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By Robert Zach
Part 1 Part 2
If you are a true Palm fan you may remember that when Palm Computing announced the Palm IIIx they briefly touted the "Open Feature Connector" ability of the new unit.
As we now know, this was simply the existing Palm OS/memory board now emptied (and slightly modified) by moving the OS Flash and system memory off to the main system board. This move by 3Com enabled the Palm platform to now be expandable.
3Com talked about modems, memory, peripherals but none materialized UNTIL NOW!
The axxPac, from AMS in Germany, is a SmartMedia interface mounted completely internal to the Palm IIIx in the open connector slot.
For $79 AMS provides the axxPac® extension module, a 3½" disk with an application to transfer databases (PRCs/PDBs) between SmartMedia and the Palm, a color matching modified rear casing with a slot for card access to the module, and a manual (for the record, my unit did not include a manual).
It is my understanding that AMS will provide optional SmartMedia cards with the unit for an additional cost. The unit itself will be available for general consumers, directly through the website, by the end of March.
SmartMedia cards are supported in 4, 8, 16, and 32MB sizes, and supposedly 64MB support is in the works!
As mentioned I didn't have manual but installing the device was very simple with a few quick steps: Just back up your Palm (just in case), remove the four screws on the back of the Palm IIIx, peel off the back casing, slide the module into the open slot, and close up the unit with the provided slotted back. That's it!Here's what that looks like, card installed, new slotted back, and 8MB SmartMedia card pictured:
The install doesn't even require you to remove batteries, although when dealing with delicate electronic circuitry it's probably a good idea, and you won't lose any data.
As you can see below, only a slight protrusion is noticeable after the upgrade is performed. The unit still fits in the cases I have, and if not the card is so thin and small it can be removed and tucked away neatly.
The module itself is very compact and fits inside the unit nicely. With the new, slightly modified, slotted back in place it's almost if 3Com MADE the Palm IIIx to be "hackable" like this. It's a very neat and perfect package all together.
My unit did have a small problem with scratching the SmartMedia card as it went in and out of the module. AMS has informed that a small change to the opening has eliminated this in production units.
On a design note, the SmartMedia module is actually installed in such a fashion as to cover the reset button on the main board. But, the detail-oriented engineers at AMS actually thought of that too. With the card removed from the module the reset button is accessible. Look closely at the back side picture of the module below, and you'll see that it was designed with a hole right through it to allow you to still hit reset ;-)
Read on for Part 2 -The axxPac software >>
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