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Do you know this feeling? You hear of a new computer accessory, your jaw drops and you ask yourself “Why on earth has nobody ever thought of this before!”?
Well, this was how I felt when I first heard of Adriano Angelillis’ NewtLight.

Click on the pictures to see a higher resolution image in a new browser window.

NewtLight packaging frontThe NewtLight comes in a nicely designed paper package with bubblewrap foil on the inside. For good measure it is sent in a padded envelope, hence you can rest assured that it will reach you in one piece.

NewtLight packaging backThe instructions for using the NewtLight are printed on the back side. You should submit them to a very careful examination. Especially the information on the maximum current that can safely be drawn is very important to know. Depending on on your reading speed I will elaborate on this in greater detail in about three minutes.
By the way: Clicking on the image will allow you to read these instructions even without having to buy a NewtLight first. Isn’t state of the art digital camera technology a blessing?

The NewtLight connectorAlthough the NewtLight was initially developed for powering an USB LED light through the Newton’s interconnect port, the name is slightly misleading. Provided that you do not violate the current specification mentioned above, you can of course power other devices through this adapter, too.
The NewtLight’s length including the connectors is 33 cm (13 in.).

NewtLight connector USB endThe one end of the NewtLight reveals a female USB connector. The cable pull relief (which ensures that the cable isn’t torn off the pins when you pull at it) is professionally done on this side.

NewtLight connector Mini-DIN endThe opposite end consists of a male 9-pin Mini-DIN connector. The connector of the first prototye ever built (which I had the honor to get for my review) was too bulky to connect it to the eMate’s built-in Mini-DIN connector (the eMate’s case was in the way).

NewtLight connector MiniDin end production unitThis problem was resolved in the production units. As you see here, their diameter has been slightly reduced and they can now, albeit but barely, be plugged in the eMate’s Mini-DIN connector.
Although the cable pull relief at this end leaves a little to be desired, the NewtLight will not suffer any damage from pulling at the cable because it is glued inside the connector.

NewtLight connector and Newton serial cable connectorThe connectors used in the Newton 2100 serial adapter (henceforth lovingly called “dongle”) and in the eMate’s serial port are GeoPort connectors. This is a serial port standard from Apple that was designed primarily for voice and telephony applications. It is basically a standard RS 422 serial connector with an additional 5 Volt DC pin to power external devices.
Unfortunately, these connectors were custom-made for Apple and are nowadays about as easy to come by as a barbecued mammoth. This is why the NewtLight is built with Mini-DIN connectors whose dimensions are almost, but not completely, identical. You will find that after inserting the NewtLight for the first time, the pins will be ever so slightly bent.
The difference between the two connectors is marginal and hence difficult to capture in a picture, but I think the image above will make it clear. Shown on the left hand side is the connector of an original Apple serial cable. Next to it is the NewtLight connector.

Unfortunately, a 9 pin connector can’t be used with OMPs and 1x0 Newtons since these models are furnished with an 8 pin Mini-DIN socket. The result of forcing a 9 pin connector into such a socket would make you shout words that your mother has always told you to not even think. The good news ist that although by using the 9th pin the MessagePad can supply more current through the NewtLight, there is no immediate reason not to build a NewtLight around an 8 pin connector. Fortunately Adriano foresaw that people might be interested in a NewtLight for older Newton models, hence it is available with an 8 pin connector, too.

NewtLight connector connected through dongle to Newton 2100The NewtLight works fine while connected to the interconnect port by means of a dongle. Even though the required insertion force was reduced in the production units, I’d strongly recommend plugging the NewtLight in the dongle first and plugging the dongle in the Newton afterwards. The interconnect port socket on the Newton’s mainboard is a very fragile component that can be torn off the mainboard easily. If this happens, it happens for good. There’s no reliable way of soldering it back on.

NewtLight connector connected through SER-001If your Newton has been treated to a SER-001, you can plug the NewtLight in directly. PCBMan, the SER-001’s ingenious developer, deliberately used a 9 pin Mini-DIN connector because he wanted it to follow the GeoPort configuration and provide 5 Volt on this pin.
If you ensure not to violate the power specification outlined below, you can even use two NewtLights simultaneously: One connected to the SER-001 and one connected through the dongle.

NewtLight connector connected through dongle to eMateAs for the eMate, the NewtLight can be connected (by means of a dongle) to its interconnect port or directly to its Mini-DIN socket. You can’t (although it should be possible electrically) use two NewtLights simultaneously because the sliding port door does not allow access to both ports at the same time.

2100 usage during daylightThe NewtLight was initially developed for powering a USB LED light.
“What would I need that for?”, I hear you ask, “considering that my Newton’s backlight is the best of all PDAs’ out there!”
Well, have you ever needed to use your Newton for jotting down important facts derived from some documentation you are reading?

2100 usage in total darknessEven with the best of backlights you will have a hard time doing this during a power cut!

eMate usage during daylightCome to think of it, built-in keyboards are really useful while there’s enough light around...

eMate usage in total darkness ...but (unless you are an experienced touch typist) using such a keyboard in total darkness is utterly impossible. NewtLight to the rescue!

NewtLight-8M with magnetic base The rate and quality at which Adriano turns out new Newton hardware is amazing. Along with the production unit samples of the NewtLight-8 (8 pin connector for older Newtons) and the NewtLight-9 (9 pin connector for Newton 2x00 and eMate) I received a sample of the brand-new NewtLight-8M. This is a female USB connector moulded vertically in a beautifully shaped and fairly sturdy PVC stand. Said stand’s weight of approx. 3.5 oz. (100g), combined with a length of 32 in. (80 cm) will keep e. g. a flexible neck LED light in a stable position and provide you with almost limitless illumination power.

NewtLight with magnetic base As if this wasn’t enough, this gadget’s base is magnetic and will thus cling dependably to any metallic surface, like my electric kitchen stove...

NewtLight with coffee jar ...or whatever you happen to have nearby. Just give your fancy full scope, and you will come up with a much more original and artful solution than my coffee jar here.

Then again...

The picture on it is a fairly famous piece of art. Suggesting, though, that I only show it here in order to brag about how beautifully  my kitchen is furnished or about the amazing variety of tasteful accessories in it is something I’d consider libel and slander!

NewtLight packageAll NewtLights draw their power from a power line that is internally routed to the Newton’s serial port. This power line can be turned on and off by software.
For trying the NewtLight out, you could simply open the Dock, choose “Connect via Serial” and tap “Connect” - the NewtLight should now be powered.
Unfortunately, since the Newton will automatically give up after a couple of seconds if it doesn’t find anything to connect to, this isn’t an option for everyday use.
NewtLight package (28 kB) , specifically written by yours truly for Adriano’s amazing hardware, solves this problem. A large On / Off button controls NewtLight power while your Newton’s pen is safely resting in its silo. You can set the duration that the power will stay on, and you can configure the program to hide during that time and reappear automatically when it has elapsed (the time, of course, not the program).

The NewtLight software requires Newton OS 2.0 or later, hence for the time being it will only run on Newton 120s (with ROM upgrade), Newton 130s, 2x00 Newtons and eMates. It wouldn’t be that difficult to support older Newtons, but it would increase the package size because much of what Newton OS 2.x can be queried for would have to be coded in the NewtLight package.
If you urgently need to use NewtLight with an older Newton, please
drop me a line. If you are the only one who ever asked, it is unlikely that there won’t be Newton issues that I consider more important at any given moment. But if I realize that there is an increasing interest in such a version, or if at least one of the interested parties sends me a written and legally binding statement promising to send me a weekly minimum of one Wendy’s bacon burger for the rest of my life, I might reconsider and give such a project top priority.

If you plan on using NewtLight with a Newton 120 or 130, things are easy. These models can source a minimum current of 35 mA at 5 Volt. In theory it is not possible to fry anything by drawing a higher current since the chip that is in charge of providing this current (a LTC902, a custom AppleTalk chip made for Apple that was also released commercially as LTC1320) has a thermal overcurrent protection. According to its data sheet it can even cope with outputs shorted out indefinitely. But I’d rather you didn’t rely on this information, hence you are strongly discouraged from connecting any hardware that draws more than the  35 mA mentioned above.

The interconnect port of eMates and 2x00 Newtons is quite a different cup of tea. According to the
N2 Newton Interconnect Designers Guide (803kB, pdf format), the 5 Volt power supply is shared among the internal serial slot (a connector on the Newton's main logic board that is e. g. used by the SER-001), internal flash RAM (during programming) and the LTC line driver. Besides these internal components, the supply can source 500 mA of additional current, which is shared among the two PCMCIA card slots and the Newton's interconnect port. Any power that is used by the card slots must be subtracted to determine the amount of current available to the interconnect port. However, the maximum current that can be sourced by the interconnect port can never exceed 100 mA.

So far, so good. What this tells us is that for as long as you do not draw more than 100 mA through a NewtLight adapter that is connected to the interconnect port of a Newton 2x00 or eMate, there’s no risk of frying your machine. The USB light that I used for my tests drew 70 mA and was thus well within the specification. But...

Former hardware developers are generally curious by nature. Especially so if they do not understand a specification completely...

I had an inkling that as to the specified maximum current of 100 mA , Apple might not have meant "can never exceed" (as in “the Newton will make sure it won’t, no matter what you try”), but "should never exceed" (as in “it’s your responsibility that it won’t, and if it does, be prepared for the worst”).
In order to clear this ambiguity up, I plugged the NewtLight into a near-dead mainboard (why risk a perfectly healthy Newton?) and connected a 20 Ohm resistor. This resulted in a 250 mA current, which proved that my assumption was correct: There is no circuitry inside the Newton that will keep the current through the interconnect port within the specified range.

I do consider it likely that even larger currents won’t create any damage for as long as the total power budget of 500 mA isn’t exceeded, but, unfortunately, this is but an educated guess.
Please be aware that components that are operated outside of their specification do not always die at once. Instead, they might decide to take revenge at a later time when it is much less convenient. So for the time being let me politely suggest that you refrain from connecting anything that will draw more than 100 mA (0.5 Watt). If you are the adventurous type (and if you happen to have a spare Newton), try drawing more current for a longer time, and don’t forget to
let me know your findings...

By far the safest way to solve this problem would be providing the NewtLight with  fuse. However, this would be quite difficult to manufacture and hence advance the sales price significantly, which is why for the time being production units come without such a fuse.

If you don’t remember which NewtLight was which although I elaborated on this only two miles above, let’s recapitulate:

NewtLight-8: Standard cable adapter for all Newtons. Max. 35 mA.
NewtLight-9: Standard cable adapter for 2x00 Newtons and eMates. Max. 100 mA.
NewtLight-8M: Magnetic base adapter for all Newtons. Max. 35 mA.
NewtLight-9M: Magnetic base adapter for 2x00 Newtons and eMates. Max. 100 mA.

As explained above, you can often exceed the maximum current, but you should be aware that your Newton would be operated outside its specification.

And now for the bad news: All NewtLights have been sold out for quite some time...

Dead links? Questions? Anything unclear? Any syntactical or grammatical errors in this description? Feel free to tell me about it. Yes, really. Don’t be polite, be helpful. If you’re not being helpful, how am I supposed to improve my English!

Nothing like that? This page really helped you? Wow! What a perfect reason to sign my guest book...

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