Good low cost laptop for embedded work?

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Hello All,

JTAG programming requires a little laptop for the lab. Nothing fancy,
just a small machine that can dump code into an MSP430 or similar. I
don't write much firmware so processor performance for compile runs is
no issue.  A text editor and maybe schematic entry, too, but that
doesn't require a lot of processing power either. Ideally it should have
a long battery life.

I know that even Walmart sells some for around $600 but with a very
short battery life. Is there anything out there that you could recommend?

Reason I ask is that most laptops these days are total overkill. The
processors run at 1-2GHz and much of that is used as a space heater when
the fan comes on. I still have an old Compaq that used to haul five
hours on an old NiCd, and this was the standard issue battery that came
with it. Unfortunately this little machine can't run stuff like the IAR
compiler anymore, otherwise it would have been perfect. Also, from all
the lab work its case starts to crumble ;-)

Regards, Joerg

http://www.analogconsultants.com

Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
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I'd recommend a ThinkPad 240 series (preferably 240X, or 240Z if you can
find one - they were Japan only IIRC). This is an ultralight. The
fastest 240X they made was a 500MHz PIII. I had one with two extended
batteries, each of which gave me about four hours of life. Very small and
light. More importantly, it had serial and parallel ports (as well as
USB). Should be able to pick one up in the $200 ballpark on eBay.

10.4" 800x600 LCD, by the way.

Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?

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Whichever one you choose, be sure to check it has a serial interface.  Many
laptops these days no longer have one.

Ian
--
Ian Bell

Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?

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A laptop or just something small and easy to move around?

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Your lab lacks AC outlets?

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Sounds like you want something ruggedized.



Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
Hi Guy,

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Something light and easy to move around.

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No. But when you go to a customer all you usually have is a small corner
and it is more practical to be untethered. Often you have to move from  
one prototype to another on the spur of a moment.

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Ideally, yes. But I don't have the budget of a defense department ;-)

Regards, Joerg

http://www.analogconsultants.com

Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?

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I've never had any problem with the $20 USB->serial interfaces
under Linux.  Windows support for them isn't great...

--
Grant Edwards                   grante             Yow!  I'm having an
                                  at               emotional outburst!!
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Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
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Which particular ones are you using? All the devices I've used either
don't work with the evbs I need to use, or cause kernel panics sometimes
(I can't work out the exact circumstances).

I just recently got a box of those tiny "all the electronics in the DB9
molding" types, based on the Cypress "M8" reference platform, and besides
needing to upgrade to 2.6.10rc3 (which meant some quick hand-patching of
my WLAN card driver!), I find that these devices don't work with the
STK500 :((((((( Very sad. So it's back to the Keyspan, which doesn't like
to be inserted on boot ("Badness in...") and chokes occasionally.


Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?

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I've used a couple different no-name "brands" but they were all
based on prolific chips.

The one that I've got handy right now says "micro innovations"
on the DB-9 end.  It's the style w/o the lump in the middle.
I've also got another prolific one with a lump in the middle
that plugs into my cell phone.  There's one at work with a
different brand that's identical to the "micro innovations"
one.

--
Grant Edwards                   grante             Yow!  Yes, Private
                                  at               DOBERMAN!!
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Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
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I'm using LabWindows for my serial stuff and have yet to find one that works
flawlessly. I have tried three different types, Prolific, U232-P9 (from
purple computing, http://pfranc.com/usb/usb.mhtml ) and a third noname type.

They all had the problem if I setup the program to for example 9600 baud and
wrote several bytes to the comport at a fast sucsession rate it would miss
some bytes and in some cases boot the machine.

The only way I found to make it work, was to add a loop in my program to let
the bytes be written to the comport at or lower than the baudrate. But that
unfortunately means more delay than one would want

And moreover application programs not under my control are not sure to work
since they would probably just write to the port in the normal way

Cheers

Klaus



Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
Hi Ian,

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Actually I was just about to settle for a little Dell this morning.
Then, just before ordering, I found that it doesn't even have a parallel
port. Ouch.

So now I am wondering if an MSP430 tool works via a bidirectional
USB-parallel adapter such as the Micro Innovations USB545C. Else we'd
have to buy the more expensive USB programming pods. I posted a question
on the MSP430 Yahoo forum and to TI support. Let's see.

Regards, Joerg

http://www.analogconsultants.com

Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?

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The Dell group that handles leased laptops has an eBay store where they sell
factory reconditioned Dell laptops.  I have bought a couple and they seem
quite nice.  Not as cheap as you might get a laptop elsewhere but I was
comforted by the fact they have been reworked by Dell technicians.

Perhaps you can find a year or two old model that still has parallel and
serial ports.

http://stores.ebay.com/Dell-Financial-Services_W0QQsspagenameZstrkQ3amefsQ3amesstQQtZkm

If this link doesn't work just go to eBay and search for
"Dell-Financial-Services" and you should eventually end up at their eBay
store.

Rob Young
(no affiliation with Dell, just satisfied with their products)



Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
Hi Rob,

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Thanks. I didn't know that they sell lease returns on EBay. I looked
around a bit. Seems like they are mostly close to or past warranty
expiration. But it is a bit tedious to find out whether they have a
parallel port. When I keyed in the respective service tags it only shows
a brief configuration list. With test equipment that's different since I
always keep some old HP catalogs ;-)

Regards, Joerg

http://www.analogconsultants.com

Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
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I've tried some USB-parallel solutions and none of them worked with the
FET.



Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
Hi Lewin,

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That's sad. It probably is not working for the reasons Paul gave. What
puzzles me is that TI still sells their MSP430 trial kits with a
parallel-only connection with the far end soldered to the proto board.
This means a lot of people with laptops can't use them.

Regards, Joerg

http://www.analogconsultants.com

Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?

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I don't use one, but I think it's VERY unlikely. The parallel port JTAG
programmers work by direct bit- poking; you'll usually find they come
with an access- protection- defeating driver such as giveio, Port95 etc.

You can program the MSP430s using the serial port, but tyhe debugger
doesn't work that way, you have to revert to old-fashioned LED blinking,
strategically-places printf()s etc.

Paul Burke

Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
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JTAG

etc.

In theory, the USB devices COULD come with a VDD that would fully
virtualize the parallel port to the I/O level. In practice, they don't.
It may be that a few such devices do come with fully-implemented
drivers, but they certainly don't advertise the feature.


Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
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JTAG

etc.

In theory, the USB devices COULD come with a VDD that would fully
virtualize the parallel port to the I/O level. In practice, they don't.
It may be that a few such devices do come with fully-implemented
drivers, but they certainly don't advertise the feature.


Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
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JTAG

etc.

In theory, the USB devices COULD come with a VDD that would fully
virtualize the parallel port to the I/O level. In practice, they don't.
It may be that a few such devices do come with fully-implemented
drivers, but they certainly don't advertise the feature.


Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
Hi Lewin,

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If they do I wonder why they don't advertise. Besides not being able to
run a JTAG programmer like the MSP430 FET on a USB to parallel converter
there are going to be lots of folks in much more dire straits: Those
with the dreaded dongles, especially on legacy software that for
whatever reason needs to be kept going. Those folks might some day be
frantically looking for used laptops that still have a real parallel port.

Regards, Joerg

http://www.analogconsultants.com

Re: Good low cost laptop for embedded work?
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I am not sure what it is your after. You want long battery life, rugged case
that doesn't crumble (ruggedized?), doesn't need a lot of CPU power.
Was this a  laptop or a ultra compact model? Were you wanting a long battery
life for use outside your lab?
Battery life nowadays, means you can't use a 14 ot 15 inch LCD screen on the
laptop. Most of the battery power goes into maintaining the LCD panel.
None of the laptops really have a decent battery run with the LCD panel lit
up the entire time. If you were to be able to check the maptop battery run
specs and data, you would see the long battery life runs were done with the
LCD panel and other I/O devices doing into sleep mode for ost of the test.

For me the last good laptop I got a year ago was a Compaq Laptop for $999 at
Sam's Club. It had a 15" LCD panel, 2.5ghz AMD chip, and most important of
all was it still had a "real" RS232 port and a real "Parallel" port. Thus
all my MCU software ran on it no problem. Plus I could use the USB ports for
new MCU software too. Battery life was still not all that great, only a hour
or so at best. But then you can carry an extra battery pack, and make more
use of the AC adapter too.  Some laptops work with a 12v Auto adapter or
airplane seat adapter too. The problem is the 15" LCD takes a lot of power
to run, especially with the backlight. Thus you can't watch a DVD movie on
it running off of battery power alone.

The $545 Walmart laptopn isn't bad, but the 14" LCD sucks a lot of power,
and it doesn't have a RS232 port. Some MCU programming software has trouble
with the USB to serial adapters. You might have to buy several USB to serial
adapters to get all the MCU software to work OK. Not all USB to Serial
adpaters are equal.
If you add a $100 to the price then this laptop
http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.gsp?product_id32%02221&cat39%44&type19%&dept39%44&path=0%3A3944%3A3944
would be a lot better, as it has a larger battery pack to give some longer
battery run times.
This Tatung laptop might be a better choice
http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.gsp?product_id33%80763&cat40%70&type19%&dept39%44&path=0%3A3944%3A3951%3A4070
It has a small LCD, thus it uses less power to run the LCD panel. It runs
3-4 hours off the battery with the 12" LCD.
Some of the Averatec ultra small laptops are maybe good choices like this
one
http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.gsp?product_id31%63953&cat40%70&type19%&dept39%44&path=0%3A3944%3A3951%3A4070%3A119888&xsell32%23390
But ultra small or ultra thin means the battery pack is correspndingly small
too.








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