[NTLK] Very ambitious idea for 2011 Newton mods

Matthias Melcher mm at matthiasm.com
Mon Nov 21 14:43:59 EST 2011

On 21.11.2011, at 06:55, Michael wrote:

> Look at the 2011 Kindle & imagine it were running Newton OS!

The Color Nook runs Einstein. If the Kindle can be rooted, it may too.

> 1- Replace the LCD screen with an e-Ink screen.  This would make the screen
> much, much more readable & greatly improve the usability of the device.  Do
> e-Ink screens use similar electronic inputs to LCD's?  Would this be
> possible to do?

EInk screens work very differently. They can't turn individual pixels easily. You can see that when you change pages on such a device: they flicker from black to white a few times before displaying the next page.

The original LCD is still available. A largely compatible color display is also still on the market. It could be interfaced using a simple ASIC and a few lines of code, creating a pseudo color display, still being limited to 16 shades of whatever. There is no simple way to increase color depth without reprogramming large portions of the ROM.

> 2- Replace the bulky & heavy battery pack/4AA's by a slim, light modern
> battery.  Take the batteries out of your Newton & see how light it is to
> get an idea of how much these add to the bulk & weight of the Newton!

The charging cicuit is easy to replace for someone who knows what he's doing. New battery technology is then no longer a problem. The Newton needs several voltages on board which are created using coils (the whining sound you here). Those coils are bulky and would need replcement as well.

> 3- Install on-board storage and WiFi (& Bluetooth?) & eliminate the PC card
> slots.  The PC Card slots add a lot of un-necessary bulk to the case.  

You would have to add whatever is inside those cards to the main board. Not trivial! Also, NewtonOS can't deal with modern encryption. You will not be able to log into any newer hubs.

NewtonOS can't deal with any larger storage because of its tiny RAM. 64MB is already hitting the limits.

> 4- Eliminate serial & IR ports.  These add bulk & space, and are largely
> irrelevant in today's computing environment.  

I fully agree on the IR. The serial port should be replaced with USB for simple communication and charging. There are a lot of functions that simply don't work via network.

> 5- Develop an ePub->Newtonbook converter.

This could be done now without all those hardware mods.

> 6- Make a new slim form-factor case to fit it all in.  Seeing as we seem to
> have some people who know about 3D modelling/printing on the list, seems
> like this might be feasible. Bonus points if it can be from a solid piece
> of aluminum, MacBook Pro style :-).

Well, even with the PCMCIA ports removed, the Newton is still quite bulky. The main board looks more like a grave yard with all of its tomb stones than a modern PCB. It alone is 10mm thick at many places.

> Now that we have schematics for the Newton logic board, I wonder if it
> could even be possible to make a new revision using compatible, but
> physically smaller components, so that it would fit in a sleeker case.

Ah, no. We don't have the schematics. We have scans of the PCB. It would be about four weeks of work to convert this back into schematics. If we had that, we would be able to eliminate stuff while adding features, but that is by no means an easy task. Just developing the USB boards took months of spare time until it was developed enough to be sold commercially.

This would all be a fantastic task for a group of electronics interns or students. It would be fascinating to see how far they could modernize the device. I am afraid though that even after developing all this, just transfering the components from an original MP to the new PCB would take hours and cost and arm and a leg (and a grown mans eyesight). OTOH, if you really manage to build one, I promise to develop an aluminum casing and even to CNC it out of the solid for you ;-) .

I strongly believe that the Einstein route is more feasible. It already runs good enough on modern devices, and with current development in the Android version, you have a huge choice of neat devices that can be you new and sleek Newton.

 - Matthias

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