Company:

NEC

Price:

$120 USD

License:

N/A

Rating:

3 Star Rating: Average

NEC MC/300HC

Joe Chow | Guest Reviews
February 27, 2005

NEC MC/300HC (or Celux 300HC, referred as 300HC hereinafter) is anything but an ordinary HPC. By definition, it's definitely a true HPC powered by Intel PXA250 CPU and HPC2000 OS. But you cannot find a single piece of information about it on any NEC website and Google it on Internet only returns a handful of sites. The reason is that 300HC is a special OEM and not-for-retail product made for CELUX, a Japanese luxury store for second-handed Louis Vuitton products. With PXA250 300mhz CPU, an above-average HPA screen, CF Slot and a direct USB host connector eliminating the need for a clumsy USB converter, NEC 300HC could be a promising dream HPC for tight-budget users with a price of US$120 (£68 GBP, €98 EUD, ¥13600 JPY est.). After playing around with 300HC for some time, however, I am quite disappointed to find that this NEC cutie has some fatal flaws, making it not stable and reliable as expected by HPC buffs for the once HPC giant--NEC.

Before I begin my review, I have to spend some time on the background of 300HC. On the Internet, there is little detailed coverage, not to mention support pages. As an experienced HPC user and a Chinese who may well guess the gist of some Japanese websites, nonetheless, I managed to dig out almost the complete story of 300HC from the website of a Hong Kong fashion buyer: Celux is a member-only Japanese luxury store selling 2nd-handed LV products. In the summer of 2002, ¥200,000 JPY would grant you a Celux membership and a free 300HC as a membership gift - meaning the 300HC is not for retail. To make this gadget more fashionable, its surface is covered by LV's representative pattern. A leather belt with the pattern is also attached to the right side.

Figure 1: Celux 300HC

In early 2005, a few seemingly "unused and inventory" 300HCs, as claimed by the wholesaler, were dumped into China as electronic garbage with an attractive price of 999 Yuan (US$120) and I managed to buy a 2nd-handed one with 800 Yuan. My thoughts for it? Definitely a dream HPC for tight-budget users, if only its workmanship and quality control could be improved!

This is what you get with an NEC 300HC:

  • PXA250 300M ARM CPU
  • 32M RAM
  • Japanese version HPC2000
  • USB slave for sync, USB host for storage and peripherals, CF slot, stereo headphone jack
  • 20.3 X 9.3 X 3.1cm
  • 550g with battery

The looks

300HC is a standard 640*240 HPC in NEC's usual form factor. As we can see from figure 2, it has an English keyboard and interestingly an OS of Japanese HPC 2000. I would not elaborate on the software part, as there is little value-added software other than official HPC2K OS. Unlike the famous HP720, 300HC has only one CF/PC Card slot and this certainly limits the expansion choices. Still, 300HC is more heavier and thicker than expected: 550g for 20.3 X 9.3 X 3.1 (cm). Part of the reason is to hold a thick 2000mAh battery and a full-sized USB host connector.

Figure 2: The front side of the MC/300HC

On the left-side are the major connectors including infrared, charge port, one serial connectorc (for phone connection or serial sync?), one USB slave port and the full-sized USB host connector; (detailed later) the CF slot, the pen holder and two programmable hotkeys for IE and Email as well as the power button are located on the right side.

Figure 3: 2000mAh Battery and the left side

The keypads are a little small, even for oriental males, not to mention those occident users supposedly with bigger palms.

Comparing to the largerIntermec 6651, 300HC has longer key pitch and is better, though its keys are definitely smaller than the former.

I once owned a NEC 730F, the Japanese version of NEC MP880. I believe that 300HC has almost the same pitch as MP880, though which could be slightly better than 300HC for its larger keypads and longer key pitch. I did not have a chance to use a hp Jornada 720 or Psion 5mx, both of which are known for its good keyboard. So sorry for no comparison between these devices.

Figure 4: Comparison with a mouse

 

Figure 5: A nice Louis Vuitton keyboard?

The Pros and Cons:

The advantages:

1. An above-average screen. The original trader claims it as an HPA screen, an improved version of DSTN. This could be true as there is only a little, almost invisible ghost shadow in the screen. Playing the Matrix trailer from TCPMP's website on 300HC is quite acceptable. Even in some action-tense moments, the screen still delivers. I can well assume that using 300HC as a mobile video terminal would not disappoint you in most cases. This is quite something for an old H/PC released in early 2000, when the HPC market was still dominated by DSTN or even STN screens. 300HC, however, has a larger dot pitch. I can see larger noises or spots during movie playback, but the overall situation is still acceptable.

Figure 6: Desktop Screen

This screen is definitely better than those on the NEC 730F and HP Jornada 720, which are not suitable for watching movies. Fortunately, few 720 users would like watching clips on it. They attach greater importance to productivity uses on 720. Unfortunately, the actual viewable area is a bit small compared to the overall size: 5.4*14.9CM

2. With the ever-improving TCPMP, 300HC can handle many Divx files due to its PXA250 300mhz CPU. As Picard (TCPMP's author) said before on his forum, TCPMP is mainly optimized for XSCALE CPU. So if you have mania for playing movies on HPC, 300HC is a good choice.

3. Good connection choices. 300HC has an USB-host, an USB-slave and a weird-looking sync port? (Sync port or cell-phone connector for Internet??). With an inexpensive USB wire, 300HC can do USB sync. Guess what? You can use MP900's USB drivers to help the PC recognize the 300HC. Weird enough, the first time installation is a bit tricky and requires a few manual installation steps. It is not just plug and play with this 300HC.

Figure 7: Standard USB host, Serial Port and USB Slave for USB Sync

For me, the biggest surprise is the USB host on 300HC is a standard one. It is the same as those on PC.

You don't need any clumsy conversion wire. Just plug in your USB thumb drive and start using USB memories right away (with proper driver installed). Other working USB devices include keyboard, USB calculator, certain digital cameras, printers and USB hard disk, etc. I will cover the driver issue later. For larger HPCs like Intermec 6651 or NEC MP880, a standard USB-host port is no surprise. But such a port on a not-that-big machine like 300HC, this is a really big convenience. With a small thumb drive, the users can use USB flash for storage. The only CF slot can then be used for Wifi card, LAN card, etc. A real thumb-up!!!

The issues:

Now, I will talk about 300HC's existing issues, some of which are quite annoying and even fatal.

The first one is the reliability of the screen and the touch panel. I learn from Chinese H/PC forums that a quite high percentage of 300HC's screen will die after your purchase, sooner or later (in most cases are within two or three months). This percentage could top 40-50%. My first 300HC's screen died after only two days on my hands.

I bought my first used 300HC on Internet for US$96. The first day I got it, the screen sometimes got blank and too dark to read. Other moments, just fine. One day later, the machine got unreadable (too dark) much more frequently. Even after some warm-up time, this 300HC's screen never woke up again. In the end, I had to return this unit to the seller and got the refund. I believe the seller would not deliberately sell a defective unit to me because I was protected by refund terms and he could not get the money until I finished inspection. I think 300HC itself is kind of unreliable.

Other users also report that the touch panel will some day malfunction and does not respond to tapping again. But they have fixed such a problem by consolidating the screen connector. They find that such a method also applies to those units with dead screen and there are many successful cases while only few units never wake up again. I think my first 300HC may also die of such a problem and could be successfully fixed. But then there were few discussions on forums and I did not have relevant technical know-how in hand.

Figure 8: 1 for the screen connector while 2 is the touch panel connector. Consolidation of 1, 2, and 3 will prevent and fix screen breakdown.

Besides the screen, 300HC has the following problems:

  1. The ROM could be suddenly lost, when it seems to be completely erased and 300HC could not power on. In one case, after playing with some software on 300HC for some days, one user found his 300HC unbootable at all. What he played with is only normal software. No hardware hacking, no flashing ROM or something. But the ROM still died mysteriously. The machine simply could not power on, even after removing the main and backup battery for a long time and reinstalling them. Btw, Chinese users could not find an official reset method except removing both batteries.

    In the end, the guy had to spend US$20 to first copy the ROM image from a working 300HC with an EPROM programmer and then restore the ROM back to the dead unit. After that, his 300hc worked fine and did not have any similar problem. The issue is more threatening than the screen one as it is difficult to fix and requires special equipment. Not everyone has the opportunity to find another working 300HC and copy the ROM image.

    The original ROM image (.bin files copied with the programmer) is not publicly available for commercial reasons. I know an unfortunate 300HC user, who has been Begging for the ROM image on forums but to no avail, even though he has the right EPROM programmer and the know-how. Another luckier user had to send his 300HC almost across China to have his 300HC suffering ROM loss fixed.

    In China, the power voltage is 220 volts while that in Japan is 110v. So, using 300HC requires a 220v-110v converter since its supplied power adapter works in 110v. The 300HC wholesaler, who has bee selling HPC for three years, suspects that plugging in and unplugging the converter for many times generates too much static. Excessive static damages the ROM and seems to have erased the ROM. Maybe it is the traders excuse. He made it up to soothe those unfortunate buyers. I do not believe in this explanation.

  2. The battery kind of underperforms. It is nominal capacity is 2000Mah. But reading e-books and sometimes watching videos (not often) and other PIM operations on 300HC just lasts two to three hours.

    In the past, I bought several 2nd-handed digital gadgets and even some HPCs, which were all dumped into China as electronic garbage. All is fine and durable. None has exhibited so many problems like 300HC.

    Because this is not a retail product, I could not find a retail 300HC for comparison. But I tend to believe these 300HCs, by design or production, have some problems, minor or major, before they are dumped into China. They are not simply "Inventory".

Software tips:

Working USB Mass Storage Drive driver for ARM HPC Pro and HPC2K

I am quite sure that I am possibly the first people to discover a WORKING USB Mass Storage Driver for ARM HPC2K like 300HC. As we all know, there are extremely few ARM HPCs, not to mention an ARM HPC with USB host support, except for those modern WinCE.Net machines.

HP Jornada 820 is probably the only ARM HPC Pro, if we do not count in those short-lived concept products (if any). Jornada 820 supports USB host, but its influence and popularity is limited. HP 720 is a much much more popular ARM HPC2k machine, but it simply lacks USB host support. The NEC Mobile Pro 900 is the new (probably the last) generation HPC powered by the new PXA255 CPU and it does support USB host. But it is only (officially?) available in the US market and this limits its influence. So there are few efforts among HPC buffs on achieving USB host capacities.

Consequently, most people will think of the great Deje USB driver for PPC2002 ARM PPC When trying to install USB driver for 300HC, as HPC2K machines in theory can use certain PPC 2002 drivers. This is also what Chinese 300HC users did with this cutie.

Unfortunately, Deje's driver seems to be at odds with 300HC. It can install, it can run. Once the USB thumb drives is plug in, a new folder called USB Disk does pop up. But the access speed is darn slow. Opening up the new folder and read the contents takes over 20 seconds. It is also unstable. Copy a large file from the USB thumb drive to 300HC often leads to a dead halt on the HPC and directly playing Mp3 or videos on USB storage is simply impossible.

Other 300HC users and me had endeavored to fine-tune the settings in Deje drivers but to no avail. It is definitely impractical to play multimedia contents on USB drives with such a driver, when opening up e-books has already become this slow. In the end, we had to give up Deje's driver. There could be some fundamental difference between PPC2002 and HPC2K, especially in terms of drivers.

Then comes the savior! NEC's USB Clik! Driver for Wince! In fact, I have been using its MIPS HPC Pro version for almost two years as I started using it on NEC 730F in 2003. Other than 730F that I eventually sold out, I now own two Sharp HC-AJ1 (MIPS HPC Pro), one HPC2K version Intermec 6651 and one Sigmarion II (MIPS HPC2K). All these HPCs support USB host and USB Clik driver works fabulously on them.

The other day an idea came across my mind if there is an ARM HPC Pro version of Clik Driver, and then I am sure it will work on ARM HPC2K machines as HPC Pro programs and drivers can work flawlessly on HPC2K machines. So I decided to dig out the Internet and eventually located the right ARM driver in the Byzantine websites of NEC Japan.

ust run the cab file on 300HC and plug in your USB thumb drive or USB hard disk. A window pops up on the HPC and asks you to input the driver's name. Here comes the trick! Enter "USBclik" or "USBclik.dll" and voila. Please note that "USBclik" is not "USBclick". There is no need to edit registry and there is actually very few settings for users to change, something like the number of USB drives, their names and whether the names will be changed when different USB memories are plug in. there is nothing more you can adjust.

A new folder with Japanese characters appears and this is your USB drive! Just click on it and all the contents appears instantly. The speed is MUCH faster than the Deje driver and is almost like accessing the internal CF card.

Btw, this Clik driver supports HPC Pro machines of all CPUs, namely MIPS, SH3, SH4 and ARM. Based on my experience, it should probably work smooth on all HPC Pro and HPC2K machines. For the popular NEC Mobile Pro series, please use the cab file named CL_M4112.CAB for MC-R700 listed in the web page (MP800 in US). HPC:Factor forum members GLE and CE Geek have already confirmed that this Clik drivers works on HPC2K MP900 and MP800 respectively. At least connecting to hard drives is a piece of cake.

Performance Notes

There is no obvious "initialization time" for larger files on USB memory. Listening to mp3 files on USB hard drive with TCPMP is a piece of cake. TCPMP can even smoothly decode 320*240 VCD files (in .dat format directly copied from VCDs) stored on an USB hard drive and there are no visible dropping frames.

But there is one issue: after playing VCD files for roughly ten seconds, TCPMP pauses for a second or two and is seemingly waiting for the data sent through USB port. After such a pause, the video plays back awesome again. Later, the pause is repeated again and again.

I assume that TCPMP on 300HC can easily handle original 320*240 VCD files. The problem probably lies in the USB driver. This is quite understandable because the driver was released in early 2000 as an HPC Pro driver. It is too old and is not optimized for HPC2k and new XSCALE CPU. In fact, the ARM CPU used in Jornada 820 is significantly different than the PXA250 CPU powering the 300HC. In early 2000, no one would expect to play 320*240 full screen VCD files through the USB port on an HPC2k machine. The USB clik driver is simply not aimed to achieve so much.

In short, using USB memory and hard drives for Mp3s, e-books or storage works great and smooth on 300HC, but probably not for mobile video play back.

Supported USB Devices with USB Clik Driver:

Digital Camera: NIKON 995, Nikon 2500, Fuji 1400, Minolta XT DC, Olympus C700UZ….

USB thumb drive/Hdd: Almost all driver-free (under WinME, Win2K and WinXP) card readers and USB-IDE converter. Preferably single-type card reader as WinCE can only recognize the first partition/the first card slot. For most multi-type card readers, only the first slot (usually the CF slot) can be recognized.

USB Keyboard: At least one Samsung PS/2 keyboard works flawlessly on the USB port, even with PS2-USB converter. 300HC right now recognizes it and there is no need for specific driver.

Figure 9: a Samsung PS/2 keyboard works through USB/PS/2 converter

USB GPS: You need the USB-232 driver from Zoro Yoshi. It supports PL2303 serial chip. First copy 232usb.dll to the "Windows" folder, then connect the serial USB GPS. Enter "232usb" when asked.

Upcoming official support from GAPI for HPCs

With the successful petition of Chinese users, the author of GAPI for HPCs had agreed to support 300HC in the reputed HPC software GAPI for HPCs. The current beta version already includes primary support and the forthcoming public release will officially support 300HC. This will no doubt greatly enhance 300HCs gaming and multimedia performance, especially the emulators. Just stay tuned.

English HPC2K Menu

Some system files have been ripped off from English HPC 2000 OS and they can be overwritten on the same files in 300HC. As a result, part of the system interface has consequently been "translated" into English version as indicated in Figure xxx. At present, there are two side effects: First, cab files will not install by themselves any more; second, Media Player for Handheld PC stored in ROM will cease to run.

Figure 10: Translated English system menu

Promising hacking of PPC programs with WinWatch

Author Elias Zacarias aka Shadow Master has written a great software to resize or move the window of tweaked PPC programs on HPC2k. In the past, hacked PPC software might work. But for most of the time, part of the program window will become invisible due to the difference in screen resolution of PPCs and HPCs. With WinWatch, the user can move the window of PPC programs and have access to some important settings and menus. This is surely to broaden the software list of 300HC because unlikely the retired MIPS HPC2K machines, there is still many ARM PPC software that can be hacked and reused on 300HC.

List of Confirmed PPC software that can run on 300HC

Please refer to the similar list for Jornada 720 as the two HPCs shares the same type of CPU and OS.

Conclusion

A small part of this review was posted the forum of HPC:Factor about two months ago. Since then, my views on 300HC have been changed a little bit. Before Chinese users found the solution for the screen breakdown on 300HC, my attitude towards this NEC cutie was quite negative and was reluctant to recommend it to HPC aficionados as 300HC on the same time could suffer the severe risk of unexpected ROM loss. Because the fix for screen problem has now been found and confirmed to be quite effective in most situations, I change my suggestion from "Strongly not recommended" to "Cautious Buy-in" as the chances for another major issue of Rom Loss on 300HC are much lower.

Go get an NEC 300HC and start your extraordinary HPC experience with Louis Vuitton.

Links for various software/companies:

  • WinWatch: http://www.damnsoft.org/
  • GAPI for HPCs: http://www.wincesoft.de/
  • Deje USB driver for PPC 2002/2003 ARM PPC: http://www.deje.gmxhome.de/
  • NEC's USB Clik! Driver: http://search.casnavi.nec.co.jp/module_search/program/Module_Detail.asp?MODULE_NO=789
  • 232usb - RS232 USB Serial Driver http://www.softclub.jp/zoro/ce/
  • TCPMP: http://tcpmp.corecodec.org/

 

System Requirements:

Windows 95, 98, Millennium, NT4, 2000, XP
ActiveSync 3.1 or higher

Rating

 

 

Cost:

3 Star Rating: Average

Pros: Fast PXA250 300mhz CPU, good for PPC software tweaking and decent video playback with TCPMP; above-average HPA screen with much less screen ghosts than ordianary DSTN HPCs.; full-size USB Host port and USB Sync with host PC.

Cons: Average battery life, screen connector not very stable, but now there is a confirmed solution; Notorious system ROM loss, but the chance for this issue is much lower now.

Usability:

3 Star Rating: Average

Built-In helps:

3 Star Rating: Average

Customer Service:

3 Star Rating: Average

Overall:

3 Star Rating: Average

 

 

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