Re: Review of NEC UltraLite (DAK)

brian@king.csd.mot.com
5 Apr 91 01:07:48 GMT

I got an UltraLite from DAK a couple of weeks ago. Here's my review.
I won't repeat what was already discussed by Sy Ali's review in this
newsgroup.

First, I should mention what I wanted to use the unit for. I wanted a very
lightweight computer which I could fit in a briefcase and still have room
for archaic items like pens and paper. My plan was to use it for note taking,
memo writing, remote login via a terminal emulator, electronic mail, and
personal management (calendar, appointments, to-do lists, and general
organization of personal projects and data). It needed to do all of this
quietly enough to be used in meetings or on airplanes, and without AC power
for as much as four hours. I was willing to spend about $1000 +/-.

What I got was the 2MB unit, the 3.5" external disk, and Lotus Agenda on
a ROM card. I also got two extra battery packs so that I can get up to
six hours before seeing an AC outlet. Everything arrived OK except Agenda.
DAK sent me 1-2-3 by mistake. With tax, license, and dealer prep, the price
ended up growing to about $1400.

I agree with Sy's "cons" except:

- I consider "no disk" to be a "pro" in that it's quiet and there are
no moving parts to worry about.
- "No parallel port" isn't a problem because I don't lug a printer around
with me.
- Application ROM cards can only be used one at a time, they are a bit pricey,
they are unlikely to be updated along with disked versions, and they
are probably abbreviated versions of the disked product. (See also
under "pros", below).
- Cables and AC power brick have unwieldly EMI/RFI blobs in the cables.
- The AC power brick is positioned near the laptop end of the power cord
instead of the AC plug end, which seems strange and unfortunate. Probably
an EMI/RFI concern.
- I don't think that there is a socket for a math coprocessor.

I also agree with Sy's "pros", with the following comments:

- I am not used to using an LCD screen, and was worried that I'd hate it.
Aside from scrolling smear, I find that the UltraLite screen is very usable.
- Application ROM cards provide fast program loading. I believe that
they actually execute out of the 640K memory and not directly from
the ROM's themselves.
- Silicon disk provides very fast program loading, especially compared to
diskette-based laptops.
- Sy says its a "real laptop" -- actually, it's a notebook. It's almost
a bit too small to use on a real lap. :-)

I hate COMMAND.COM, so I installed portions of the MKS Toolkit. I configured
it to boot to init.exe and then spawn a getty-like login.exe program.
With no floppy to boot from, this actually provides some security!

MKS's Korn shell is a delight, of course, and MKS vi works quite well.
I've gotten used to using ^F and ^B instead of ^U and ^D because of the
scrolling smear.

I installed some of the basic MKS utilities like cat, cd, mkdir, ... ,
and I compressed the less frequently-used ones and aliased them through a
ksh script which uncompresses them for execution. That saved me quite
a bit of disk space.

Using MKS's cpio with a compress option, I can back up a full 2MB disk onto
a single 1.44MB floppy, albeit rather slowly.

I installed UUPC so I can use the UltraLite to send and receive mail. Works
great! I've registered it as a Usenet node. Not enough disk space for a
newsfeed, though. :-)

I've been using Procomm Plus as a terminal emulator, but it seems to have
a rather large footprint on the UltraLite's small disk, so I'm looking for
a smaller VT100 terminal emulator with kermit and xmodem protocols.
A TSR which can do background file transfers would be really great.
Any suggestions?

As Sy mentioned, the small disk is a problem. Like any disk, be it 360K,
1.2MB, 20MB, or 600MB, it's nearly full already. I guess the data expands
to fill the available disk space, yes? I think that managing disk space
will be a continuous challenge on the UltraLite.

In general, I'm quite happy with the unit. I'm willing to answer questions,
and Sy and I were considering setting up a mailing list for UltraLite
owners or potential owners. If you're interested, send me mail.

--
-Brian Smithson
 Motorola Inc., Computer Group, Commercial Systems Division
 10700 N. De Anza Boulevard, Cupertino, CA 95014 USA, (408)366-4104
 brian@csd.mot.com, {apple | pyramid}!motcsd!brian