The IBM PalmTop PC110

History and developments



This page tries to gather together some of the rumours and folklore about the development of the PC110, it's predecessors, and its successor. I only claim that it's accurate to the best of my knowledge  ;-)


Monolith was the codename given to the PC110's predecessor, developed in 1991. I believe this was going to be marketed as the ThinkPad 200 in Japan, but it never made it past the prototype stage, because it was thought that it would not sell. One of the main problems was that the screen, which had no backlight, was hard to read. The prototype was exhibited in late 1992. Here's the spec as far as I know: 

Processor 386sl-20
Memory 2MB
Display 640x480 mono reflective LCD
Weight 520g
Dimensions (CM) 20x10x2 approx.

Note that it was significantly lighter than the PC110! On the right is a picture of the Monolith/ThinkPad 200 prototype. (Look at the size, width, and height - doesn't it look like a 1:4:9 ratio...remember 2001: A Space Odyssey?) Monolith was designed by RIOS, a joint venture by IBM Japan and Ricoh. 

PC110 - Monolith 2?

As we all know, the PC110 was IBM Japan's first palmtop PC that made it to market. I think it was designed by IBM Japan, rather than RIOS, but probably had some of the same engineers involved. The PC110 was not built at the IBM Yamato assembly line. 

If you dismantle your PC110, and look under the modem card, you will see the word MONOLITH printed on the PCB - IBM designers love to put their signatures on their designs (have a look at the later PS/2 machines and high-performance MCA adapters for all sorts of odd logos and greetings printed on circuit boards!). Notice also the design date - 1992 - for a machine that was first marketed in Autumn 1995... 

The PC110 was a loss for IBM. Too early - or too different - for it's own good?


Chandra was the codename for another RIOS design, and again it failed to get beyond the prototype stage due to IBM's pessimism about it's marketability. However, the design was produced and sold by other companies, notably as the Hitachi Prius 210, and as the Swift. Derivatives of this machine are still being produced, and have Pentium processors, and are rumoured to be getting SVGA screens, all in an A5 footprint. Curiously, it uses two of the PC110 camcorder batteries, and has three PCMCIA sockets - perhaps someone learnt a valuable lesson with their previous designs... 

On the right is a picture of a Prius 210, from the Hitachi Japanese web site.

The Chandra was marketed in the UK as the Opti Talisman, with a P120MMX, 1GB hard drive, and an 8.4" TFT screen. Some of the surplus dealers are now selling these for around 450 including VAT.

ThinkPad 701 - Butterfly

If you look at the products developed since the PC110, such as the ThinkPad models 500, 510, 530, 535, 560, 600, and 701, they have all focussed on reducing the bulk of a conventional laptop, rather than trying to establish the 'palmtop' class of machine. Each of these machines, when closed, has about 75% of the dimensions of an A4 notebook. The 500, 510, and 701 were developed in Raleigh, US, whilst the 530, 535, and 560 were developed in Yamoto, Japan. 
I believe that the best example of these machines has to be the 701. It's unfolding keyboard totally refuted the idea that subnotebooks would be too cramped to type on, it's 10.4" TFT screen occupied pretty much the whole of the lid, and the mini port replicator allowed you simple access to all the external ports when you needed them.

I've still got the ThinkPad 701 I bought whilst at IBM. It's got 40MB of RAM, and a PCMCIA VoiceType Dictation card in it. I'd say it still only runs at about 50% of the chuckle-factor of the PC110, though!

WorkPad - aka PalmPilot

Here's a question - why would IBM want to buy into the US Robotics/3-COM PalmPilot PDA? It's not as if the IBM-badged models differ from the 3-COM ones in anything but colour...

During 1996, there were rumours in IBM of a PDA with a touch screen and a PowerPC processor. I wonder what ever happened to that idea? In early 1997, I also saw two models of a machine that looked like a half-size ThinkPad710T, with mono touch screens, running Windows, apparently with a 486 processor. I never got close enough to find a type number or any other details... Perhaps this was a point-of-sale data collection terminal?

Not too long ago, Rover launched the excellent MG-RV8, to revive interest in the marque, then followed it up a couple of years later with the even better MG-F. Half of me is hoping that IBM's involvement with the PalmPilot - sorry, WorkPad - is to (re-)establish themselves in the PDA/palmtop market.  I'm hoping we'll see a real IBM handheld machine in the next year or so. I just want it to say Monolith somewhere on the planar...please?



Thanks to all the Japanese PC110 owners, especially Kazuhiro Ogura and Shinji Fujii, who sent me photos and information on the Japanese models. Also, images on this page may be copyrighted by Japanese companies, but I can't tell! I think we can all spot IBM's trademarks, can't we?

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Written by Daniel Basterfield. Images found on the internet. Enjoy!