Casio Fiva, the smallest PC with a usable mouse, keyboard and screen
by Xin Feng
I have been waiting for this little baby for a long time. Although it has been out in Japan for almost two years, it is only recently that Casio began to sell a English model, MPC-101M33E, in US market. At the same size of the Libretto 100, what attempted me the most is the touch pad, plus its 800x600 screen. You all know how much I hate Libretto 100's mouse.
The touch pad, called as "thumb pad" by Casio, exceeds my expectations and removes all my bad memory about touch pads. It is both responsive and stable. No erratic moves and actions. Synaptics, the company that actually made this touch pad for Casio, has done a very good job. Don't worry about the small size of the pad. If you reached the edge of the touch pad while dragging a file or folder, the movement does not stop until you release it. Although the two mouse buttons are located at the left corner, far from the touch pad, it is not a problem. You do not use them much, because a tap on touch pad is equal a left-click and you can use the menu key mostly for right-click. This "thumb pad" actually works with my middle finger very well. When I am working on documents, I use my middle finger to operate the touch pad; while surfing WWW in bed, I use my thumb instead. Both perfect. If you want even more tweaking, such as edge scrolling, you can go to Synaptics' web site and download the newest fancy driver.
The keyboard is a surprise. It looks, feels and really is spacious and touch-type-able (see above picture). If you believe no more room for those tiny notebooks' keyboards, think twice. This keyboard shows how far you still can go. Except for one thing though: the Fn key should have been put near to the four arrow keys as Libretto, so I can use PgUp, PgDn, Home and End keys with just one hand. CF-M32 shares the same shortcoming.
Among the same size notebooks, Fiva is the only one has a 800x600 screen (Libretto 100 is 800x480). Despite its small size, the screen is still super bright and is only second to that of Panasonic CF-M32 (CF-M32 still keeps the record for the brightest screen ever). The screen fonts are tiny (of course), but still sharp, clear and readable. There are 15 levels of brightness that is adjustable either in BIOS or on keyboard.
What I like the best is that the connections --- PCMCIA slot, IrDA sensor, USB port and DC-in jack, are all made at the left side. The only port at the right side is that of a built-in modem which, however, is not included in US models. There is a built-in microphone but no MIC input jack. The built-in speaker is loud, clear and musical!!! At the front, there is a stereo headphone jack.
The capacity of the battery is 1500mAh, which lasts about 2.5 hrs at full power mode. In addition to 15 levels of adjustable screen brightness, the CPU speed is also selectable as low, middle and high in BIOS setup. However, the worst part of Fiva, the standby mode is un-usable. At standby mode, the machine still runs hot and drains battery as fast as it does at normal operation. Hibernation is supported by BIOS and uses a reserved portion of hard drive partition to store RAM content.
I have been using Windows 2000 for about a year on my desktops and laptops including Libretto 100 and Panasonic CF-M32. I love Windows 2000 from the bottom of my heart! It has all the features I wanted and meanwhile is solid stable. There is only one thing: the operating system itself needs 64MB to run. So, 96MB is really necessary to run your programs smoothly on Windows 2000. What does this mean?
Don't buy Fiva from US venders, because the 64MB configuration (32MB+32MB) they are offering is a sad configuration: not so necessary for Windows 98 (win98 runs 32MB just fine) and not enough for Windows 2000. Even worse, once added with 32MB and made it 64MB total, Fiva has no more expansion slot for another 32MB to make it 96MB. There is only one memory expansion slot there. You then have to throw out the added 32MB and replace it with a 64MB one if one day you want to run Windows 2000 and need 96MB.
Fiva uses 25mm height SDRAM (SODIMM). A genuine Fiva 64MB costs $199 in US. Fortunately, other notebook SDRAMs work too, as long as they are 25mm or close, such as those made by Viking for Sony Vaio 705C, 707C, 717C, 719C, 729C, 731, 735, 737, 745, 747, 818, 812, 748, 838, F150, F160, F180, F190, Z505S, F270, F280, F250, F290, F340, F350, F360, Z505R, Z505RX. I am using a 64MB one bought from Compusa (SKU# 236248). It is made by Viking for Sony and is a little taller (27mm). It is necessary to lose the three screws before insert such a taller SODIMM in or took it out (then tighten them). Those made by PNY for Sony are really cheap but, unfortunately, way too high (31mm) to be fit in.
Is it worth to wait for the new Fiva model MPC-102? No, absolutely not, and nobody can tell how long it takes, especially considering that 102 is currently only available in Japan and the 101 took almost two years to reach US market. 102 is almost the same as 101, but comes with 64MB (32+32) RAM and 6GB HDD. As I said, 64MB is a bad configuration. Like 101, 102 has only one slot and can only be expanded to 96MB. 6GB hard drive is too old. With only portion of the extra money you pay for a 102, you can buy yourself a 8GB or 12GB ($229). Fiva 101 uses a 3.2GB Fujitsu 9.5mm hard drive. Any 9.5mm or 8.5mm hard drives, such as those from http://www.pcprogress.com, can fit right into Fiva without any special work. It is very easy to replace Fiva''s HDD as shown below (first remove the three screws showing above and then the two showing below).
As you guessed, I typed this article on a Fiva.
Coming soon: Windows 2000 on Fiva.
Three must-see links for Fiva:
http://www.amherst.co.uk/fivalist.htm -- the host of Fiva mailing list and other info.
http://members.xoom.com/Tom7600/fiva.htm -- dedicated Fiva page
http://members.xoom.com/uesystem/cassiopeia/english/index.html -- un-official Fiva page
[06/07/00] Clarification: SODIMMs made by different manufacturers are not the same in height, even they all are designed for the same Sony laptops. Although Sony and Fiva share the same type of SODIMMs, Sony takes all 25-31mm modules while Fiva takes 25-27mm only. As I mentioned above, those made by PNY for Sony are 31mm. As far as I know, only those made by Viking for Sony are 27mm and fits in Fiva. Tom Stovall just told me that those made by Kingston for Sony are 29mm which is too high for Fiva. Anyway, I never go Kinston because they are too expansive and I never had problem with Viking. It makes no sense to me to buy a Kinston that costs more than a genuine Fiva module. Thanks to Tom Stovall, I have re-written the corresponding paragraph to avoid further misleading. I am sorry for my poor English.
Go to the products page to upgrade your Fiva to 96MB and the largest hard drive currently available.
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Xin Feng Company