Putting a 2GB PCMCIA hard drive in a Newton MessagePad 2100

As I anticipated in my Quillink tumblelog, some days ago I tried a little test to see if my 2GB PCMCIA Toshiba hard drive would work in my Newton MP2100. The PCMCIA card has the correct voltage and is 16-bit, so I thought that at worst I would receive the ‘card not recognised’ warning from the Newton.

Before even starting, though, I remembered to install the ATA Support drivers, written by Paul Guyot (too bad he has stopped Newton development for now, I miss him). Later, when I inserted the card, I was happy to see these screen:

Newton-ATA-Toshiba-2GB.jpg

I requested information about the card by tapping on [i] and I was pleased to see it was correctly recognised:

Newton-ATA-Toshiba-2GB-2.jpg

In the compatibility table that was previously available on Guyot’s website, this particular drive is listed among the “Recognised but abnormally slow cards”. As I previously wrote, I don’t think I’ll ever need 2 gigabytes with my Newtons — my biggest flash card is 32 MB, and it’s more than enough for my needs — nevertheless I wanted to try a little experiment to see to what extent such PCMCIA hard drive is actually usable.

Before starting any test, I needed to replace the batteries, because as you can see in the screenshots my MessagePad was running on empty. After putting some fresh alkalines, I inserted the PCMCIA hard drive and started fiddling with it. Four days ago I wrote:

I suspect the major drawbacks will be: 1) slow reading/writing speeds; 2) high battery consumption. I’ll keep you posted.

My suspicions were true. I first attempted to partition the hard drive in two volumes, one very small (4 MB — a Newton-friendly storage capacity), and the other… well, of more than 1900 MB. After starting the partition process, the Newton looked frozen, then self-restarted. I thought the operation aborted, but when the reboot completed, the two partitions were correctly recognised as two different cards.

The slow reading/writing speeds problem was immediately apparent when I tried to file some Newton Works documents on the smaller partition. That could be tolerable anyway if it weren’t for the other issue I had anticipated: that hard drive is quite power-hungry. Before partitioning and writing some files, the battery indicator was at 100%, but it soon dropped to 85%. The only way to make good use of this PCMCIA hard drive, I guess, is by putting a rechargeable battery pack and leaving the Newton connected to the AC adapter. Perhaps those who set up their Newton as a Web Server might take advantage of the large storage space of hard drives like this, but in that case I do suggest they look for a faster device in the ATA compatibility list I linked to earlier. I’d really like to try the PCMCIA Compact Flash adapter + CF card combination myself. If you already use it and want to share your experience, please do by leaving a comment. I hope this little bit of information can be useful to other people.

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4 thoughts on “Putting a 2GB PCMCIA hard drive in a Newton MessagePad 2100

  1. Hew was surfing the net and found this page. I have a newton MP2100 question and wonder if you could answer it for me. I recently got connected back with my newt and the cant set the YEAR to 2010, I’ve done it in the setup page and in the date/time section with no luck. My MP as been off for about 4 years, can you help or provide any insight. thanks in advance

  2. Justin, please forgive me for my late response. These have been hectic days and I couldn’t take care of my blog(s) at all. Your Newton is suffering from the infamous “Year 2010 bug”. You will find more information about the bug, and a working patch to fix it, at this page from Eckhart Köppen’s website. Follow the instructions carefully and all should be well (I patched my MP2100 without problems).

    Cheers,
    Rick

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