User Review: Celux 300HC

by Zhou Xiwen
(der Anwenderbericht in deutscher ‹bersetzung ist hier zu finden)

Celux 300HC, a Dream HPC for Tight-Budget User, or almost?

NEC MC/300HC (or Celux 300HC, referred as 300HC hereafter) 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 googling 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 (HPA = High Performance Addressing, a fast type of passive matrix STN displays), CF slot and a direct USB host connector eliminating the need for a clumsy USB converter, NEC/Celux 300HC could be a promising dream HPC for tight-budget users with a price of $120 USD. 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 notes 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 Louis Vuitton products. In the summer of 2002, 200,000 yen would grant you a Celux membership and a free 300HC as a membership gift. 300HC is not for retail. To make this gadget more fashionable, its surface is covered by Louis Vuitton's representative pattern. A leather belt with the pattern is also attached to the right side.

Figure 1: Celux 300HC

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 ($120 USD) 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/Celux 300HC:

Japanese version HPC2000
USB slave for sync, USB host for storage and peripherals, CF slot, stereo headphone jack
20.3 x 9.3 x 3.1 cm
550g with battery

The looks

300HC is a standard 640x240 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 HP 720, 300HC has only one CF slot and this certainly limits the expansion choices. Still, 300HC is heavier and thicker than expected: 550g for 20.3 x 9.3 x 3.1 cm. One reason is to hold a thick 2000mAh battery and a full-sized USB host connector.

Figure 2: the front side

On the left side are the major connectors including infrared, charge port, one serial (for phone connection or serial sync?) connector, 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 connectors

The keypads are a little small, even for oriental males, not to mention those occident users supposedly with bigger palms. Comparing to my Intermec 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 MobilePro 880. I believe that 300HC has almost the same pitch as MP880, though MP880 could be slightly better than 300HC for its larger keypads and longer key pitch. I did not have a chance to use HP 720 or Psion 5mx, both of which are known for their good keyboards. So sorry for not comparing to these devices.

Figure 4: comparison with a computer mouse to see the actual size of 300HC

Figure 5: a nice Louis Vuitton keyboard? :)

The Pros and Cons

First 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 little or 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 HPC released so early, when the HPC market was still dominated by DSTN 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. The screen is definitely better than those on the NEC 730F and HP 720, which are not suitable for watching movies. Of course few 720 users would like watching clips on it. They attach greater importance to productivity uses on 720. Unfortunately, the actual viewable part on 30HC's screen is a bit small compared to the overall size: 5.4x14.9 cm.

2. Again on video playback: 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 serial port (sync port or cell-phone connector for Internet?). With an inexpensive USB wire, 300HC can do USB sync. Guess what? You can use MobilePro 900'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 6: standard USB host, serial Port (??) and USB slave for syncing

For me, the biggest surprise is the USB host on 300HC is a standard one. It is the same as those on PC. You donít 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. 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 take 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 300HCís existing issues. Some are quite annoying and even fatal.

The first one is the reliability of the screen and the touch panel. I learn from Chinese HPC forums that a quite high percentage of 300HC's screen will die after 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.

I bought my first used 300HC on Internet for $96 USD. The first day I got it, the screen sometimes got blank and too dark to read. Other moments everything showed 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 don't believe the seller would deliberately sell a defective unit to me since 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 woke up again. I think my first 300HC may also have died of such a problem and could have been successfully fixed. But then there were only few discussions on this matter in forums and I did not have relevant technical know-how at hand.

Figure 7: the inside - 1 marks 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 another severe problem: 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 was only normal software. No hardware hacking, no flashing ROM or something similar. 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. By the way, Chinese users could not find any other reset method except removing both batteries. At the end, the guy had to spend $20 USD to first copy the ROM image from a working 300HC with an EPROM programmer and then restore the ROM back to his dead unit. After that, his 300HC worked fine and did not have any similar problem again.

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 110. So, using 300HC requires a 220v/110v converter since its supplied power adapter is ment to work in Japan. The 300HC wholesaler, who has been selling HPC for three years now, 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 his explanation.

No dangerous problem, but clearly a con: The battery kind of underperforms. Its nominal capacity is 2000mAh. But reading e-books, watching a few videos and do some PIM operations the 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 were fine and durable. None exhibited so many problems like 300HC. Because this is no 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" I fear.

Software tips

Working USB driver for ARM HPC Pro and HPC2k

I am quite sure I am the first one who discovered and utilized a working USB 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-living concept products (if any). Jornada 820 supports USB host, but its influence and popularity is extremely limited. HP 720 is a much much more popular ARM HPC2k machine, but it simply lacks USB host support. So there are little efforts among HPC buffs on finding and achieving ARM HPC's USB support.

Consequently, most people will think of the great Deje USB driver for PPC2002 ARM PPC when searching for an 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 an USB thumb drives is plugged 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. The connection 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 this driver, when opening up e-books this has also become 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 might be an ARM HPC Pro version of Clik Driver, which I was sure would work on ARM HPC2k machines, too, since most 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.

Just 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 storages are plugged 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 content appears instantly. The speed is much faster than the Deje driver and it's almost like accessing the internal CF card. 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 320x240 VCD files (in .dat format directly copied from VCDs) stored on an USB hard drive and there are no visible dropped frames.

But there is one issue: after playing VCD files for roughly ten seconds, TCPMP pauses for a second or two and seems to be waiting for the data sent through USB port. After such a pause, the video plays back awesome again. Unfortunately, the pause is repeated regularely. I assume TCPMP on 300HC can easily handle original 320x240 VCD files. The problem probably originates in the USB driver. This is quite understandable because the driver was released in early 2000 for HPC Pro. It is a little old and not optimized for HPC2k and new XScale CPU. In fact, the ARM CPU used in Jornada 820 is significantly different from the PXA250 CPU powering the 300HC. In early 2000, no one would expect to play 320x240 full screen VCD files through the USB port on a HandheldPC 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, 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 converters. Preferably single-type card readers 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 recognizes it instantanously, there is no need for specific driver. 
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.

English HPC2k menu

Some system files have been ripped off from English HPC 2000 OS and can replace the same files in 300HC. As a result, part of the system interface has been "translated" into English version as you can see in the screenshot below. 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 8: translated English system menu

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.

Promising hack for PPC programs with WinWatch

Author Elias Zacarias aka Shadow Master in several forums has written a great software to resize or move the window of tweaked PPC programs on HPC2k. In the past, hacked PPC software might have worked but part of the program window became invisible on HPCs with only 240 pixels screen height. With WinWatch, the user can move the window of PPC programs and therefore gain access to otherwise hidden settings and menus. This will surely broaden the software list for 300HC because unlike for retired MIPS HPC2k machines there is still much ARM PPC software that can be hacked and reused on 300HC.
For a 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.

My conclusion for Celux 300HC

A small part of this review was posted in the forum of HPC:Factor about two months ago. Since then, my views on 300HC have 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 I was far from recommending it to any HPC aficionados. Because a fix for the screen problem has been found in the meantime and been confirmed to be quite effective in most situations, I change my suggestion from "strongly not recommended" to "cautious buy-in". There's still the risk of an unexpected ROM loss on 300HC, but chances seem to be much lower. So go get a Celux 300HC and start an extraordinary HPC experience with Louis Vuitton. :)

Links mentioned in the review (active as of September 2005)

GAPI for HPCs:
Deje USB driver for PPC 2002/2003:
NEC's USB Clik! driver for Windows CE:
232usb - RS232 USB serial driver:

29 September 2005
Zhou Xiwen

Namentlich gekennzeichnete Anwendertestberichte geben ausschlieŖlich die Erfahrungen und Meinungen des Autors wieder.

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