HP-200LX Runs Website Like It’s The 90s

The HP-200LX palmtop was a fascinating machine for its time, and [Terrence Vergauwen] proves that its time is not yet over, given that one is responsible for serving up the website for Palmtop Tube, a website and YouTube channel dedicated to vintage palmtops.

All by itself a HP-200LX doesn’t have quite what it takes to act as a modern web server, but it doesn’t take much to provide the missing pieces. A PCMCIA network adapter provides an Ethernet connection, and a NAS contains the website content while networking and web server software run locally. Steady power comes from a wall adapter, but two rechargeable AA cells in the 200LX itself act as a mini-UPS, providing backup power in case of outages.

The HP-200LX was a breakthrough product that came just at the right time, preceding other true palm top computers like the IBM PC 110. In the early 90s, it was unimaginable that one could have a fully functional MS-DOS based machine in one’s pocket, let alone one that could last weeks on a couple of AA cells. It didn’t have some proprietary OS and weird ports, and that kind of functionality is part of why, roughly 30 years later, one is able to competently serve up web traffic.

A video overview of the machine and how it all works is in the video embedded below. And if you’re more interested in what an HP-200LX looks like on the inside? This video is all about taking apart and repairing a 200LX.

20 thoughts on “HP-200LX Runs Website Like It’s The 90s

    1. We need sometimes need phones with keyboards, but this is generally not that useful when you have a tactile screen. The only modern devices I can think of with F-keys and a numpad are calculators. Moreover, the more keys there are, the smaller they need to be, hence why this palmtop needs a stylus even with no tactile screen.

      1. I’m the author of the video and created this webserver setup. You can actually type on it decently, after a few hours of practice… It’s better than it looks… Not as good as the Psion Series 3 and especially the Series 5 keyboards on their palmtops that competed with the 200LX back in the mid to late 90s…

    2. It had the F-keys because it was really a Lotus 1-2-3 machine than a PDA (1-2-3 was pre installed in ROM). I had the 95LX as well as this one, and to be frank it wasn’t an incredibly useful device.

      The modern equivalent would be the Planet Gemini.

      1. I also had a 95LX, and although I was super excited about it, TBH I also didn’t find it that useful. I actually had more fun with the Texas Instruments organiser I had before that, because I figured out how to make a crude choose-your-own-adventure game out of the memo facility.

    3. I agree, although it’s too old to make anything serious with it using more recent operating systems, however the Pocket Popcorn Computer (https://pocket.popcorncomputer.com/) is somewhat similar and might become a super cool device. Unfortunately the already slow development process was further slowed down by another pandemic outbreak, but hopefully we’ll see it available for purchase one day.

  1. I’ve still got my Ericsson MC12 (a rebranded HP 320LX) that came with a cable to connect it to the PF768 and get searching on AltaVista.
    It was a great device in it’s day.

  2. The web server on this machine is from the mTCP collection for DOS (http://www.brutman.com/mTCP/mTCP.html). Terrence has taken an extra step to support HTTPS using a proxy machine; the mTCP web server does not offer HTTPS because SSL on a slow machine is not feasible.

    You can see the mTCP HTTP server in action on an even older machine right now at http://brutmanlabs.org/. That machine is an IBM PCjr, announced in 1983. It’s been running about 275 hours straight now and it has served a good portion of my normal web site. (I use redirects to send people to the PCjr, which helps me get more traffic for testing.) The status link on the main page will give you the current statistics.

  3. I still have my HP200LX … it was such a great device when it first came out that I just can’t bring myself to get rid of it. It was very limited as a calculator and word processor but it was useful for taking notes … and best of all it was a terrific communication device if you had the right addon. I worked for Motorola Semiconductor back then and Motorola’s radio group made a slide-in wireless adapter that connected to an outside email service via hotspots that were scattered all over the facility. I could send emails from my HP200LX to anyone anywhere in the world, and the service was for all practical purposes instantaneous. I remember sitting in meetings in Phoenix and getting real time responses from our manufacturing facilities offshore. Nobody else had anything that could do the same thing that simply.

  4. “In the early 90s, it was unimaginable that one could have a fully functional MS-DOS based machine in one’s pocket, let alone one that could last weeks on a couple of AA cells”

    Sure it was. We weren’t as primitive or undemanding as some people may think.
    PC/XT hardware integration was at its pinnacle in the late 80s. And monochrome LC displays thst ran on coin cells were all over the place. There was no limit for our imagination. VR was on its way, even, but failed. Just to be resurrected in the 2010s..


    And by 1990, at home or in offices, DOS PCs with small VGA monitors and 286s weren’t unheard of either.
    Higher-end 286 ATs had a cheap VGA chip with 256KB+ video RAM soldered on-board, even.

    It just was a matter of affordability, i think. Business men had all the latest tech back then, but not home users, of course. That’s what was meant by this quote, I suppose and I acknowledge that.
    – So yes, as far as the typical 0815 user/the average Joe was concerned, such a handheld surely was a nerd’s wet dream in 1990s.

    But not imaginable, just for the record. Some of us dreamed of holographic screens in the year 2000 and flying cars in 1990. Or a portable Amiga, maybe. :)


    1. Now we have much better displays, nice high contrast memory LCDs that only need microwatts. I’m surprised we have so few modern equivalents to these devices. Imagine one of these, with an 18650 instead of AAs, WiFi, and a modern SDK.

      There are dev boards and kits, but not much that is polished.

  5. Are there any modern screens that are similar to old graphic LCDs like this? i.e. something like HDMI, but low power greyscale LCD? Can you run a modern OS (windows, linux) in a mode that would work with such a screen?

    1. Not HDMI, but there are Sharp memory LCDs with even lower power consumption. Some use I2C I think, so I suppose they actually could connect via HDMI with custom drivers(At insanely slow fps). They even have full color on some.

      Modern OSes tend to need lots of RAM though. I doubt you will ever match this kind of power consumption, unless you use something smaller, like an ESP32.

      You might have a chance with an OS designed to take advantage of sleep mode. But I think something like an ESP32 and a purpose built low power OS is a better plan.

  6. I need to add a few comments on the HP200LX:
    1) It was way ahead of its time. Colleagues looked at you when you used it in meetings. I became self-conscious. That’s one reason why it didn’t take over the world.
    2) It had a full HP Financial calculator with both RPN and algebraic entry, solver, TVM, graphing and the whole thing was integrated with the LOTUS 1-2-3 spreadsheet for almost unlimited computational/simulation power.
    3) Matlab student’s edition ran very well on it, giving access to tech simulations, analysis, modelling.
    4) Derive – the math CAS package that became TI-84 etc ran very well on it, further expanding the maths capabilities
    5) A GPS module connected via the serial port made moving map GPS available (you had to scan the map sections yourself, tho)
    6) dBase 2 and AutoCad 2 ran on it as well.
    7) A pletora of word processors worked, my favourite for text entry was “Perfect Writer” – a more well thought out editor is hard to imagine.

    So all in all, this was a complete home office package for the technologically adept user of the 90s. It was simply amazing. But as I said, way ahead of its time – as was many of HP’s products back then.

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