February 16, 2019

.comment: A Two-Pound UNIX Workstation On the Cheap

And A Great Pinball Game, Too

  • January 2, 2002
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Sometimes it's important to do something just to see if you can; indeed, the search for that lone datum is all that separates it from the completely meaningless gesture.

It is because of my quest for dubious knowledge that I come to you today from a keyboard so tiny that I could probably type faster on it with chopsticks than with my fingers. But hey, it works.

The machine is a Toshiba Libretto 100CT. These were not, in my estimation, worth the couple grand they cost when new, but are pretty cool if you can find one on eBay for a few hundred bucks. (Do remember, if you're gonna emptor on over to eBay, to caveat -- for instance, one of the two batteries I got with my Libretto was in sorry shape, though the other one was fine.)

The Libretto series first appeared in Japan in the mid-90s with AMD 486 chips; a couple years later they were upgraded to Pentium-70 and P-120 chips (the 50CT and 70CT respectively) that would hold only 32 megs of memory and had very bright screens that topped out at 640x480. Those were marketed outside Japan. In 1998, the 100CT was unveiled with a P-166, a maximum of 64 megs of memory, and an 800x480 (yup!) screen. This in turn gave way to the 110CT, which was a 100CT with a P-233 chip. Just in terms of feel, it seems to me as if the 100CT was the acme of the line -- there are a lot of 110CTs with dead displays on the market, and replacement screens are expensive.

Mine arrived with its two batteries, an external charger, the PCMCIA floppy drive, PCMCIA modem (28.8) and PCMCIA network card, as well as a decent leather case. It came with no port replicator, which would have been a problem but for the fact that someone else had the advanced port replicator, new in the box, for cheap. This provides USB, a couple extra PCMCIA slots, and printer, serial, and keyboard, PS/2 mouse, and monitor ports. This means that if you wanted to, you could use it as a grown-up PC at your desk, then take it with you when you hit the road. I'm disinclined to go that far -- P-166s with 64 megs are not exactly high-ticket items nowadays -- but having the port replicator on the desk with the network card and power plugged in does save wear on the PCMCIA slots and power c connector (which is a little delicate for my tastes, and not of a standard size, so replacements are at the mercy of Toshiba).

The machine also arrived with a 2.1-gig drive containing Windows 2000. I hadn't spent any time to speak of with Windows since 95, so I poked around a little. A couple of observations: Performance was just awful. Truly bad. Really miserable. I was impressed with the Internet connection wizard, which, when I plugged in the network card had me online in under a minute, never prompting me for a single address or anything else. (Bill Day on the Caldera users mailing list was quick to point out that just days earlier this wonderful ability was revealed to be an enormous security hole; the FBI and Department of Defense are actually recommending that network plug'n'play be turned off. So much for that particular miracle.) But I was absolutely enslaved by the pinball game, which played easily on the dinky Libretto keyboard, though it might quickly wear out the z and / keys, which work the flippers.

Fortunately, I was to find an excellent Linux pinball game online, free as in beer, from a brewery in the Netherlands (really!). Now, all I had to do was get Linux on the machine.

Which was surprisingly easy. Of course, I cheated.

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