back to article Five amazing computers for under £100

Many men are facing a dilemma in the coming days. Thanks to the Royals, a great, great, yawning maw of consecutive weekly Bank Holidays looms large. With enforced downtime, this means a stark choice: either face the family, or retreat to the Garden Shed. To help you make this choice, here are some suggestions. My desk at …


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  1. EddieD


    Love 'em.

    I've still got one lovingly wrapped in my laptop cupboard to run legacy (OS9) software - and it still works perfectly.

    I had a terrible sinking feeling when it's PSU got condemned by PAT testing, but the barbie doll iBooks had a compatible unit (although not aesthetically), so it's had another reprieve.

    Even though I'm a pc wrangler by choice, this is still a thing of beauty.

    And now I know it can run Panther, I'll dig out a spare disk drive....

    1. maclovinz

      Tiger as well

      Tiger doesn't have THAT much of an issue running on these, had one running it recently. RAM is key though.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        RAM is key

        And Memory IS RAM !!!

    2. Mr Floppy

      And the Wallstreet model

      LinuxPPC works fantastically with both the Wallstreet and Lombard. The pismo may have had firewire and 802.11b but nothing like running a 10Mbit SAN from an old SCSI disk array.

      1. Steven Knox

        10Mbit SAN!?

        Who networks 1.25MBytes of storage?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Backups obviously

          For "remote" storage onto a floppy.

    3. jjclay

      Pismo discovery...

      Has the author been reading my mind? I've just build a "garden office" (OK, shed!) just in time for the long weekends and moved a few boxes of toys in there - one of them being a pristine Pismo that I haven't touched in several years.

      Maybe I'll have to dust it off, fire it up and while away a few hours - beats watching what'll be on TV on Friday!

  2. ForthIsNotDead
    Thumb Up

    Love it!

    The Psion was a marvel.

    I would also recommend that people check out the Cambridge Z88. More Geek factor than you shake a stick at, and actually still usable today. It was years ahead of its time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Huge fan of the Z88

      I probably wrote a couple of million words in my time on that machine. You're quite right, it really was way ahead of its time in being truly portable, incredibly frugal with power and (unusually for a Sinclair) extremely robust.

      I wonder where mine is? I think I'd better go hunting through the cupboards tonight.

      1. RichyS
        Thumb Up


        Completely agree. I had a second hand Cambridge Computer Z88 at school -- the geek joy of being able to take a laptop to all my lessons, and not have to worry about finding a power socket.

        The only snag was the lack of Flash RAM. I had a 128K module that needed constant power, and a 32K EPROM that I could backup my important stuff to (not much important stuff, obviously). You could buy a special EPROM eraser from Sirclive, but was too rich for my (pocket money) blood. So, I instead left it under a UV lamp in our design centre for about 45 mins. Seemed to do the trick every time.

        There really were some great innovations on it too. The Pipedream application combined word processing, spreadsheets and a simple database into one app (and synced well with the full fat Pipedream app on the Archimedes). The handy 'screen map' (where one pixel represented one character) in the margin of Pipedream somehow meant that the 8 or so line display wasn't as much of a pain in the arse as it sounds. It also came with terminal emulation software and a pretty fully featured version of BBC BASIC.

        I still have mine somewhere. I wonder if it still works...

    2. Trygve Henriksen
      Thumb Up

      Completely agree

      I have a few Psions...

      Organiser (One... 1984... Nice!)

      Org II (CM, LZ64, assortedd POS models)

      MC400 (Nice laptop)


      S3, S3a, S3c(no mx, yet...), Siena, WorkAbout mx

      S5, Revo, netBook

      The Geofox One and the Oregon Scientific Osaris.

      (They run EPOC, they count!)

      And nothing can beat the S3a/c/mx machines.

      (I also have 'a few' HP and other contemporary and later PDAs9

      The Z88 is fun...

      But I seem to be stuck at a board in Lemmings. *Sigh*

      The 'multitasking' on it is quite similar to PalmPilots(programs in background are 'frozen') except that it can't automatically close them to recover RAM.

      I think I have 3 of these, two of which still have the fancy cardboard box they came in.

      The memory modules aren't as impressive as the Psion Org II DataPaks, though.

      And I still need to find the correct chips to do the 512KB RAM conversion on one.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        Worked with the Workabout and HC

        The HC was great because it had exchangeable end-caps top and bottom to allow for customisability.

        We developed a touch-memory interface end-cap for the HC and it worked really well. Shame there was no real market for it though, or touch-memory generally :(

        Great kit and the Workabout was reasonably rugged.

        1. Trygve Henriksen

          Touch memory?

          You mean, Dallas Semiconductor's iButtons?

          If you happen to have any of those readers laying about...

          1. Anonymous Coward

            Yes Dallas Semi's Touch memory.

            A great idea just waiting for a great application I thought.

            Sorry, there was only one or two prototypes and they're long gone I think,

  3. petur
    Dead Vulture


    I can somewhat agree with the list, but do remove the iphone, it is not an open platform to write apps for. Cheers for mentioning the psion and the sheevaplug...

    1. maclovinz

      Please re-read the title.

      It does not say "Five amazing open-platform computers for under £100"

      And, technically, the iPhone IS (essentially) a computer once hacked, which was stated in the article.

      Have a pint!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It even runs Android should you wish to!

        You can't get more choice than that...


      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Please re-read the title.

        It does however say:

        "What's the best computing kit you can get for under £100 – preferably with some unique feature that modern computers can't replicate?"

        I don't think an iphone 1 has anything unique about it! Even when it came out the only thing unique was the user interface, which of course is now found on ummm the current iphone and the ipad. Oh, and some Samsung devices (allegedly)

        The function/device I mourn is the old Archos Gmini 120. Big, bulky, *but* it had line in record with manual level setting (no nasty AGC) and can record to MP3 or wav. I mourned it so much that I had to set up a watch on ebay for 6 months to be able to buy one for my DJ brother (who likes to record his sets) so I could get mine back!

        I did try emailing Archos several times enquiring if any of their current models had this feature, or any future plans, and they never replied. One reason why Archos are firmly off my future techie toy list. If they won't even reply to a potential customer what hope would you have of getting support once they have got your money?!

        1. Tim Bates

          iPhone 1 was unique

          What do you mean the only thing unique about the iPhone 1 was it's interface???

          It was very unique - when it launched, it was the only top-shelf phone that didn't do MMS, didn't have copy-and-paste in any form, and had nothing really going for it. Pretty unique asking price in my opinion.

          Heck, even the current iPhone doesn't do Bluetooth beyond basic audio, and is one of a very very small number of 3G phones that doesn't do standard video calls. That's pretty unique!

          1. Giles Jones Gold badge


            That's because nobody really gives a shit about bluetooth features. If they did then people would rave about their Nokia phone but given how fast Nokia sunk it's obvious that the mobile Internet and a decent user interface is more important.

            Anyway most phones have all this wonderful bluetooth technology yet you still see white van man hand holding his mobile phone while driving along.

          2. Steve Evans

            Re: iPhone 1 was unique

            You missed a few:

            - Couldn't do group messaging

            - No 3G support

            - No flash on the low res camera

    2. Sir Cosmo Bonsor

      I tend to agree

      I'm staggered that the iPhone is in there. It was behind the times even when it came out!

      "It's an iPhone" - so what?

      "It's hackable" - you mean you have to hack to get it to do anything vaguely useful.

      Mac fans, such as our author, are just like religious nuts - they simply cannot see common sense.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NAS bashing

    "NAS units aimed at the civilian are noisy, expensive and too complex for the plug-and-pray consumer, but not flexible enough for the tech-savvy".

    What rubbish. You can get a very decent Synology NAS for around £150 (admittedly sans disk, but the plug ain't got one either), and it's the best of both worlds. Exceptionally easy and swish AJAX interface if you just want to plug and play, yet I've customised mine in myriad ways through the SSH command line to do a crazy amount of useful stuff (which I won't bore you with here).

    Mine's got a fan in it, but I can barely hear it (and believe me I'm sensitive to these things). Thought about getting a SheevaPlug but realised it only seemed to have disadvantages in terms of versatility and power when compared to a Synology NAS (or indeed QNAP, for a bit more cash). That, my friend, is why the community is underground.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Whaddisay for the downvotes? Gimme a reason.

      1. Captain Scarlet


        They work for a competitor of Synology?

    2. JohnG

      NAS: WD My Book WE

      I quite like the WD MyBook World Edition units - the 1TB models go for about 80 quid. Earlier models needed a hack to get ssh access but WD has now put this in their web interface. Then you can install Optware, which makes the installation of many interesting apps very easy : P2P clients, VPN, web servers, etc.

      I guess there are many other cheap NAS devices or DSL routers that can be hacked in a similar fashion - I'm just used to the My Book.

    3. AdamWill


      Agreed entirely: I just bought a D-Link DNS-323, which was CAN$150 without disks. It's very flexible and open (D-Link honor their GPL commitments and provide frequent updates and add-on apps, there's alternative firmwares and you can even just throw Debian on the thing), is decently made, not noisy, and nice and small - much tidier than a plug with two USB hard disks attached would be.

      1. Darren Forster
        Thumb Down

        D-Link very surprised...

        I' m very surprised about your comments that D-Link provide frequent updates. I used to own D-Link Vonage router, the only thing that was good about it was that it worked as a vonage box and wireless router all in one. Had it for three years waiting for D-Link to provide an update to it's firmware to stop the frequent crashing, resetting, forgetting all settings when power is switched off (including most importantly wi-fi security settings). Kept asking D-Link and Vonage if they were ever going to provide a firmware update to fix the problems, Vonage said it was D-Link's responsibility D-Link were never forthcoming with the update. Also looking on the net for reviews of that router it seems I wasn't the only one that was stuck with this useless bugged device that D-Link wouldn't do anything about. Since then got myself a new Linksys router and added a seperate Vonage box instead, and certainly wouldn't touch anything made by D-Link ever again.

    4. Jim 59

      NAS Speed

      Lower end domestic NAS units are punishingly slow due to their feeble CPUs. "Gigabit!" shouts the packaging, hinting at the possibility of 70 or 80 Mb/s transfers. You get it home and the CPU is maxed out at 15 Mb/s, only slightly more than it could have managed with Fast Ethernet. What a crock.

      Sheevaplug makes an excellent always-on server - plenty powerful, well supported and using only 3 or 4 Watts. Not the best NAS head though, for the above reasons.

      Likewise, NAS units do not make good always-on servers - spinning disks, juddering read heads - no thanks, I like to leave the datacentre at work.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @NAS Speed

        I can actually get a solid 25MB/sec (~200Mb/sec) out of mine (single disk, non-raid), and the CPU isn't maxed out while I'm doing it either- suggesting that's not the bottleneck. Most likely it's the disk itself (or the arrangement of the data on it). Anyway, that's plenty for what I use it for- even streaming HD films. In fact, that speed will give you the full 50GB of a blu-ray disc in just over 34 minutes. Not that I ever play files that big- I'll sometimes play a 8GB 1½-hour film, but even that only technically needs 1.5MB/sec, leaving ample overhead for multitasking.

        And what do you mean by "NAS units do not make good always-on servers" because of the "spinning disks, juddering read heads"? Depends what you want the server for- if you only have a tiny amount of data to serve then you can get away without disks. However, if you're playing with tens or hundreds of GB, you're going to have to accept that a hard drive is the best solution at the moment. Anyway, mine's on a shelf high up in the larder, where the (very slight) clicking of the read heads won't disturb anyone.

        My point is the Sheevaplug is a good device, but without disks attached it's quite limited as a server. If you've got tasks that only need the few GB you can fit on an SD card then it's great. But if you need more space, then you might as well get a decent NAS instead.

        1. Jim 59

          NAS Speed

          If fast file sharing is all you want, then agreed, a NAS is the unit for you. If, on the other hand, you want a full server with OS functionality, maybe to run several websites, Wordpress, Drupal, a home auitomation framework, some webcams, and so on, go with the Sheevaplug. You could do some of those (badly) by hackng around your NAS, but with the Sheevaplug the work is already done. The best tool for the job.

          I have a both. The Linkstation NAS maxes the CPU at 15 Mb/s, the Sheeva at about 8.

    5. Danny 14

      there are other cheap NAS boxes too

      I have some random noname box that looks like an external USB drive (you can use it as an external USB drive if you want to ) but it also has an ethernet port too. No issues with it at all, easy to set up. Shares fine in windows 7 and linux.

      I stripped it out of its housing a long time ago to live in the TV cabinet so no idea on its real name. cost me about £20 from some honk kong ebay.

    6. david 12 Silver badge

      Synology NAS

      I've been using a Synology NAS for 6 months, but I've had to move the difficult stuff off of it.

      Synology NAS is OK for simple file sharing and other bog-standard media sharing operations, but not for any sophisticated file-locking or mixed-permission stuff.

      So probably good at home, or in a very large corporate where you could dedicate it to just one task, for one class of user, with a single type of client connection, but a total failure if I have re-write each client application for each client network stack to work around the file and record-locking failures, and put up with user complaints about lockouts, the flat permission model, missing permission granularity, and poor system integration.

  5. Ol'Peculier

    Psion Series 3

    I had one of these the first time I went to America, and everybody I showed it to was totally blown away by it. The only downside is I left it on top of a credit card once, and the speaker squished the mag-stripe. Was a terrific piece of kit, probably would still be using it if somebody hadn't knicked it :(

    1. The Fuzzy Wotnot

      Loved my Psion3!

      I loved the fact that I had a natty little screen and fully featured programming language in my pocket, with a usable keyboard, if only they'd been able to network it to the basic mobile phone network and allow data transfer, it would have been unbeatable.

      Kids today with their iPhones and Android wotnots, bah! Don't know you born! / Get of my lawn! / Whipper-Snappers / etc!

      1. frank ly

        re. Psion Love

        The Psion 5MX can be had for less than £100 on e-bay. I remember linking via the IR port to my Nokia 6310i and then connecting to the internet (slowly) to read and send e-mails using webmail and the built in browser.

        As I recall, this had to be done by calling a special number, provided by Psion support for their internet gateway. I have no idea if this is still supported.

        (Needs an icon for vague memories bubbling up from the past.)

        1. Craig Chambers

          I had a dialup account. It was just a rebadged Lineone dial-up account. Ultimately the domain stopped working, but the address still worked with appended. I still use it as one of my main email accounts even though it's now been bumped along via acquisitions and mergers through Tiscali to ultimately reside with Talk Talk.

      2. Mark Jan

        I Still Use my Psion 3a!

        I still use my Psion Series 3a on just about a daily basis.

        "Data" & "Agenda" are the most used functions.

        Psion really should have become the sum of Nokia & Apple but being a British tech company, never stood a chance I guess...

        Good article!

      3. Trygve Henriksen

        But you CAN connect it to phones...

        You just needed a 'pod' which accepted a PCMCIA-size 'serial' card the worked with your cell-phone.

        I used one of these pods with my S5 and Nokia 2110 for years. And later I also got a S3/S3a compatible pod. (Different plugs for the 'serial' port. By then my Nokia was dead, though.)

        The terminal program on the S3 series is quite good, with lots of scripting possibilities.

        (I used it to program routers, and thanks to a few scripts it automated 99% of the job for me. Handling SMS mesaging should be easy.)

        If you wanted to surf the net with a S3a/S3c/S3mx,though, you needed a SW package. And reportedly, that didn't even support Frames.(Frames is an abomination anyway)

    2. jai

      miss my psion s3 :(

      used my psion series 3 everyday when i had it - awesome machine and as the article says, the only machine to ever adequately replace the filofax.

      replaced it eventually with a series 5

      so strange that its only now with smartphones that we're getting back to being close to the functionality that these little machines provided us with back in the 90s

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Psion Series 3

      I can remember the first time I saw one of these. Some years ago I was doing some work at Intergraph in Swindon, time dragged on and food was needed. The chap I was working with pulled out his Psion, pressed a couple of buttons, held it next to the phone and suddenly we were ordering pizza.

      Nothing at all now of course, but at the time it had me picking my chin up of the desk.

    4. Bill Stewart

      Psion 3a totally rocked

      I had one of them for years, until the hinge finally cracked too badly. Gorgeous screen, I could run a 24x80 terminal emulator on it, organizer and notes than synced with Outlook. I replaced it with a Palm III, which did a much better job of being pocket sized but wasn't very good for taking notes with (even though I was good at Graffiti, it was still slower than typing on the 3a.) My current Android phone is much shinier, and almost as useful as the 3a, but not quite.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Thinkpad X60s command at least double the price over here. Maybe I should try importing.

    Lenovo, please bring back the 4:3 windows key-free X and T types. And bring the no-touchpad option to yurp, damn you. I'm not even asking for a hardware serial in the laptop though it'd be more useful there than in the ultrabase. Finding the right mix of things and bobs on a laptop to get useful work done. How hard can it be?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gah.

      Don't forget the R series... I'm sitting here using my R52 with a 4:3 1400x1050 screen... Tis lovely. I really can't upgrade it to anything as I don't want a laptop the size of the surfboard!

  7. Davidoff

    Fast, open, NeXT handheld computer

    I have heard many ridiculous claims of what an iPhone is but seriously. It may be some kind of computer (as are other cell phones), but it's certainly not fast, it's not open, and it definitely is not a 'NeXT handheld computer' as it doesn't run NeXTStep/OpenStep (and no, Mac OS X is *not* NeXTStep/OpenStep) or has any relation to NeXT Computers.

    Also, in this day and age, £100 for a second hand cell phone without 3G is not a bargain, it's a rip-off. The Orange San Francisco (which until recently did cost £99 new) would have probably been a much better choise as it's faster and much more open than any iPhone ever was.

    1. The First Dave


      And guess what? The iPhone doesn't run Mac OS X - it runs iOS instead.

      1. Davidoff

        @The First Dave

        Anbd iOS is very much based on Mac OS X. So what?

    2. maclovinz



      1. Tim Bates

        Re: Haters comment

        Why do people assume that just because someone speaks badly about an iProduct that they must be a "hater"? Why, also, is it acceptable for people to harp on about how magical the iPhone is with no reasoning, yet these people are not labelled "lovers"?

        I think the iPhone is one of the most pathetic communications products available. I don't hate Apple, but I also don't keep quiet about how bad a product they have made. Particularly to people who think it's the best thing since sliced bread.

    3. Jolyon

      San Francisco

      Agree the Orange San Francisco is a good choice for this £100 challenge.

      1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: San Francisco

        Only it isn't £100.

        1. AlanB

          Orange San Francisco

 still lists it at £99.97

          Might be more once it's back in stock though....

        2. Jolyon

          San Francisco - not £100

          Sorry - mine was considerably less, didn't realise the price had risen.

          Phone itself is £94.99 at present but out of stock (online - I haven't checked any shops) and with the mandatory top up being £20 now even if you could buy it you'd be right to suggest it didn't fit this round-up unless perhaps you could bring along a public sector payslip to get Orange's generous discount.

        3. Jolyon

          San Francisco now £70

          Plus a one-off £10 top-up from Orange.

          So the £100 budget would stretch to some good apps too.

    4. ThomH

      @Davidoff re: "not a 'NeXT handheld computer'"

      It has an updated version of the language runtime (per the move towards formal protocols and the addition of closures), all the old Foundation classes (with additions), much the same conventions and patterns (target/action, delegation), and the kernel is a much updated version of that which was part of NextStep. Only the user interface library is all new, per the new user interface paradigm — multiple touches and direct manipulation are in; at the C level DisplayPostscript is out due to licensing costs and a PDF-derived alternative (so, same primitives but no language) is in.

      I'd say it is quite closely related to NextStep.

      1. Davidoff

        @TomH re still not a NeXT handheld computer

        Some parts of NS/OS have survived in Mac OS X and iOS but that doesn't make it a NeXT handheld. With the same justification the author is using you could as well say the iPhone is a great IBM handheld or Sun handheld because they were capable of running a BSD with Mach kernel, too.

        The fact is that the iPhone is neither made by NeXT nor does it run NeXTStep, OpenStep, or any applications developed for these operating systems.

        If the iPhone is a "NeXT computer" then any cell phone running Android is a "SGI mobile Workstation", as Android knows many things (like OpenGL) that were available on the now long dead SGI MIPS workstations running IRIX and which have been released into OSS.

        And by definition every car made by FIAT is now a Ferrari.

        One could get the impression that the item is so poor that such ridiculous claims are necessary to make the item look good.

        1. ThomH


          It's a question of measure and degree. The iPhone libraries meet probably 80% of the OpenStep spec, which was a pure API effort and was explicitly meant to be vendor neutral. So it's very closely OpenStep related. And OpenStep being explicitly for multiple-vendor implementation, provenance isn't relevant while you're willing to conflate OpenStep and NextStep. Which also nullifies your FIAT/Ferrari comment. OpenStep is a framework, not a company.

          Android phones, like iPhones and others, implement probably 40% of SGI's OpenGL (since ES 1.0 cuts a very large amount of extraneous stuff and 2.0 culls almost the entire fixed pipeline) and almost none of the rest of the old SGI APIs, along with none of the design patterns.

          If you look inside OpenStep source, you'll see NSArrays, NSDictionaries, NSNumbers, target/action patterns, delegation, key-value observing, the same protocols (in the NSCoding, NSObject sense, albeit largely informal), notification centres, a run loop, selectors and fully dynamic dispatch. If you look inside iPhone source, you'll see all of those same things. So it's the same fundamental base objects, the same fundamental design patterns and mostly the same higher up objects.

          Summary: your "some parts" is a massive understatement; I don't consider it so incorrect to suggest a single lineage as to maintain the article's author was wrong. It's not just that the odd API has survived and it's nothing to do with the legal name of the company involved.

    5. Giles Jones Gold badge


      All of the technologies developed at NeXT are in the iPhone.

      Mach kernel, display postscript, Objective C libraries. Cocoa touch is based upon Cocoa which is a continuation of the work done at NeXT.

      Fast is relative, I imagine it is faster than many of the original desktops NeXT ran on.

  8. Dapprman
    Thumb Up

    Psion 3MX

    Going to have to see if I still have my sync cable. If so then a trip to eBay is on the cards for me. I really missed mine when it died and the 5 was just too large to be a replacement resulting in me going Palm (Vx then Tungsten T2).

    I do agree with the comments about thing dumbing down over time. Post my MX I kept having to get more and more 3rd party apps to perform tasks that were standard on it and to be frank, the latest smart phones are probably some of the dumbest PDAs we've ever seen (so far).

    1. Dapprman
      Thumb Up

      Forgot to add

      That with the sync cable and the included terminal software, it made a rather usable console when plugged in to the back of a server or switch ;)

      1. Stoneshop


        Indeed. Nothing like having a serial terminal in your jacket pocket when you have to climb ladders to reach some misbehaving piece of network kit way up in the bowels of a production plant.

        1. Trygve Henriksen


          I used my S3a, with the 'soap on a rope' serial adapter, a null-modem cable and finally the dedicated cable belonging to whatever type of device I was messing with.

          Usually, the cables took more room in my backpack than my Psion. ;-)

          Incidentally, the 'PC-side' part of the serial-adapter cable also fits the MC series laptops, and the connector on the workabout Dock.(Don't have a HC dock, so don't know about those)

          (The only other use for the plug is old 'Bus-mouse' rodents from about the same time)

          The serial cable for the S3c/S3mx is the same as for the S5, Revo and netBook.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wonderful article

    I spend more time than is reasonable dragging an extra couple of years out of "outdated" or "obsolete" hardware.

    The x20 is still the best laptop I've ever owned. Little larger or heavier than a a netbook - and yet was able to withstand my son using it to stand on to reach something from a shelf. I can't really justify getting a new one it until I've dumped at least one or two of the other machines cluttering up my shed.

    I agree about the NAS comment above. I got an old buffalo linkstation that is hackable *and* as hard to use as mapping a drive in your OS of choice.

    Difficult to justify an iphone over a cheap new android handset for tinkering.

    (anyone out there want a kaput compaq aero ? It was a netbook before they even existed - it might even have taken off if the OS wasn't so rubbish - WinCE by name)

  10. Christopher Rogers


    Slowest news day ever. I used to suffer tech nostalgia, but frankly the realisation hit me that no matter how attached I became to such devices, they are still old, unnecessary and only serve as clutter. This is a fact we just have to accept.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: blimey

      Yes a lot of it is clutter. But a lot of the devices mentioned still retain a fair amount of functionality. This might take some effort on the behalf of the user, but that's part of the fun - and you learn while you're doing it.

      Once you've got the thing up and running - you can give it away.

      "We" don't have to accept anything of the sort.

      1. Christopher Rogers

        yup blimey.

        To who? the kids? They'd look at you like you have 2 heads. There isn't any effort required - these machines served a function and did it well . Odds are the laptop batteries don't get past 20 minutes either...

        A computer without internet access while typing = no spell/facts/facebook checker (the first 2 being the important ones of course).

        I have been down the old laptop route installing all manner of Linux flavours and even Windows 2000, but the experience was just not worth the hassle. I have tried keeping old tech relevant (even adding a vibrating motor to a Nokia 3210 wayyy back) and have hit the point of its not worth it.

        Except for the Dragon 32. I still go in for the challenge of seeing if the games will load:)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          god blind me

          I was thinking the other direction. Parents/Grandparents.

          You're right. The battery will be screwed. But I've not seen any laptop built in at least the last ten years that couldn't be gotten online with a *very* cheap USB or PCMCIA card.

          I suspect that a using the thing as a dumb facebook/google/wikipedia terminal you wouldn't see a lot of difference between a P4 and a i3.

          Lets face it - it's more about the "fun" of getting these things working rather than the actual use. You could always throw a bit of excitement into grandma's life by buying a cheap chinese battery of ebay.

          A good insurance policy and it could be win:win

        2. Anonymous Coward

          Dragon 32

          Blimey - the software barely loaded when the thing was new!

          I have happy memories playing with SpriteMagic though :)

    2. Gordon 10

      So wrong

      Anyone who used a psion PDA would confirm that their PDA functionality has rarely if ever been bettered since.

      I still mourn for my revo. Had the ir modem and everything.

  11. Steve King

    Cobalt Qube 3

    ...loved mine, and I hear of people who say the Qube 2 was even better. I assume they are less than £100 on eBay by now, but the wonderful work firewall won't let me check!

    Dad still has two on the shelf (he was a reseller back then) and I keep looking at them and thinking how much easier it all was than the home NAS I am using now.

  12. phuzz Silver badge

    Service manuals

    Dell still publish the service manuals for their business laptops, so it's not just Lenovo. And what's more, they're pretty good


  13. Jim 16

    Tie Tull

    What, you put a phone in the list and manage to miss out anything by Palm?

  14. Aaron Em

    Quibble re: service manuals

    "Lenovo is the only manufacturer to continue to supply hardware maintenance manuals"

    Not so; Dell continues to supply service manuals on their website as well. HP, despite their general dissipation over the last decade, still offers them for some equipment (including some laptops) as well.

    1. Stoneshop

      @Aaron Em

      HP? Good luck finding what you need, and not end up ending up in the ink and toner section.

  15. mal7921

    I miss my Pismo..

    I managed to get a Pismo off ebay for £90 3 years ago, still boxed and with all disks and manuals. Sadly some lowlife scum broke into the house and stole it, along with some other kit (Including my iMac G4, but they left the intel iMac, they must have been Apple purists) but I remember setting it up with OS9 and using it on battery for 9 hours straight without needing to connect to the mains.

    While I got a unibody MacBook pro and a 20 inch iMac out of the insurance, I still long for my old Pismo G3 laptop...

    1. Justin Clements


      This started back in the mid 90s, thieves work to a list of things they will nick, and if it's not on the list - it's not going in the back of the lorry.

      The reason being was back in the mid 90s the thieves were big time after Apple kit. And whilst the Quadras had been on the market for a good long time, they kept nicking MacIIs (eg IIcx, IIsi, IIcis) and even worse Mac Plus/SE/SE30s etc.

      Trouble was that all that old kit was worthless. So one day they wised up and started lifting the Quadras and leaving the older gear alone.

      I know of a design shop in Soho that had had a break in, and every bit of old kit had been lifted, and they literally left 15 brand new PowerMacintosh machines that had only just been delivered a few days earlier.

  16. Jacqui

    ZTE Racer

    is now 50 punjabs!

    nextgenservers will provide a free PUK and modaco will provide a decent upgrade.

    OK battery life (and size) is a joke but for a singing and talking phone you canot beat it.

  17. Quxy

    Windows 7?

    While I quite agree with your assessment of the X40, it's rather disingenuous to talk about its performance with Windows 7 -- which alone will set you back a great deal more than the £100 price that was the point of the article! Fortunately, Thinkpads have always been excellent Linux machines, so there's no reason to have to pay Microsoft to get the most out of one of these little better-than-netbook beauties.

  18. gaz 7
    Thumb Up

    loved the article...

    the psions really were are great. i sold 2 3mxs; a organiser II lz64, and a 3a with a broken hinge and got really good money for them. I was pleasantly surprised at the strength of interest. Still have 2 5mxes though, partly for nosgalgias sake.

    Also bought a pogoplug from PC Worl.d the other week for approx fifty quid, and it's running various web and file serviices on debian. stunningly easy to do and is a wonderful cheap bit of kit for anyone wanting any form of home server on linux. only puls 4Watts too so really green too.

    would have liked a mention of cheap android tablets (possibly aren't any worth the money), and the nokia internet tablets are available on ebay cheaply now and are really handy devices for tinkerers and linux fans, especially the N810

  19. A J Stiles

    What about .....

    the Amstrad NC100?

    OK, it was made by Amstrad; but you can program it in BBC BASIC, you get serial and parallel ports, and a nice, non-WYSIWYG word processor based on the WordStar concept of embedded codes. It can also be used as a dumb terminal.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      The Amstrad NC100 was indeed a rather neat machine. While no match for the Psion Series 3, it did offer a decent keyboard, long battery life and RS232.

      My only gripe was they included BBC Basic rather than one of the derivatives developed for the CPC or PCW (Locomotive Basic and Mallard Basic respectively). As the machine was a part of the Amstrad family of machines this was a big disappointment.

      Also another vote for the Z88 for being so far ahead of its time that nobody recognised its potential when it was released.

  20. The Unexpected Bill

    Couple of other submissions....

    I'm surprised that no desktop PC made the list, so I guess I'll suggest not just one, but two, potential entries.

    First off the bat, how about Compaq's Deskpro EN...available in desktop, tower/desktop convertible and SFF cases. They're dirt cheap ($5-20 or maybe less), still somewhat common, will run about any OS (my testing covered Windows 95 through 7--and 7 actually ran passbly well--OS/2, Linux and PC-BSD) and appear to be extremely reliable. (Only one of many I have quit, and an cheap-n-nasty PCI video card got it going again.)

    After that, how about the Dell OptiPlex GX620? There's a huge supply of them on the secondhand market with SFF, desktop and tower versions available. Shop around and you can find them for less than $100 (or its equivalent), sometimes a lot less.

    1. Andus McCoatover

      Compaq Deskpro EN, SFF?

      Yup, until a couple of weeks ago was my main machine. Now replaced with a TP30. Ubuntu 10.10 /11.04 respectively, but the Compaq had two faults - one fixable, one not. Bloody noisy fan, the missus hated it, and max. 512M RAM (unless someone had a hack - the BIOS got in the way.)

      TP30 seems (in a cradle, at least) seems to let the USB '4-port hub' go AWAL with Ubuntu from time-to-time. Pesky fix, delete the Wifi modem from network manager, and add it again. Minute's work, but..Methinks the TP's single USB (in a cradle, that's all you've got...) hasn't got enough 'grunt'.

      But then, as I was given both machines, can't really argue...

  21. Code Monkey
    Thumb Up


    Good call. I paid £200 for a T43 last October and it's been solid as a rock.

  22. John 62
    Jobs Horns

    Re: iClassic

    The Clickwheel was WRONG. The touchwheel of the 3G iPod was the nadir!

  23. juice

    More hardware nostalgia...

    Mark me down as another fan of the Psion 3MX; I had one for ages (followed by a not-quite-as-good Revo) and have been watching out for something with a similar level of "thumb-typing" friendlyness ever since. Some of the XDA PDA-phones have come close, but nothing's claimed the cigar yet.

    Other possibilities:

    The Nokia N800: it may not have the GPS of the N810 - or the keyboard (which I consider a good thing, as I didn't find the N810 good for typing) - but it is a 400mhz machine running linux, with two SDHC slots, an 800*480 screen and excellent battery life, especially with an app installed to let you tweak the backlight down way further than permitted by the OS. I used mine as an ebook reader for several years, and could generally get 8-10 hours reading out of a single charge - and as it uses the standard Nokia charger, it's incredibly easy to find cheap "emergency" battery chargers for it.

    The Palm T3: easily pocketable and virtually indestructible, thanks to a solid metal case and the "slider", which could be pushed up to hide 1/3 of the screen - and the T3 was fully usable in either mode. As with the n800, you could install apps to downclock the CPU and tweak the backlight, allowing you to significantly boost the battery life. The only downside was the lack of wifi; I dabbled with a Wifi SD card for a while, but it stuck out from the top and was prone to causing reboots when unplugged. I eventually moved onto the T5, which didn't have the slider but did have built-in wifi...

    The IBM X41 Tablet-PC: these tend to sell for around £150, not £100, but hey: it's a 1.5ghz machine with a 12" 1024*768 touchscreen display, which can be rotated and laid flat to turn it into a tablet, making it perfect for reading documents. It's a bit too big and heavy to be carried around like an iPad (and the touchscreen only works with the stylus), but it's a full-blown PC which you can run linux on, so it's a lot more flexible...

    1. Steve Evans


      Given Nokia's recent behaviour I think you could leave it a few months and pick up an N900 for under £100, assuming you can't already!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SLUGs anyone?

    No mention of the Linksys NSLU2 or SLUG to its friends...

    1. Richard Cottrill

      Updated NSLU2 = Plug computer

      As an owner of an NSLU2, it pains me to point out that its best days are behind it. The plug computers are, in every way, their worthy successor (including their price point).

    2. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: SLUGs anyone?

      That's a good choice, and the going rate is £20-£30 too.

  25. Gordan

    iPhone? You must be joking...

    Why would anybody in their right mind buy an original 2G iPhone for £100 when the same amount will buy you a ZTE Blade (a.k.a. San Francisco) in any Orange shop on PAYG?

    1. Richard Wharram
      Thumb Up


      Another thumbs up for the SF. Should definately have been on the list. It's £99 BRAND NEW. Cheaper if you already have an Orange SIM. It can be modded easily into a very capable Android phone for all kinds of tweaking, and you don't need to scour eBay for it.

    2. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: iPhone? You must be joking...

      Probably not, but that ZTE Blade is a lot more than £100.

      From the FA:

      "I've excluded hire-purchase deals. You can get a thoroughly modern computer in half an hour, if you pick it up from a mobile network or Carphone Warehouse. But, obviously, that's cheating.The cost isn't really £50 or £100, that's merely the first instalment."

      1. Richard Wharram


        It's available for £99.99 OR LESS on PAYG including a free £10 top-up. You don't ever have to use that SIM again if you don't want to.

        You should check HotUKDeals more often. If you don't have a modded-SF and a giffgaff SIM then you aren't cool :)

      2. Gordan

        Re: iPhone? You must be joking...

        It's £99 in my local orange shop as of last week. And it is £99 on PAYG, no contract. It isn't a hire purchase, it is an outright purchase. SF isn't even available on a contract from Orange.

  26. IT_Geek

    Psion Series 3

    Yes I agree - the 3 had a serial port which could be re-wired to be a DTE rather than a DCE - it was excellent as an emergency Cisco console to save me lugging the 5Kg laptop across Manchester city centre to reload a router.

  27. solaries

    Five Amazing Computers

    A fascinating article on still service able computers that while old are still worth buying and using and saving money in the bargin,

  28. MagicBoy


    The main reason corporates avoided X40 series like a red-headed stepchild is the stupid 1.8" iPod size hard drive. Tiny capacity, slow, difficult to replace/upgrade and they didn't work in our disk imager even with the correct adaptor. Lenovo went back to 2.5" drives for the X60 and didn't look back.

    Whack 2Gb RAM and a 5400rpm drive in an an X31 and it was far superior.

  29. jason 7

    Reality check on the X40 Thinkpad

    Chances are as its a ex. corp issue it will have -

    Ultra slow 40GB HDD

    512Mb of ram

    DVD rom drive only

    GPU that cant play HD video plus a wimpy single core CPU.

    So if you decide to upgrade that heap its -

    £40 for a new HDD

    £40 (if lucky) for some more ram. Remember some of these cant take more than 1GB.

    £40+ for a DVD-RW maybe.

    £75 for a copy of Win7 (maybe)

    So by the time you are finished your £100 bargain is costing either £200 or near £300 and its still going to be a 7+ year old dog slow laptop.

    If you havent ever used a computer before or at least one from the past 5 years then by all means go ahead. Otherwise you'll regret it.

    For £300 you can but a brand new dual core 2GB Lenovo Thinkpad that will have many times the performance and be brand new with a years warranty.

    Second hand laptops just arent worth it. Buy a new one, thrash it for 4 years and get another.

    1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD


      is probably knackered as well...

      I agree with your assessment. Wouldn't buy an old lappie at the moment. Maybe for 20 quid for the lols to linux it.

  30. squelch41

    Miss my psion too

    Had a series 3, 3c and then a 5mx.

    Agree that have still not found a keyboard as good as those - HTC touch pro been the next best.

    Also, used have have a parellel printer cable for the series 3 for direct printing - brilliant - no PC required!

  31. Mystic Megabyte


    I still cannot believe that with all these "smartphones", PDAs and tablets none have an easy way to input text.

    Behold the Microwriter AgendA, the best PDA from 1989. I used one connected by serial port to my PC. I still have it but the NiCds have died.

    You can learn to microwrite in 30 minutes and type faster than on a normal keyboard.


    1. Trygve Henriksen

      I have one...

      Never could make it work for me...

      (I'm lefthanded. )

  32. altis2011

    HP palmtops

    You forgot the HP palmtops such as the 200LX and the 1000CX. They have a great reflective LCD screen that they can be used outdoors and they will run for weeks on a pair of AAs. They will also run many MS-DOS applications - including custom ones. I still use a 1000CX.

    1. BillG

      HP 200LX Love

      Ah, after reading this article I come now to praise the HP 200LX. Altis, thank you.

      My HP 200LX was an invaluable sales tool when selling semiconductors. I'd sit at a customer and type in their requirements, especially the things they told me about my competitors. The guys at Delco used to hint that they would love to see the data I had. Together, me and my 200LX beat my competitors.

      Today, my 200LX sits in a corner of my bedroom, forever charging charging, charging - preserving it's 10Meg of 15-year old data for all time.

      1. Jason Hall

        The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

        I just remembered - I have one of those... I wonder where it is now?

        Maybe I'll go try to find it

    2. Trygve Henriksen

      They've dropped in price, then?

      These have always been rather popular on eBay, so they probably came over the budgeted amount.

      A friend of mine used his to receive WeatherFax on his boat(lost after his boat was sunk by a cargoship soon after he started crossing over towards America.)

      He had it completely automated, it started at set times, ran the SW, received the files, then shut down again.

      What about the 700?

      with a slot for the Nokia 2110 cell-phone in the lid...

  33. Anomalous Cowlard

    More tinker toys

    The 7" mini-laptop w. VIA-ARM VT8500 / 128M RAM / 2G Flash / USB 2.0 x3 / 100M Ethernet / wi-fi / SD slot for about US$ 100 (shipped) from Chinese / Hong Kong Ebay sellers is also a nice piece to tinker with. Comes with Win CE, but has MMU and hence can be used to run proper Linux (the bootloader can handle booting from the SD). Another inexpensive gadget with network interfaces (1000M Ethernet + 802.11n) and USB 2.0 is the Buffalo WZR-HP-G300NH which can do OpenWRT. I might tinker these into local NAS w. remote replication (rsync) at a friends place; with external USB disks speed might not be exactly stellar, but probably enough for a backup at the same time it would be easy enough to run a FTP server to share an odd file. Some dynamic DNS service should suffice for the boxes to find each other and the world to find the FTP box with the dynamic IPs from regular ADSL / cable modem service.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Jobs Horns

      CE Netbooks

      I did look at these before.

      Remember HMV were selling them a couple of Christmases ago. I can imagine many arguments when little Johnny opens his new netbook to find it can't load Facebook, and youtube use is really a hack to a flash player. None of his PC games can be installed or executed.

      Can get them now for around £60. ARM processor. The CE install is very restrictive, an ancient IE build, a small spreadsheet and a cut down version of Word confusingly called WordPad.

      Was tempted, but already had a netbook - Acer Aspire One A150. Bought for £150 two years ago, 120GB HDD on it, Linux pre-installed. Spent my tinkering time instead upgrading the RAM to max 1.5GB, put a WiFi card from a broken Dell laptop in, hooked up the external DVD and (allegedly) fired up OSX86... (allegedly). A/C in case Steves lawyers are reading.

  34. Ian 55

    Psion 3a remains my best ever computing purchase

    Much better than the Psion 3, I got mine s/h not long after the 3a came out from someone who'd dropped theirs leaving a small mark. I didn't care, it was about 1/3 the new price. Amazingly good machines, with the 3c and 3mx improving each time.

    The hardware and software were triumphs of British engineering. It was staggeringly difficult to make them crash - I only really managed while messing around with assembly language programming on it - and the battery life was wonderful for making other PDA users jealous.

    The *only* reason I stopped using my 3mx late last year was that its hinge broke badly. I got an HTC Desire to replace it. While I love having the internet with me, and its size and the colour screen is lovely, I still miss the keyboard and, yes, the Psion's Agenda program. I've searched the Android Market and can't find anything as good as it, 20ish years after it was written.

    I still have a working 3a and 3c (they got really cheap s/h in the late 90/early 00s) and if anyone has the 3a Software Development Kit, I might still use them.

    Thank you Psion. What a pity Psion sold out of the market.

  35. Ian 55

    O2 Joggler

    Cheap enough, easily hackable to run a proper Linux off a USB memory stick, about the power use as a plug PC, but with a colour touchscreen. Add a USB keyboard and mouse and you've got something very useful.

  36. Daniel Barnes

    o2 joggler

    The o2 joggler is a great toy for techies to play with, you can pick them up for around £50 too!

    If you're not familiar with it, it's like one of those 7" digital picture frames, but it has a 1.2ghz atom with 512mb ram, gma500 graphics card, network port, wifi and usb and it has a capacitive touchscreen. It's just a shame it uses efi rather than bios otherwise it would run windows fairly well, but it can run linux with both mint and ubuntu 10.10/11.04 both ported to it!

    The stock os that o2 bundle with it is ubuntu based with their own gui on top that has various webby things installed (internet radio, bbc iplayer, youtube, etc) plus you can send text messages to/from it.

  37. AdamWill

    Thinkpad X series not dead

    BTW, this bit is wrong:

    "Sadly the matte era is over. Lenovo doesn't seem to think the X-series branding is worth it anymore, and it has quietly removed it in favour of glossy finishes and odd sub-brands."

    Not true. - X220, a very new model complete with Sandy Bridge and so forth. 12.5" matte screen, X model number, very old-skool Thinkpad (though it does have a Windows key and it's not 4:3). Prior to that there was an X201, IIRC. I nearly bought one, went with a Vaio Z in the end.

  38. William Higinbotham

    Commodore Anyone

    You can now buy a atom processor computer that looks exactly like a Commadore 64. Why? Nostalga.

    Billy - The ASCII Guy

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Psion 3 : "staggeringly difficult to make them crash"

    Indeed. I didn't even realise the Psion 3s had a reset button, until after I "upgraded" to things like an HP Jornada 720 (might've been OK with decent SW, but came with WinCE), and a Compaq iCrap 3800 PocketPC of some flavour (WinCE again, although the name was buried as far as possible), both of which needed very frequent use of a "reset button" and/or "reset to factory defaults".

    And the battery life... unimaginable today.

    1. Trygve Henriksen


      More like impossible...

      I had ONE crash on my S3a, and it was caused by a failing solderjoint on the motherboard.

  40. Darren Forster

    What about proper computers?

    This list seems a little bit badly titled - "five computers for under a ton"

    Half of these devices aren't even proper computers - iPhone, Palm, these aren't "computers" these are handheld pda's/phones, might as well throw games consoles in there whilst your at it with this list.

    Where are the proper 8-bit computers like the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, C64, MSX some of these have really good use even today, like playing Manic Miner or Jet Set Willy in it's original form. The MSX had probably the best basic program language ever, I learned to program computers on this, it had such basic power, but was really easy to use.

    Also what about things like the Atari ST, are they not available for under £100? Great for creating music on and about £75 on eBay. Also many Amiga 500's lying around on eBay for about £40 - one guy is even selling 5 for £15 - bargain for a proper classic computer.

    1. madhatt3r
      Thumb Up

      Amstrad CPC is just too cheap, less than a fiver

      Bought two 464 CPCs with monitor the other day, a colour one for 3 € and a monochrome one for 2 €.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Asus Eee 701SD?

    Great little machine - I bought mine from Laptops Direct in October 2009 for barely over £100, so they're probably available for chump change these days.

    Yes, it has a tiny screen (800x480) and keyboard for a netbook, but I used to own a Psion 3c and 5mx, so that doesn't throw me. I also installed Eeebuntu on it, and the little fella runs like a dream - really good to have such a compact PC, and it can handle most tasks you'd want a laptop for.

    I sometimes wish I could upgrade the 8Gb SSD to something like a 32- or 64Gb unit, but assuming I can find the right one, it would probably cost as much again as the machine does, so I can live with the one in there.

    1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD's a classic...

      But I find the newer Eee's more usable on 2 counts:

      1) Longer battery life

      2) Larger screen

      3) Slightly more grunt, at least in the case of the dual core atoms.

  42. Michael Sage

    Back in the day....

    I really enjoyed this article... I would like to add another few contenders thou...

    The Nokia 9000 communicator.... way, way, way before it's time, another excellent pocket terminal, internet and email access..

    Amstrad NC100, already been mentioned, I used mine for connecting to a local BBS to get my email.

    Handspring Visor, the cheap Palm. I loved mine, and it only cost £99 then! :)

    The cobalt Raq 2/3/4, used to be the best shared hosting platform back in the day, so easy to setup and secure, when Linux was still proper difficult!

  43. A. Lewis
    Thumb Up

    Good choices

    And a nice bit of nostalgia.

    One minor correction though:

    "Lenovo is the only manufacturer to continue to supply hardware maintenance manuals"

    HP/Compaq also have maintenance manuals including dis-assembly procedures to download from their website.

  44. Anonymous Coward

    More Psion love

    I had a Psion series 5MX on Ebay a few years ago for £30. Used it to work from home before buying a laptop.

    Sold it on ebay for £35.

    If Psion could make a modern 5MX (maybe running android) with that keyboard and form factor they'd make millions I tell you.

    1. Wayland Sothcott 1

      Screens better keyboards worse

      Screens have got a lot better so a psion with the same keyboard and better screen would be amazing. As for the CPU power I would say whatever extra power for the same battery life.

      If there was some way to get a psion to connect to WiFi that would suit me.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Interesting article

    Old laptops always have a use.

    For example, I have a couple of old Thinkpads - a 380z and a 600 series.

    I have upgraded them with old 40 / 20GB laptop HDDs, some spare RAM, put a dual boot Windows 3.1/95 FAT16 and Windows 2000 combo on.

    With a Cisco Aeronet card, even Win3.1 can get online. Albeit the router security needs downgraded to WEP.

    Using mobile sites (eg. bbc news mobile, m.facebook , mobile.twitter ) it speeds along nicely.

    One feature of older laptops is the serial port. Useful for plugging into industrial equipment or code readers for car ECUs.

    Even old 386 / 486 laptops (old Toshibas and Compaqs, when they were built properly) can be useful at writing PIC chips.

    As for Apple equipment. Mac Classics etc. have gone through the roof on EBay. A good Fat Mac / Plus / SE goes for more than a G4 Mac Mini!

    Really must get the Mac Plus from the loft and get the soldering iron out.

  46. YoYO

    Five ancient nostalgic junk for under £100

    Take off your rose tinted specs for a moment.

    Who would seriously invest £100 in any of those devices today.

    There are far better modern computers that can out perform any of those devices for a £100.

    Like others have mentioned, take the San Francisco, root it, install a custom OS, emulator or Android 2.2 and you have a very pocketable computer that does practically anything your old cobweb encrusted junk does.

    These devices deserve huge, huge, HUGE credit for being the forerunners for all the amazing tech we have today but who, under the age of 30, with any dignity would buy a Psion off ebay today on a £100 budget aside from the nostalgia value when you could get so much, much MUCH more bang for buck elsewhere?

    This article is just nostalgic sentimental wank.

    Sent from my iPad 2.

    1. juice

      The San Francisco is nice...

      But you'll be lucky to get more than 2 days battery life out of it, if you use it as a phone.

      (admittedly, if you switch into airplane mode, the battery life goes up by an order of magnitude. I was very impressed to discover my old SF was still healthily charged up after being left in a bag for a week...)

      The key point about most of these devices is that they were best of breed: designed to do a specific set of tasks and superbly implemented. Generally, new tech like the SF isn't better than the old tech: it's just cheaper and a jack-of-all-trades. And many of the features offered by the older hardware is often only available as third-party apps, which can be of varying quality.

      For instance, my HTC Desire HD replaced the Nokia N800 as it acts as my phone and social-networking tool, in addition to being an ebook reader. But the battery life is poorer and the ebook readers are of very varying quality - I still find it ludicrous that the default Android OS build isn't able to read HTML and TXT files from the local filesystem. iReader has improved things a little, but it's still not a patch on the N800's FBReader (which is open source and technically available on Android, but currently has minimal support for anything other than it's own ebook format).

      So yes, there is definitely some rose-tinted nostalgia involved in looking back at these devices. And for the most part, it's possible to get replacements which are "good enough" to replace them. But some of these older devices still have a niche...

    2. markp 1

      yes, of course it is.

      I think that was kind of the point, that you missed.

      Though it was also stated that each of the chosen items had to have some kind of genuine functionality that would raise them above the level of an expensive toy ... which is currently the bucket I would personally throw your iPad2 into, by the way. I'd still get more done of what I actually need to do by buying the X40 Laptop, should my own one (which was a contemporary rival to it) break down.

      And the Psion would still be a better organiser than anything comparable I've personally owned. £100 would be a bit over the top given I've bought Palms brand-new in-between for about that much, but I'd consider maybe £25?

  47. SpottedCow
    Thumb Up

    Wallstreet, Lombard, and Pismo --things of beauty

    Well, as long as the Wallstreet Powerbook was one of the ones with processor cache.

    I was an Apple Certified Tech back then. The Wallstreet Powerbooks remains the easiest laptop I've ever worked on; I could have it stripped down to its individual components inside of half an hour. Lombard and Pismo weren't much more difficult, but took a bit longer.

    Every notebook Apple has made since the return of Steve Jobs doesn't lack for looks; but none of them make repair or upgrade incredibly easy, and some were downright nasty, like the white Powerbook G3, or the glued-together LCD housing of the Powerbook G4 Titanium (heaven help you if your display hinges wore out).

    Today, I use a ThinkPad --but I miss the black Powerbooks. They were just done right.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "San Francisco is nice" (aka ZTE Blade, obviously)

    Well that depends on what you're comparing the ZTE Blade with.

    It is, as another commenter mentioned, jack of all trades, master of none (or at least none useful to me). It may benefit from a 2.2 OS upgrade but how many people in the real world will do that?

    Meanwhile, its battery life is poor to appalling, the display usability in the sun is poor to appalling, the camera is poor to appalling, the built in satnav is poor to appalling, and my fingers seem to be generally incompatible with touch screens. And that's before we even start on the (alleged?) privacy issues.

    Satnav is important to me but the available options for Android get (at best) mixed reviews and I don't have big enough pockets (or interest) to pay for a standalone one.

    I am seriously considering reverting to my Nokia/S60/E-series for general use (with paid-for TomTom already installed) and reducing my Blade to a media player.

    Mind you, for £100, what should I have expected? Will it be a classic in five or ten years time?

  49. Richard 14

    How do you know Steve Jobs was a fan of the Psion 3MX?

    Just wondering...

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: How do you know Steve Jobs was a fan of the Psion 3MX?

      Jobs had a 3a for several years. Not a great secret.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a load of junk

    I can only assume you're trying to sell some of these things on eBay and are hoping to get the bidding going...

  51. markp 1

    X40s worth that little already?

    Crikey .. that's the laptop that was the front running alternative to the HP TC4200 I eventually bought instead. Very similar specs on each... but the Thinkpad was still more expensive than the HP even though the latter was a convertible tablet PC, and I was going to be commuting in very cramped circumstances, so it won out.

    Very nicely specced pieces of kit for the time - oughta be, given they weren't much less expensive than buying a (*snnrrk*-ptui) Macbook, and mine is still running beautifully (under XP, but allegedly it's got the chops for 7). Granted, I've upgraded the RAM and disk, but that's all, it costs less than £20 to get 2Gb of compatible DDR nowadays and people are pretty much just throwing PATA drives away on ebay.

    If you just need a general purpose laptop and only have £100 to spare, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

    Though I would recommend keeping fifty quid aside to get a compatible replacement battery if you actually want to go anywhere. My original AND it's replacement are long since dead. Lucky the lappy has basically become a miniature desktop now - my original need for a portable is a couple years in the past, and what portable computing (aka, internet access, routefinding and calculator) I do need anymore is covered by a fairly clunky old semismartphone.

    BTW, if the IBM / Lenovo is the same compact, TC4200-rivalling dimensions that I remember it being, you too can perform the "laptop in a letter-size manila envelope" trick that Jobs so smugly performed on revealing the Macbook Air (I've tested it personally... yes, I could mail my laptop in a regular document envelope if I wanted to!). Except IBM/Lenovo and HP/Compaq did it a couple years earlier, and didn't see fit to crow about it in such a childish way.

  52. ScissorHands
    Thumb Up

    Here we go...

    Count me to a 3c, a 5mx (an Ericsson, but whahey), and a maxed-out Pismo (G4/550, 1GB RAM, 80GB 7200rpm HD, DVD-writer, Zip Drive and LS-120/floppy drive).

    The 3c broke the button panel below the display, the 5mx has Linux in it, and the Pismo is running 10.4 but is having kernel panics...

  53. Brian Miller 1

    I got a full pc for £100, not bad spec either

    I picked up a dual core intel e2180, 2gigs ram, onboard gfx and sound, 160gig HD, (admittedly crappy) 400W PSU in a relatively nice case, for exactly 100 smackeroos. From gumtree.

    Made a nice base platform to upgrade from for super cheap.

    You can easy pick up an old p4 on ebay for less too. They still have work left in em (thinking home server/NAS/dedicated firewall etc.).

  54. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    NAS and Ubuntu on older kit

    @Jim 59, re slow NASes. It's even worse than that, the CPU is actually plenty powerful to get 'er done. But, these NASes crucially do not include ethernet and hard disk controllers that allow for zero-copy. With zero-copy, samba, nfs, etc. use a sendfile() command, which can read a file directly off the hard disk into ethernet card buffers, ready to send, with the only CPU overhead being the small amount to tell where the data should go. Without zero-copy, the CPU is stuck laboriously copying blocks of data around. This can also be sped up with a DMA engine, which these also don't have. All I can say, on an old 486-66 back in the day, without sendfile() the CPU was at ~90% to throw a file onto the 10mbit ethernet. With it working, about 5%.

    As for the X40, you CAN have fancy window effects. Just ditch Windows (BTW, one problem with putting 2GB in the X40, the spec sheets I saw said 1.5GB is the max on them, 512MB onboard and 1GB in a DIMM slot). This thing has an Intel (non-)Exterme Graphics 2 in it, fire up Ubuntu and you have all the desktop effects you want. I've run it on a 1.5ghz Pentium M, and now on a 1.3 Atom (with extra support for the weird Poulsbo video added on). Believe it or not it actually makes the Atom run acceptably.

    If you want, the same thing will work on the Pismo (although perhaps not with desktop effects) -- when I was working at a University surplus selling some used Macs, they were almost all older ones that would not run current OSX. Some people wanted the whole OSX experience, or had older software they wanted to run anyway. Fair enough. Others liked the Mac HARDWARE but wanted up-to-date software on it. It's well hidden on their site but there IS an Ubuntu for PowerPC, and although officially unsupported it runs GREAT on a PowerPC.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sorry but..

    The recent crop of Lenovo Thinkpads are shockingly unreliable.

  56. Gomez Adams

    Psion 3 series

    I loved my 3c and replaced it with a 3mx but it had to go when the screen ribbon cable failed one more time. A weakness that has put me of flip-phones and slider phones to this day. One thing not mentioned is running it for a month or more on one set of batteries which means you could be away in the wilds for ages which is not what you can do with a modern energy-munching smartphone.

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'm a proud owner of a T40, the dual core Dothan variety. 7 years on and it still runs like a champ. Been running Linux for the last few years now, only had to replace the fan once.

  58. Rich 3

    How about $0

    Round here you get computers being put out with the recycling. Swap a few parts maybe, and you've got a working machine for zilch.

  59. RudolfLaRenna

    SheevaPlus is not made by Marvell

    The page #2 about the SheevaPlug is highly misleading.

    First of all, it is a company called GlobalScale Technologies Inc that manufactures the SheevaPlug (amongst other so-called Plug Computers). Marvell only produces the ARM-based System-on-Chip (SoC) that runs at his heart, with some technologies they bought from Intel a while ago.

    Having said that, I really discourage anybody from buying any GlobalScale device (SheevaPlug, GuruPlug, DreamPlug).

    They are a company based in Shenzen (China) that pays little attention to quality, which is quite disturbing if you consider that Plugs are meant to be used as servers (=high reliability) active 24h hours a day in constrained space.

    Would you like a NAS with a 30 days warranty (including shipment from China)? One that fails randomly in warm days? Maybe corrupting your backup data? Or even catching fire and burning down your house? All the above with broken WiFi drivers and other similar goodies?

    If you do, GlobalScale products are for you ! If not, your money deserves other other vendors. Read for instance about the GuruPlug Server Plus:

    The original version will overheat and freeze/reboot even the CPU is idle. GlobalScale eventually provided angry customers with a "Professional Upgrade Kit": a small fan and some glue, with the result of 1) not really fixing the problem 2) making the Plug noisier than a hair dryer.

    In other words, a server you cannot rely on that defeats the whole purpose of using low-power CPU. :-(((

  60. TheresaJayne

    I still have one of....

    I still have an old Psion II with extra eeproms and somewhere in one of my boxes in storage a Barcode reader for it.,

    I suppose it may go the way of my old Nokia Orange or Cellnet phones and the original Black and White Gameboy.

    Shame i had to throw out the C64, Vic 20 BBC b and Amiga 500, 600 and 1000 i had last time i moved.

    I once owned a Burroughs B21 Standalone until the PSU exploded....

    Maybe i will see if i can get my old Amstrad Laptop (luggable) working if i can find it.....

  61. Nick Pettefar

    Sun Kit

    You can get a Sun Ultra 60 for 100 wotsits or less from fleabay, complete with drives, and it will run the latest Solaris. I run my websites and other stuff from one of these. (2x440MHz 64-bit SPARC CPUs.)

    I recently bought a Sun Blade 2000 with 2x1.1GHz CPUs and 4GB RAM and 2x73GB drives and gigabit network for 200 euros. Super fast! Not too noisy either.

  62. bitmonki

    Spot on, Andrew!

    We are *so* used to upgrading, for an 'improved experience' that we often lose sight of the oh-so-useful-but-maybe-not-perfect. I find durable usability enormously appealing, and these have stood the test of time.

    I'd never heard of the Psion, or the Sheeva, but guess what my next gadgets are going to be?

    Well done, Andrew!

    P.S. I've been reading the Reg for about a decade, and this is absolutely my favorite article of them all.

  63. alun phillips

    Miss my 3c

    Yes what a great product, I even bought one new for somewhere in the region of £400 not long after launch loved it until the dreaded screen cable gave out, sold it for £50 and even got £10 for the manual on ebay

  64. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ben Nanonote

    Speaking of sub-subcultures, one computer that should be included here is Qi Hardware's Ben Nanonote (quod google). Open-source hardware, truly pocked-sized, less than US$100, and you can install Debian on it. Truly a wonderful hacking platform, and it comes with a dedicated community.

  65. rich0d

    X30/40/60 alternative...

    Upon reading this - and being a junky for little computing, and wanted something *smaller* than my 13.3, I was instantly hooked on the idea of having a X series to chuck in my bag. I couldn't find a good TP for little money, but stumbled upon another gem, Dell D420/430, I picked one up off fleabay for £115 including postage, "mint condition", for a 12.1" wide screen, C2D ULV, 2Gb RAM, which'll blow any Atom out of the water, it's a steal.

    The one downside to it is the ZIF PATA which it supposidly has. But oh well! A minor issue. 60Gb is more than enough for me to have a #! install on. :)

  66. heyrick Silver badge

    Psion 3a

    I have a Psion 3a (2Mb). Love it. The big tragedy in my life is my current computer has no serial port, so can't talk to it. A USB-serial dongle refused to talk. :-(

    One of the great points is you could write reasonably well formatted documents (a choice of fonts, sizes, styles) and print it to file formatted for an HP printer, which my PDF conversion software would turn into a PDF. Imagine, a twenty page manual all nicely laid out running it at around 35K! The exact same thing created on a PC (in a variety of ways and products) managed a third of a megabyte at its smallest, and usually half a megabyte.

    OPL was not terribly fast, but it was capable. And interfacing programs to the UI was remarkably simple. So for all those cases where you'd like something to just to <this>, a weekend task got it done.

    The current gadget in my pocket is a Motorola Defy. While it has many cool features, it can barely do any of the stuff the Psion 3a was capable of. I can't believe Google released the device without any basic productivity software (not even a simple word processor) and certainly the built-in calendar is laughable...

  67. sping

    Thinkpad X series isn't glossy...

    The matt era is alive and well. The X200/1 screens aren't glossy, though the screen is rubbish. Thankfully the X220 screen is also matt but really good quality (apart from 16:9 ratio) and it finally has DisplayPort output, wrath of gods notwithstanding.

    The downside of the X40/X41 is not just that they're PATA hard drives, they're 1.8" devices, so slow as molasses and not very upgradable. This is why they weren't popular, aren't classics, and are cheap. Other than that and dull screens, they blow any netbook out of the water. All in all the X220 is a creditable successor to the best of the X line, if 10x over budget for this article. Give it a few years.

  68. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Psion 5mx over 3c

    I still have both devices and quite frankly I don't fully agree with 3c being the better choice. First there is the rather limited software, but also the specific software driven standards. Word 2011 is a lot different than Word during the 3c era :-)

    And well.. The 5mx is more versatile; also a lot bigger and heavier. But you can do a lot more. I even used to keep a dos emulator around which allowed me to run Norton Commander right on

    the 5mx. That is something you won't be able to pull off with the 3c.

    All in all its a lot less dependent on software to perform the transfer of data.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Psion 5

      Yeah nice OS, but the hardware itself had a tendency to fall apart. Gave up having mine repaired under warranty when the hinge mechanism imploded for the umpteenth time.

  69. Bob Kentridge


    On the basis of this article I picked up an X60 from the Devil's Tat Bazaar (ebay) for £120. It is a fab little thing that can be used for proper work - rather easier to lug about than my T500 but the same great keyboard, and, I guess as it is a Thinkpad, still in perfect mechanical order. The battery is a bit past it (still got a couple of hours life) but that can be fixed for £20 or so.

    Thanks for the fun article and thanks for prompting me to get this great machine!

  70. The main man

    No Palms

    You can get the Palm M150 and even the M550 for under £100 such you how crap they Oh i had a PalmM150 and Lifedrive (expensive mistake)

  71. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Sun's with disks for less than £100

    I really enjoyed the article some good choices there. iPhone and Psion are great calls and having owned both in the past I still remember them fondly.

    I do disagree with the conclusion though Sun 220R's dual cpu with hard drives go for £50 on eBay and there is the occasional 420R quad cpu which goes for about £100! Now where was that shed.

  72. wathend

    What about the REX?

    The REX5 was awsome, calendar and contacts plus notes on a credit card sized format. What more did we need?

  73. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ah, the REX

    I'd forgotten about the REX! Had one of those - great as they could just plug into a laptops PCMCIA or the serial adapter.

    Bit of a pain if you needed to edit the data on the move somewhere!

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