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.

5 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

  3. Hi mate!
    I was looking around and I found this +10 years old post of yours.
    Did you ever try that compact flash adapter with your Newton? a MP130 (and hopefully, soon a 2000 too) in my collection would be very interested in your results… 😉

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