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




Introduction: 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.

Step 1: How to Create a $250 Tablet PC

Time: Days to Weeks
Cost: $217.77 w/o option
Difficulty: Maybe impossible

Parts List


Step 2: Buy a Fujitsu Stylistic 1000

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

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

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

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

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

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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    44 Discussions

    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...

    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.

    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.

    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).

    Woa, are they any good? I was thinking about buying one of these and trying to turn it into an internet appliance

    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.

    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).

    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.

    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?

    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?

    3 replies

    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.

    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.

    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.


    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.