This is very much a work in progress, I started this months ago, and am only putting it up now so that while it isn’t finished, it may still be of use to some people. I’ll update it as I find time.
Early 2007 I bought a well-used NEC T400 (also marketed as the NEC Litepad in the US) and thought that I should put my experiences online, both as future reference for myself, but also to help others. It seems to me that the NEC tablet wasn’t as popular as some other brands, so it was much harder finding resources for it online. Maybe this will help. This article will focus on the NEC tablet, but may also be relevant to other tablets of that generation.
About the NEC T400
The NEC is a slate tablet PC (it doesn’t have a keyboard) and is in fact one of the smallest tablets of that first generation, (I wasn’t fully aware of this when I bought it). It is smaller than many tablets from later generations of these devices. It has a 10.4″ XGA (1024×768) screen, in a case that is the same length but slightly wider than an A4 sheet of paper, and only 15mm thick. It has a fully Wacom-compatible digitiser, something that I’ll expand on later in this article. Hardware may have been leading edge for such a small mobile device of it’s time; it has a 933MHz PIII-M (Tualatin) ULV processor, 20GB 1.8″ hard drive, 256B PC133 SDRAM (upgradable to 512MB, but it only has one SODIMM slot). Built in Wifi, ethernet, 3xUSB ports, VGA out port, mic in and audio out.
Why a TabletPC?
I use PCs a lot at home, and I wanted a device specifically for use anywhere in the house, for use mainly as a web-top. The amount of useful work that you can do online has been rapidly increasing over the past few years, and I wanted a device to take advantage of that, without having to lug around a full laptop. I do a lot of reading online, and read ebooks as regularly as I read paper books. I’ve found that my Palm T3 and Nokia 770s are indispensible for many activities including reading, but just don’t provide a compelling web browsing experience.
Why the NEC?
Price, features and availability. I could never justify the price of a new tabletPC, so I’ve had to wait for older ones to become available. I’m certain that the extremely high price of tablets is holding back their wider adoption, though I think there are other factors. I was specifically after a slate, as I already own a laptop or two, and I wanted the minimum possible bulk. I had considered buying a more modern grunty convertible (like the Compaq TC4200 or 4400) but having seen the latest HP TX1000 12″ convertible really changed my mind about that. Those devices are far too hot and heavy; for web browsing and more general use, you don’t need a lot of processing power, keyboard or optical drives.
The NEC is relatively old, and is far from “as new” condition. It has a magnesium alloy case, so is relatively durable, however it does have a few minor scratches, and the case under the CF slot has cracked slightly. The buttons all work fine, and the tablet came with the small original stylus, unfortunately the full size pen was missing. The screen has a few very minor scratches on it, but these aren’t a problem, they are only visible when the screen is off. The screen seems very durable, and I don’t use any form of screen protector on it, given the age of the system. The digitiser seems to become slightly erratic at the lower right corner when the system is running at full speed and on mains power, otherwise it seems fine. The ethernet port does not work at all, which is unfortunate as that removes the ability to PXE boot the tablet, but Wifi works fine. Both the Wifi antenna cover and the VGA port cover are loose, but have been taped over. Battery life is a little over an hour with Wifi.
I received the tablet with a fresh installation of XP TabletPC 2002 edition, unfortunately two of the NEC installation discs originally supplied with the tablet were missing. The following are some pointers related to setting up the tablet from this state.
Before proceeding the first thing you should do is check the BIOS settings; in my case, all were correct except that SpeedStep was disabled. This has the effect of making the processor always run at the slowest possible speed setting. To learn more about SpeedStep and the implications of disabling it, have a look at the FAQ at
BIOS settings are accessed by holding the “Down” button when the tablet boots. There is a BIOS update available, but the release notes indicate it only fixes one issue that didn’t seem relevant to my situation, so I decided not to risk the upgrade.
Because this is a full Windows XP installation, applying SP2 is recommended. For tabletPC users, the service pack is quite compelling, as it contains a free upgrade to XP Tablet Edition 2005. This update includes a new TIP (Text Input Panel) and better handwriting recognition.
Update all hardware drivers
I noticed a significant decrease in performance after installing SP2, however installing the most recent hardware driver updates fixed this; particularly important was the system board (ALi M1644 CyberALADDiN) chipset drivers.
The best source of drivers I could find was via the NZ NEC support website at:
which leads to the download site at:
The most important drivers to download are:
- ALI AGP Chipset driver (Direct download)
- Trident Display Driver (Direct download)
- Wireless LAN Driver (Direct download)
- Realtek Ethernet Driver (Direct download)
- Audio Driver (Direct download)
I’d recommend installing the drivers listed above in the order shown. The following drivers are possibly not as important but I list them here for completeness.
Upgrade the digitiser driver using the Wacom driver update; this gives much more functionality than the XP driver. The driver (Wacom Penabled Driver Driver 5.03-3 (RC) for Penabled Tablet PCs) is available from Wacom, http://www.wacom.com/tabletpc/driver.cfm
There are a number of free utilities that may make your Tablet PC easier to use.
- SpeedswitchXP – Windows XP removes the system tray power settings icon that was present in previous Windows versions, so it is harder to monitor or change your power settings. This little utility adds that functionality and other features, too. It is available from http://www.diefer.de/speedswitchxp/index.html
- Inscribe Keyboard – a free alternative to the TIP and the XP OSK, but this doesn’t work in all applications. It has the advantage of being extremely customisable, and is much better than the OSK, even if you don’t make any use of Inscribe’s “slide” input technique. See http://www.iliumsoft.com/site/fp/inscribe.htm
- TweakUI – free from MS, adds some extra configuration options to Windows, many of which make tablet PC use easier. Direct download from http://download.microsoft.com/download/…/TweakUiPowertoySetup.exe
- TabTipTamer – fixes the cursor lag in some applications. See http://www.cartoonmonkey.com/TabTip_TamerV3.htm
- FreeShade – I always install this utility on all Windows systems, it makes windows shade (same behaviour as in some *nix window managers). Just double tap or press and hold the titlebar to shade/unshade, makes managing windows easy without needing to pop up the taskbar. http://www.hmmn.org/FreeShade/
Button and Stylus settings
You may have different preferences, but I’ve left the default settings except for the following:
- Power – set to hibernate/resume.
- Down – set to move down a screen at a time (Page Down); Up is left at default (Up).
- Stylus Button 1 – set as middle mouse click
- Stylus Button 2 – grab scroll in any window
Other Windows Settings
There are a number of Windows settings that I am using specifically for tablet use, as well as some which I apply to all my Windows installations.
The usability of the tablet can be significantly improved with third party software.
Web Browsing and Enhancements
IE7: Windows XP with SP2 will enable an upgrade to IE7, which, if you must use IE is definitely recommended.
Firefox: My preference is to use Firefox, the following tips and enhancements make using the tablet (with its limited input devices and very high resolution screen) very much easier. I care less about what OS I’m using, and more about what browsing extensions are available. There are several Firefox extensions that I consider indispensable (like “Send to Sunrise”, FotoFox) but I’ll list the ones most relevant to general tablet use here.
Input and Control Enhancements:
Pen-based browsing requires you to rethink how you use your browser, as you no longer have a mouse scroll wheel, and you’ll want to avoid keyboard input as much as possible. Bookmarking becomes quite important, and extensions that help with bookmarking are worth investigating.
- Drag de Go – allows the use of gestures to execute several commonly used commands.
- Grab and Drag – enables Acrobat-style grabbing anywhere in a page to scroll in any direction – no need to find the scroll bar, and this functionality replaces the scroll wheel on a normal mouse.
- GeckoTIP – support for the TIP in Firefox input fields, in the same way the IE and other MS applications already have this built in. Also predicts the most likely form the input will take (URL, date, email,etc) and optimises recognition to take this into account.
- CustomizeGoogle – adds Google Suggest to search boxes (now a standard feature of Firefox) so this sometimes saves some typing. It also removes advertising from Google products, so you get more usable screen when using gmail.
Screen size is also quite small, so you’ll want to make the most of it. To do this, I rearrange the browser window to have the minimum of clutter. I have the menu, basic controls, location and search boxes all in one toolbar, with a Personal Bookmarks bar below it. I also hide the status bar when it isn’t needed.
- No Squint – enables text size of web pages on a site by site basis, and remember settings for future use. This is very important when using XGA resolution on a small screen as the actual dpi resolution is very high – far higher than on most desktop screens. As a result of this, text appears smaller and may be harder to read. No Squint is an unobtrusive way of fixing this problem.
- Tiny Menu – maximise screen real estate; Tiny Menu moves the whole menu to a single entry, leaving plenty of room to fit it, the navigation and search bars onto the same toolbar.
- Full Screen – maximise screen real estate, yet have the toolbars available when you need them.
- autoHideStatusbar – recover extra screen space by making the statusbar hide when not required. You can set it so that it is visible while pages are loading, when hovering over a link, or when the cursor is within a specified distance from the screen bottom edge.
- del.icio.us – easy online bookmarking, with minimal typing required. I prefer to use the”classic” version, so I can keep my local bookmarks separate from my del.icio.us ones.
- Firefox Showcase – easily view open tabs, and easily navigate to right and left tabs.
- Snap Links – easily select multiple links (for viewing or download)
- Tab Counter – I lose track of how many tabs I have open at any time (sometimes I have more than 100) and with a memory constrained system like the NEC it is better to reduce the number of tabs open.
Originally, the NEC shipped with a full size, pressure sensitive stylus, and a small emergency stylus that stores in the tablet case. The larger stylus was no longer with the tablet when I bought it. When I contacted Wacom Asia/Pacific to purchase a replacement full size stylus, they were incredibly unhelpful, and were unable to tell me which of their products would work with a “Penabled” TabletPC. Wacom Direct stock the correct pen, but won’t ship outside of the US. It was actually easier for me to buy a new stylus on eBay and have it sent from the US – I bought a 2 button stylus with eraser (actually from a Sony Vaio) for $30 with $2 shipping. It works well, and feels a lot nicer than the small stylus.
The TIP keyboard:
The layout of the TIP onscreen keyboard is not customisable, you cannot even change the fonts used on the keys, and they are not particularly well chosen for usability. Even the built in XP OSK has better features. When docked to the bottom of the display, the TIP keyboard is quite wide, this means that in landscape mode the keys are spread too far for easy input.
On the plus side, though – handwriting recognition is excellent. Unfortunately it is difficult to input URLs using handwriting, but for everything else it is easy to use.
Really, 256MB is not enough to run XP, so one of the first things I did was upgrade to 512MB. The NEC only has 1 SODIMM, so this is the maximum possible memory. The difference is remarkable – a very real increase in responsiveness for very little outlay.
Heat and performance
If used at full power for any length of time, the device gets quite hot; it is fine when throttled back to 398MHz, but this does affect the responsiveness of the tablet. I’d hate to think what the recent crop of UMPCs running Vista must be like; their specs really are not much higher than the NEC.
The hard drive is a 1.8″ Toshiba MK2004GAL. It is awful. These drives may be fine in the 20GB ipods, but they are too slow for use in a PC. Unfortunately there are few choices for upgrading; the most promising route is to fit an IDE to CF adapter, and fit an 8GB Sandisk UltraII compact flash card. Some people are reporting improved performance by doing this or fitting SSD drives to the NEC.
To complicate things the NEC recovery discs apparently won’t install unless the drive is prepared (tattooed) in a special way. Once again, manufacturers paranoia shafts the customer. At present (lacking the recovery discs) the best I can do is take an image of the drive and hope that should the need arise I am able to re-instate the OS is some fashion. There is a hidden 1.7GB partition that I suspect is used for recovery.