Weblogs: Gadgets and Stuff

The 25 Lifebook challenge

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I bought a Fujitsu Lifebook off e-bay earlier this year for the tidy sum of £25 sterling. Its a B2130, so its a small factor sub-notebook generally running a Celeron 500. It really stands out because of its size and the feature of a touchscreen. I've been accumulating these type of laptops for a while now, this being the third B2130 I've got.

Fujitsu Lifebook B2130

The B2130 isn't a new laptop, it was produced in about 2000, and cost well over $1600. With the rapid acceleration of processor speeds and falling prices, the street value today is miniscule. The first one I picked up for £200, the second, some years later for about £120.

There's no CD drive or floppy, it is basically a hard drive, some USB connections and a PCMCIA slot. With a couple of batteries, it makes a super combination to drop into my travelling bag and off I go, but still has sufficient grunt power to do web development and server-side coding. Its two main limitations are the screen size (800x600) and maximum memory (192Mb).

The typical Operating system is Windows ME, which is basically Windows 98 infected with yuppie flu. I think that running Windows 2000 on it is feasible - which suits me because I can run both Apache and MySQL as proper Windows services rather than as daemons running of a dos prompt.

The cool thing about the laptop is that, considering its age, size and value, its ideal for use in my daily commute into London. I spend most of my life in Textpad and a browser doing web development and hacking up ideas, but I also spend time in my private Wikis. That means I don't need up-to-date hardware. And with any commute, knocks and little accidents are a way of life, so I've got a laptop I'm not to worried about damaging beyond repair.

I bought the third laptop so I could experiment with. I use the first one regularly on my daily commute, and the second one is a pristine condition backup that I can just pick up and go if the first one had a nasty accident.

Compact Flash

One of the areas that's fascinated me is Compact Flash, they're getting smaller in size and bigger in storage capacity. I'm interested in the idea of using CF cards instead of the regular hard drive. Compact Flash is very quiet, takes very little power and is incredibly fast. In the choice between scrabbling around for a 6Gb - 10Gb Travelstar hard disk or a 1Gb - 4Gb sized CF cards, Compact Flash wins hands down.

A few years ago I picked up an IBM Thinkpad 560 off ebay, and one which had a 512Mb CF card instead of a hard drive. Although because of the limited capacity of the CF, it was running a very old version of Windows 95, so it had very limited practical value. But it opened up the potential of CF cards eventually replacing hard disks.

Today, I was expecting CF card replacements to hard disks to be common place, but as far as I can see, its still very much a discussion point with a few headlines here and there instead of a typical way to assemble a laptop.

The main argument against the use of CF-cards as a main storage device is that CF cards have a limited lifespan, measured in the number of write operations it can do before its expected life terminates. Reading a CF card requires very little machinations in a CF-card, but writing is resource heavy in comparison.

I'm not expecting a CF-card to live as long as a hard disk, but they may just be able to outlive the usefulness of the laptop I'm putting together, or be simple enough to swap out for a new CF card once the current one expires. With the price of CF cards reasonable, and perhaps looking around for some bulk discounts, this may be an interesting way of computing on the go.

To attach a CF card to a laptop just requires a small CF to IDE converter card. I picked up one of these a few years ago on ebay (admittedly it was shipped from Hong Kong).

The plan

So the plan is to take my £25 laptop, using a 1Gb CF card, install and get Windows 2000 running on it, along with the Fujitsu drivers (including the touch screen). If I can produce a device I can do my normal web development hackery on, I feel I would have succeeded.

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