This low-cost computer shipped with Newton OS (the same operating system used in the ill-fated Newton PDA), a 6.8-inch (480 x 320) grayscale display, and a power-sipping 25MHz ARM processor. In recent years, these have become collectors’ items, even though their actual utility remains in question.
But if you know your way around a soldering iron and are not afraid of irreparably destroying a piece of, er, computing history, you can turn the eMate 300 into a viable Raspberry Pi laptop, as demonstrated by East Texas-based YouTuber Billy The Kid.
Lasting two days, and with a total cost of $426.05, the procedure wasn’t for the faint of heart. Pretty much every part of the original device, save for the keyboard and much of its chassis, had to be replaced.
Both the logic board and display found their way onto the scrapheap. The display was upgraded with a Osoyoo 7-inch panel, while computational muscle came from a Raspberry Pi 4 8GB, which was mounted to the former PC Card slot bracket.
Actually installing these components required some of the older chassis to be cut to fit. As anyone who dabbles in the art of retro computer restoration can tell you, this is a fraught process. Over time, plastics become brittle, and it’s easy to cause serious damage.
Tying this together was a variety of custom circuitry, breakout boards, and code. The YouTuber had to use a Teensy LC Microcontroller to coax the original keyboard into working with the Raspberry Pi. The long-deceased internal battery was replaced with a commodity lithium polymer cell, allowing it to run free from the mains.
Arduous? Sure, but it allowed the creator to keep everything self-contained, with all cables managed internally. This approach also allowed him to reuse some of the existing physical buttons, including those responsible for managing the display, as well as the power button.
For obvious reasons (namely the time, the cost, and the levels of skill required to pull this off), Billy’s “PiMate” isn’t an obvious choice for anyone looking to get their hands on a Raspberry Pi laptop. There are cheaper and easier options available, including the Elecrow CrowPi 2, which we reviewed last September, and the PiTop.
We also note the eMate is a bit of a rarity. Sales were never particularly strong in the UK, and the device was discontinued by Steve Jobs in 1998 after less than a year on the market, as part of his bonfire of loss-making products.
But if time and money are no object, and you happen to have a defunct Apple eMate 300 knocking about, this could be a fun weekend project. ®