablet-computer-pencentra-130-80797.htm

Comes with stylus, battery, 2 screenprotecors, and AC Adapter. No documentation. User Guide PDF from Halted page. Mine has 7 hour battery life. YMMV.
Woa, are they any good? I was thinking about buying one of these and trying to turn it into an internet appliance
Where can you get those in Australia?
mman15066 years ago
dablckman6 years ago
This project doesn't seem like its impossible. What you could do is gut the inside with the exception of the screen. Find a newer motherboard, maybe from a mini laptop. Then you could possialby load the tablet edition of windows xp. *Don't bite my head off I'm just throwing out ideas.
Guy.Fawkes6 years ago
It's an interesting project if you happened to start off with most of the necessary bits, but considering the final price and the results, I think I'd just buy an ASUS EEE PC (selling for around US$260 now).
hondagofast7 years ago
DRAM? XD Omg, not even my old IBM ThinkPad 600E uses that! XD
All personal computers from about 1984 forward use DRAM. The other option is SRAM, which is about 10 to 100 times as expensive. You may see it called SDRAM or DDR RAM but it's still DRAM.
Chris016 years ago
I found 2 more of the Sandisk pcmcia to cflash adapters at Best Buy today. They were 8$ each. I don't know why I bought 2 more (already have one), but they are liked by the Stylistic 1000 (which I haven't really done anything with yet). It also likes my Lexar 1 gig cflash card, but not my newer PNY 1 gig card (about 2 years newer). Anyone ever manage to get a 4 gig or 8 gig card to work?
Analogue086 years ago
On boot up my Stylistic does the POST which is fine, then when it says Pen initialised (I think) , then it just turns off. It recognised the the 340MB HDD and extra RAM fine , it only makes it to the configuration table if there hasnt been power for a while as the CMOS battery is flat and havent run the BIOS setup. Any Ideas?
PSdp (author)  Analogue086 years ago
Hmm, here are the "expected" POST messages (your setup might vary) that my three Stylistic systems display on BOOT: Fujitsu Limited. Stylistic 1000 BIOS Version 1.09 CPU - Am486DX4 100 MHz 0000640K System RAM Passed 0023552K Extended RAM Passed System BIOS shadowed Video BIOS shadowed Autodetecting ATA Drive: OK Pen Initialized If you don't see a similar set of messages, then you might have a hardware conflict/error. While it COULD be a CMOS battery issue, I would suggest that your system's main power source is a much more likely culprit. Good luck, Dave P.
Analogue08 PSdp6 years ago
Hi PSdp, Yeah it displays all those BOOT messages and you can hear the HDD start and see the HDD light, and then turns off. I'll check out power supplies then. Thanks.
PSdp (author)  Analogue086 years ago
Also, please note, that IF you are using this now discontinued stylus: The Electronic Goldmine #G16599 I have discovered that it can accidentally trigger the Stylistic 1000 to shutdown (e.g., pressing the lower contrast button). In fact, this flaky behavior can happen even when this stylus is held several millimeters above the touchscreen. If you suspect the stylus is causing your power OFF problems, try to eliminate the stylus from your startup routine. Instead plug a keyboard into the Stylistic and see if you can boot to your OS. Dave P.
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Chris017 years ago
woudn't it be cheaper to jury rig a bunch of Energizer AA cells to the thing? I already have the "15" minute charger (actual full charging time is closer to 25+ minutes). I ordered one yesterday from HSC. I'm hoping I can use the thing to read (and extract pertinent information from) lots and lots of books I've *reduced* to digital form (with a digital camera). They're kind of large at this point (6mpixels), but I could achieve similarly satisfactory results with a 1.2 mpix.

OH NO, THE DREADED 15-MINUTE CHARGER!!! We have that, it always says that it'scharging for two minutes, then says it's finished. But it's never actually finished until an hour or so.
lol :D
woot master6 years ago
the battery is 79$.
hondagofast7 years ago
The top is a 16bit CardBus compliant card, and the bottom is a 32bit CardBus compliant card. 16bit cards will work in 32bit slots, but not visa-versa.
hmm so is this a HOW TO MAKE A TOUCH SCREEN??
No, this is a "How to upgrade a touchscreen".
CCH3ST3R7 years ago
i read the magazine and honestly you guys arent usually cheap but... i did it w/ a newer stylistic and inerchanged it w/ my new toshiba satalite its awesome
hondagofast7 years ago
I read this instructable a while ago, and I seem to remember actually finding a store that sold the actual battery for these tablets after a bit of research (a bit as in several hours). That external one just makes the giant tablet even larger.
cotton7 years ago
how do you install windows xp on it
I highly doubt a computer as slow as one of these could run Windows XP. I wouldn't even chance running Windows 2000.
Chris017 years ago
just how do you get MS-DOS 6.22 on to the cflash card? Seemingly my combination of PCMCIA adapter and Lexar 1 gig cflash card might work - it does *register* on the screen (it's hopeful anyhow!). Now all I need to know how to do is make my card bootable.
Chris01 Chris017 years ago
weird. DOS 6.22 from bootdisk.com won't utilize it's own attribute. It states "incorrect DOS version". Is it hacked up? It will boot even this laptop (which has XP installed on the hard disk). Don't know what to do about that... If anyone has any other self extracting DOS images, please e-mail me: chrism3667(at)yahoo(dot)com. Much appreciated.
Chris01 Chris017 years ago
Got it to boot! Someone told me of a utility by HP that allows you to format and put system files onto a cflash card with a usb reader thing. I got dos 6.22 (didn't work yet, have to retry that) and dos 5.0 from bootdisk.com. After a few tries, I don't know what the problem is, it boots and asks me if I want to change the date. Don't have a keyboard or mouse handy (I'll have to use a serial mouse - no stylus). My p/s is a kludge - no battery either. In the midst of all this, the unit starts displaying reverse video. Go figure. It's not always able to boot from my pny 1 gig card, but it seems to always boot from my Lexar (which is probably 2 years old) also a 1 gig). My adapter is made by Sandisk.
PSdp (author)  Chris017 years ago
Read herehere and use a USB card reader:

http://popsci.typepad.com/how20blog/2008/01/update-the-form.html

Dave Prochnow
JoeyJaroz7 years ago
THAT SUX my old 95 upgraded to 98 is probably better
honestly, you could probably extract the lcds out of those and sell em for a profit. I find old ibm thinkpads that noone uses anymore, the lcds are thinner than notebooks and go for 90-150 ea.
note that those prices depend on which model you're using. the lcds on them seem to have nothing to do with what model ibm laptop you're using, its pretty random.
a6t1wzbk0tb8 years ago
related story I was at HSC when they first went on sale then they also had a few transmeta tablet prototypes for sale at $100 ...
LasVegas8 years ago
I'd like to know what other ports are present on this unit besides the power, PS/2 and PCMCIA? Is the PS/2 a combo keyboard & mouse like old notebooks? I think I would have tried a SCSI adapter PC card first. That would have allowed both a CD & hard drive to experiment with. I'd love to see what the inside of this thing looks like!
joe570058 years ago
I bought a toshiba dynapad t200cs for $25 off ebay when i was twelve. i loved it, it was a 486 using windows 3.1 for tablet, had handwriting recognition (though, my handwriting was horrible) but not enough hard disk space for win 95, only 80 megs. i did eventually get '95 on there, but it froze on startup, then just stopped working altogether, i was a little too young to figure it out, so i salvaged all the shiny parts. (my bum ex-father wouldn't help fix it.) i highly recomend getting one, though, looking back, it was realy heavy. but i'd still but another in a heartbeat!
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