Hackaday Retro Edition: Pen Computing

Although we’re well past the heyday of ‘pen computing’, and seemingly into a retro revival with laptops and tablets that come with Wacom styluses and digitizers, this doesn’t mean the pen computers of old weren’t useful. While they were mostly used for industrial applications, they were useful and some of the first practical applications of touch screen displays.

[Jason] got his hand on one of these ruggedized handheld PCs – specifically, an Itronix T5200. This three-pound mini notebook runs Windows CE Handheld PC Edition 3.01. The specs include a 74MHz RISC processor, 16 MB of RAM, 16MB of Flash, and a 7.3 inch monochrome touch screen with 640×240 resolution. It’s odd and old: when closed, it’s over two inches thick. You’ll be hard pressed to find a modern laptop that thick. [Jason]’s hardware is a pre-production version.

Unlike a lot of retro submissions that have somehow managed to pull up the Hackaday Retro Edition on old hardware, this machine actually has a browser. It’s old, it’s clunky, but it works. There are three options for getting this old computer up on the Internet – either IrDA, an RJ11 modem port, or RS232. [Jason] didn’t tell us which port he used to load up the retro edition, but he did send in a few pictures. You can check those out below.


vt100normal The Hackaday Retro Edition is our celebration of old computers doing something modern, in most cases loading the old, no CSS or Javascript version of our site.

If you have an old computer you’d like featured, just load up the retro site, snap some pictures, have them developed, and send them in.

20 thoughts on “Hackaday Retro Edition: Pen Computing

  1. My introduction to touch screens was at a computer store in the early ’80’s. They had one hooked up to a brand new Commodore 64 (yes, it really was that many years ago), and my father and I were both just mesmerized by the thing. My dad ended up buying a C-64 shortly after that, but never got a touch-screen for it. I suspect that the price was astronomical, but I don’t remember what it was.

    This has nothing to do with this article at all, but I’m old. Old people tell stories.

      1. Very cool!

        One thing I do remember about the touch screen I mentioned above is that there was a grid of some sort, barely visible on the surface of the CRT’s glass. To the best of my recollection, the lines were about 1cm apart in both the horizontal and vertical planes. I don’t remember much beyond that about it.

        /Not bidding either, have at it. Someone’s going to end up with a very cool old Mac.

        1. after seeing this, i decided to bid. but i made the mistake of showing the wife excitedly before. she instantly vetoed it.

          and I’m not old enough to have any cool stories to share. :(

          1. Bummer on the veto, but it’s far more important to keep the wife happy than it is to have fun toys. “A happy wife is a happy life.” I don’t know where that quote comes from, but it’s something I try to live by. Fortunately, my wife’s expectations are pretty low, else she never would have married me! :D

  2. “Although we’re well past the heyday of ‘pen computing’, and seemingly into a retro revival with laptops and tablets that come with Wacom styluses and digitizers…”

    I’m so tired of techies forgetting that high resolution analog to digital conversion is required for most of the creative content that comes from the minds of artists. Even though creatives come in all types from industrial designers to fine artists, it’s almost always that geeks fail to give credit to the people that make their beloved comics and anime.

    To wit, the advent of lightweight tablets with good battery life been a killer app for digital artists of all types. Formerly, only the wealthy stars of art and design could afford the Cintiqs and Tablet PCs and even these had to be tethered to a wall for any useful drawing session. The rest had to make do with the less than perfect hand-eye coordination of an Intuos. Now, with Wacom equipped Samsung and Asus tablets, even the working class can afford to be ink-less.

    1. No kidding. I have been making do with old Intuos slates, and couldn’t ever get sketching to feel as natural as a pencil. The Samsung ATIV line is amazing; i5, lots of ram, full 1080, and a pressure pen. No need to have a high spec desktop and a Cintiq (2 grand or so alone), I’ve seen the ATIV Tab line under $600.

      And with some cheap software (Wet Paint is free, ArtRage is much cheaper than Photoshop) a tablet finally feels like using a pen/brush/charcoal. For hobbyist the past few years have been great; and the failure of these tablets is worrying to watch while wondering what my next drawing tablet will be.

  3. I’m on the front page of Hackaday, sweet! I used the built in modem to get online with a free dial up service. And sorry for the blurry pictures, all I have to take them with is the camera on a rather old android powered cell phone

  4. That tech is still used in modern industrial applications. ABB robots have a flex pendant, that’s basically a touch screen (with a stylus) display and joystick from the manipulators computer, pretty cool how it all works. shame its £1300 for a 16bit number to unlock the networking features though…

  5. I got a similar “computer” long ago from Ebay. I thought I’d be able to mess with it but it came with Windows CE 1.0 and that specific version would not allow to do almost anything. It came with a browser and my greatest achievement was to display some silly picture on it but never went much further than that. Thank God there’s this Ebay law that says “if you were silly enough to buy it, chances are someone else will be silly enough to buy it again from you”.

  6. I like the VT-180 on the title image.
    Sadly i just tossed my dads last weekend.
    along with the trs-80 and sun spark station. :-( sad weekend.
    I still have the atari tape deck in the box if anyone is interested.

    1. gps coordinates of the dump its going to? lol. Why just toss out such awesome old stuff? Then again if I kept all the “cool old stuff” i’ve found/bought I’d need a second house to keep it all in

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