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.

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Hackaday Links: March 27, 2022

Remember that time back in 2021 when a huge container ship blocked the Suez Canal and disrupted world shipping for a week? Well, something a little like that is playing out again, this time in the Chesapeake Bay outside of the Port of Baltimore, where the MV Ever Forward ran aground over a week ago as it was headed out to sea. Luckily, the mammoth container ship isn’t in quite as narrow a space as her canal-occluding sister ship Ever Given was last year, so traffic isn’t nearly as impacted. But the recovery operation is causing a stir, and refloating a ship that was drawing 13 meters when it strayed from the shipping channel into a muddy-bottomed area that’s only about 6 meters deep is going to be quite a feat of marine engineering. Merchant Marine YouTuber Chief MAKOi has a good rundown of what’s going on, and what will be required to get the ship moving again.

With the pace of deep-space exploration increasing dramatically of late, and with a full slate of missions planned for the future, it was good news to hear that NASA added another antenna to its Deep Space Network. The huge dish antenna, dubbed DSS-53, is the fourteenth dish in the DSN network, which spans three sites: Goldstone in California; outside of Canberra in Australia; and in Madrid, where the new dish was installed. The 34-meter dish will add 8% more capacity to the network; that may not sound like much, but with the DSN currently supporting 40 missions and with close to that number of missions planned, every little bit counts. We find the DSN fascinating, enough so that we did an article on the system a few years ago. We also love the insider’s scoop on DSN operations that @Richard Stephenson, one of the Canberra operators, provides.

Does anybody know what’s up with Benchy? We got a tip the other day that the trusty benchmarking tugboat model has gone missing from several sites. It sure looks like Sketchfab and Thingiverse have deleted their Benchy files, while other sites still seem to allow access. We poked around a bit but couldn’t get a clear picture of what’s going on, if anything. If anyone has information, let us know in the comments. We sure hope this isn’t some kind of intellectual property thing, where you’re going to have to cough up money to print a Benchy.

Speaking of IP protections, if you’ve ever wondered how far a company will go to enforce its position, look no further than Andrew Zonenberg’s “teardown” of an anti-counterfeiting label that Hewlett Packard uses on their ink cartridges. There’s a dizzying array of technologies embedded inside what appears to be a simple label. In addition to the standard stuff, like the little cuts that make it difficult to peel a tag off one item and place it on another — commonly used to thwart “price swapping” retail thefts — there’s an almost holographic area of the label. Zooming in with a microscope, the color-shifting image appears to be made from tiny hexagonal cells that almost look like the pixels in an e-ink display. Zooming in even further, the pixels offer an even bigger (smaller) surprise. Take a look, and marvel at the effort involved in making sure you pay top dollar for printer ink.

And finally, we got a tip a couple of weeks ago on a video about jerry cans. If that sounds boring, stop reading right now — this one won’t reach you. But if you’re even marginally interested in engineering design and military history, make sure you watch this video. What is now known to the US military as “Can, Gasoline, Military 5-Gallon (S/S by MIL-C-53109)” and colloquially known as the NATO jerry can, started life as the Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister, a 20-liter jug whose design addresses a long list of specifications, from the amount of liquid it could contain to how the cans would be carried. The original could serve as a master class in good design, and some of the jugs that were built in the 1940s are still in service and actively sought by collectors of militaria. Cheap knockoffs are out there, of course, but after watching this video, we’ve developed a taste for jerry cans that only the original will sate.

A HP Proliant 360 g6 server with its lid taken off, showing separate green wires coming out of every fan, enabling Dave's modification

Domesticating Old Server Hardware In The Age Of Shortages

Our own [Dave Rowntree] started running into bottlenecks when doing paid work involving simulations of undisclosed kind, and resolved to get a separate computer for that. Looking for budget-friendly high-performance computers is a disappointing task nowadays, thus, it was time for a ten-year-old HP Proliant 380-g6 to come out of Dave’s storage rack. This Proliant server is a piece of impressive hardware designed to run 24/7, with a dual CPU option, eighteen RAM slots, and hardware RAID for HDDs; old enough that replacement and upgrade parts are cheap, but new enough that it’s a suitable workhorse for [Dave]’s needs!

After justifying some peculiar choices like using dual low-power GPUs, only populating twelve out of eighteen RAM slots, and picking Windows over Linux, [Dave] describes some hardware mods needed to make this server serve well. First, a proprietary hardware RAID controller backup battery had to be replaced with a regular NiMH battery pack. A bigger problem was that the server was unusually loud. Turns out, the dual GPUs confused the board management controller too much. Someone wrote a modded firmware to fix this issue, but that firmware had a brick risk [Dave] didn’t want to take. End result? [Dave] designed and modded an Arduino-powered PWM controller into the server, complete with watchdog functionality – to keep the overheating scenario risks low. Explanations and code for all of that can be found in the blog post, well worth a read for the insights alone.

If you need a piece of powerful hardware next to your desk and got graced with an used server, this write-up will teach you about the kinds of problems to look out for. We don’t often cover server hacks – the typical servers we see in hacker online spaces are full of Raspberry Pi boards, and it’s refreshing to see actual server hardware get a new lease on life. This server won’t ever need a KVM crash-cart, but if you decide to run yours headless, might as well build a crash-cart out of a dead laptop while you’re at it. And if you decide that running an old server would cost more money in electricity bills than buying new hardware, fair – but don’t forget to repurpose it’s PSUs before recycling the rest!

Nixie clock from a frequency counter

A Nixie Clock, The Hard Way

Notice: no vintage Hewlett Packard test equipment was harmed in the making of this overly complicated Nixie clock. In fact, if anything, the HP 5245L electronic counter came out better off than it went into the project.

HP 5245 hand-wired backplane
Beautiful hand-wired backplane in the HP 5245 counter.

We mention the fate of this instrument mainly because we’ve seen our fair share of cool-looking-old-thing-gutted-and-filled-with-Arduinos projects before, and while they can be interesting, there’s something deeply disturbing about losing another bit of our shared electronic heritage. To gut this device, which hails from the early 1960s and features some of the most beautiful point-to-point backplane wiring we’ve ever seen, would have been a tragedy, one that [Shahriar] wisely avoided.

After a bit of recapping and some power supply troubleshooting, the video below treats us to a tour of the Nixie-based beauty. It’s a wonderful piece, and still quite accurate after all these decades, although it did need a bit of calibration. Turning it into a clock non-destructively required adding a little bit of gear, though. Internally, [Shahriar] added a divide-by-ten card to allow the counter to use an external 10-MHz reference. Externally, an ERASynth++ programmable signal generator was used to send a signal to the counter from 0 Hz to 23,595.9 kHz, ramping up by 100 Hz every second.

The end result is the world’s most complicated 24-hour clock, which honestly wasn’t even the point of the build at all. It was to show off the glorious insides of the counter, introduce us to some cool new RF tools, and as always with [Shahriar]’s videos, to educate and inform. We’ve always enjoyed his wizardry, from his look into automotive radars to a million-dollar scope teardown, and this was another great project.

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Mystery HP Gear Teardown

What’s round, has what looks like a vacuum tube in the center, and was made in the 1950s by HP? We don’t know either, but [The Signal Path] restored one and shows us this mystery instrument in a recent video that you can see below. We aren’t going to spoil the surprise over what the device is, but we will share that he does reveal what it is very early in the video, so there’s not much of a tease.

We will, however, give you a few hints. Looking at it, you can guess that it is meant for high voltage use and, in fact, it is rated for up to 25 kV. We’ll also drop the hint that it is made for use with AC, not DC. The shape of the plug at the end of the wire is also a clue, we think.

There isn’t much inside the unusual round case (another clue, by the way), but there are some vintage parts we haven’t seen in quite awhile. One last clue: Why is there a metal rod and ball sticking out of one side of the device?

Honestly, the insides are a bit underwhelming so unlike some teardown videos we’ve seen, the real star of this video is the unusual device more so than its inner workings. If you have a hankering for a more sophisticated HP exploration, check out the HP3458A repair we covered earlier. Or go old school and peek inside an HP 150A.

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The HP3458A: King Of Multimeters For Three Decades

[Marco] looks at a lot of meters. However, he considers the HP3458A the best even though they were introduced more than 30 years earlier in 1989. Someone donated one to [Marco] but it presented some error messages on startup and exhibited erratic behavior, so he had some repairs to do.

The error codes hinted there were issues with the multislope analog to digital converter and that’s what sets the meter apart, according to [Marco]. The meter has 8.5 digits, so a normal conversion stage won’t cut it.

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The O’Scope Restoration

These days, a pretty nice oscilloscope can fit in your toolbox and even a “big” instrument is probably something you can tuck under your arm. But that hasn’t always been the case. Consider this old HP 150A, restored by [USagi Electric]. (Video, embedded below.)

The 10 MHz dual channel scope might not seem very high-tech today, but when HP rolled it out in the 1950s to challenge Tektronix, it was quite respectable. The $1,000 price tag just for the mainframe was pretty respectable, too. Unfortunately, the scope wasn’t very reliable with more than 50 tubes in it, and HP quickly had to develop new entries in the scope market.

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