Inspired by a 23 year old website ( regarding the IBM Palmtop PC110 machine, I decided to spend an evening trying to install some different operating systems to ‘fixed disk’ compact flash cards (HDD2 in the BIOS) in the PC110.

You also have to remember that the PC110 has somewhat of a built-in disk, which is 4Mb flash memory, which is considered like any other hard drive in the machine. I believe the thinking behind this was that it ran a very basic, lightweight installation of PC-DOS 7, with the Japanese character set and a little program called ‘Personaware’ which had a bunch of primitive PDA functionality, such as a calendar, calculator, contact directory, notes, world clock along with some pretty unique features of the time that, combined with the use of the built-in modem would provide a Fax, Email and calling facility – all without having to boot to any other media and all on a 4Mb drive.

However we all want to do more, so I set about installing what I could in one evening. I managed to install MS-DOS 6.22 on a CF card, make it bootable, take a raw image of it (using Active@ Disk Image software) and then successfully restore the image to another CF card. I have been using Active@ Disk Image because, although you do have to pay for it, it does seem to ‘work’ without having to use some different machine and maybe a linux boot disk. I did find though that sometime the image didn’t work if you used a different make of CF card, which is why I’ve noted what I was using in the filenames.

I went on to install Windows 3.11 (US English version) and, thanks to the 23 year old website above, I managed to obtain the additional, hacked and improved SVGA drivers along with the audio drivers. These have been installed so you don’t have to. I stuck with 640x480 though due to the small PC110 screen.

Finally, I did get Windows 95 installed and working, along with the display, sound and PCMCIA drivers all working fine. I also installed a little bit of homebrew software which allows the little trackpad on the machine to work in Windows 95. I think it was only ever otherwise able to work in the Personaware software.

I tried to install Windows NT4 (just for the fun of it), especially as I have some experience of this OS because I had to support it inside the workings of a now-defunct bank. However, whilst I could seemingly get the installation to kick off without a problem, once the install of the OS starts in anger, you land on the blue Windows NT boot loader screen and everything stops. I couldn’t find a way around it and gave up due to time.

Finally there were two other possibilities but again I ran out of time. OS/2 is a possibility, but it seems you have to make somewhere between 40-100 floppies to do the install, which I don’t have. Linux is also possible but again, time constraints put paid to that idea.

IBM Palmtop PC110 Windows 3.11 CF Card Image (made using Active@ Disk Image and a Sandisk 4Gb CF card)

IBM Palmtop PC110 US-English DOS 6.22 CF Card image (made using Active@ Disk Image and a Sandisk 4Gb CF Card)

IBM Palmtop PC110 Windows 95 CF Card image (made using Active @ Disk Image and a Pretec 1Gb Industrial CF Card)

I like this machine but I am horribly aware of it’s shortcomings. It was developed by Ricoh and has some very self-destructive design ‘features’;

  • Of course the LCD is notorious for 'Vinegar Syndrome' - a combination of a fallable chemical makeup of the adhesive used to attach the two polarizing layers to the LCD and the extremely hot and humid Japanese summers. As I have done, you can carefully seperate the layers of the LCD and spend a few hours scraping the glue and the polarizing panels off. Once you've done this, without damaging the very very fragile digitiser connections along the sides, you can insert replacement polarizing film. I have not yet found a perfect replacement but I ordinary film from Amazon does work. The colours are a bit off but it works. A chap called Kevin Moonlight has successfully completely replaced the LCD with a modern TFT equivalent - but it's complicated!
  • There are 3 batteries in this thing and two of them want to destroy it. Due to the design being carried out by a camera company, the main battery is, essentially, a camcorder battery - and after about 30 years, they tend to leak. If you have one, remove it and store it seperately in a sealed plastic bag. Inside the chassis are two further batteries - one is a coin battery for CMOS settings like the date and time, which does just slide out of the base. This doesn't tend to leak unless damaged. The third battery is pure evil - a Varta hibernation battery, which can be accessed by removing the 7 or so screws on the metal base. This will cause parasitic, green corrosion in everything close by and can kill your PC110. Get it out as soon as possible and use a mild acid, washed off with IPA, then water, and dried to stop further damage.
  • The keyboard is extremely hard to remove because there are 3/4 very thin, increasingly brittle, ribbon connectors which go through very thin gaps between the top and bottom of the chassis. They can easily snap. Once this happens, one or more of the components in the keyboard layer is dead and likely not repairable. Go carefully!