This Surprisingly Responsive Website Is Hosted on an HP 200LX Palmtop From the Early '90s

Able to serve around a half million visitors per day, this palmtop is pushing more data than its creators could have ever dreamed.

Gareth Halfacree
14 days ago β€’ RetroTech / Communication

Vintage computing enthusiast Terrence Vergauwen has put together a web server with a difference: it's a Hewlett-Packard 200LX palmtop, a classic bit of portable computing from the 1990s now boasting twice the processing power at a blistering 16MHz.

"This HP 200LX palmtop is an IBM PC/XT compatible MS-DOS system with a 16-bit 80186 CPU and CGA graphics system-on-a-chip, a serial port, and a 16-bit PCMCIA expansion slot containing a 2GB CompactFlash card for main storage," Vergauwen writes of "Felix," the codename given by HP to the device which would become his web server.

"It has been upgraded with a double speed crystal, doubling the CPU's clock frequency from 8MHz to 16MHz, and a 2MB RAM expansion board, raising the total amount of RAM in the palmtop to 3MB."

This battery-powered palmtop from the 90s is driving a modern website, thanks to more than a little ingenuity. (πŸ“Ή: Palmtop Tube)

Even with twice the processor speed and three times the RAM, the HP LX family was never intended to act as a web server β€” especially not one for clients visiting in the year 2022 from modern browsers. The HP 200LX was first released in 1994 as a follow-up to 1993's HP 100LX, which was in turn a successor to 1991's HP 95LX.

Designed for portable computing, the pocket-size system runs MS-DOS with a custom graphical interface on top β€” while its PCMCIA expansion slot, ready to accept a modem, meant it found a home with road-warriors looking to stay online while traveling in the age before smartphones.

Vergauwen's example, though, doesn't go anywhere. Instead, it stays plugged in and serves his website, Palmtop Tube, over a PCMCIA Ethernet card β€” connecting to a network-attached storage device over Ethernet for bulk file storage, in one of a few surprising concessions to the vintage palmtop's relatively limited specifications, and using a considerably more modern Raspberry Pi as a reverse proxy for SSL connectivity.

"[The] palmtop server can push out, towards HTTPS clients, on average um about 377,000 hits β€” about 15.23GB per day," Vergauwen notes. "With a direct connection β€” HTTP, unencrypted β€” we're getting approximately five and a half hits a second, about 328 a minute, about 20.000, nearly, per hour, and, yeah, nearly half a million a day."

A detailed video on the creation of the palmtop web server is available on Vergauwen's YouTube channel, while you can visit the website yourself at PalmtopTube.com.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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