Sharp MM20 Update

I was asked by someone about the Sharp MM20’s Linux compatibility. I decided to post the info I gave him here to help anyone else thinking about getting one.

Unfortunately the Actius MM20 is a huge piece of crap. Despite it’s incredible smallness, sharp screen, long battery life and Linux compatibility (Ubuntu worked out of the box once you added a small kernel argument in grub.) The hard drive in it (at least for me) is very fragile. After I installed Linux on it and everything worked fine, I went to install Windows XP. In the middle of that install the hard drive started making noise and there was an amazing crash. I think something in the hard drive melted. This happened at the worst moment because I was going to move to Japan in less than a week.

Instead of sending it back I decided to place a rush order for a new hard drive (They are very hard to find) and replace it myself. Unfortunately the company didn’t send it using the U.S. post office so the hard drive got sent back the day before I left. Eventually I got it sent to me in Japan and replaced the hard drive. I got Ubuntu on it just fine, until I ran an update. The hard drive broke again. (This time making even worse noises.) So my theory is that the Hitachi hard drive in the MM20 is way too sensitive to use in even normal ways. Although mine was a refurbished model so it could also just as likely be a short circuit of some sort burning the hard disk.

Now my MM20 is just collecting dust in a corner of my room. I can still use it as a thin client with it’s network boot capability.

25 thoughts on “Sharp MM20 Update

  1. I am considering getting one (with the extended 3 year warranty). That said, it might make more sense for me?

    What can you tell me about the hard drive? I had thought I could just upgrade to, say, a Seagate 5400.something, but it sounds like it is…what, and iPod type drive?

    Other than the drive what do you think of it?

    Sorry about the troubles, by the way, it sucks especially hard to be about to move and have that happen.

  2. Re: Eddie

    I feel your pain. The hard drive included in the sharp mm20 was slow and not very durable. I only wanted the mm20 for webbrowsing, email, word processing, and some coding. So, I took the 20gb hard drive which was platter based (everytime the hd is accessed the turning of the platters causes battery life loss) and replaced it with a 1.8 10gb SSD (Solid State Hard Drive) from: http://www.bitmicro.com. Read/Write is extremely faster now. Boot time is mind blowing. Booted up Fedora Core 5 with KDE 3.5 and WiFi Radar auto configured to login to a local coffee shops free wifi in 9 seconds. A guy sitting beside me with a windows xp ibm thinkpad was still looking at his boot screen, lol.

    Ive found out that not all SSD’s are linux compat. Bit Micro and MSystems are linux compat, if you or anyone reading this goes with another brand, call or email them and make sure its linux compat if it doesnt say so on the website. Because these things are so damn pricy now your talking around $55 per gigabyte, depends on what read/write you choose.

    SSD does make a difference in battery life, with the 20gb 4200rpm that came with the mm20 I got 7hr out of the 9hr battery, with the SSD I gained the remaining 2hr.

    SSD is also virtually silent, no more hearing grinding.

    I really love my uber fast, modified 100% solid state mm20.

  3. John,

    Where did you get the 10gb SSD? bitmicro’s site doesn’t even list 1.8″ drives. I’d kill for one of these – the HD is the only thing I don’t like about my mm20!

    Thanks,
    -brian

  4. I never had the problems you faced with the hard drive dying. Perhaps it’d be best to treat the MM20 with a bit more care; not resting one’s elbow on the lower-left portion of the laptop where the hard drive is located might help. 😛

  5. I never did anything like that. After I put in the replacement hard drive I treated that thing like if it were my own child. Mine was a refurbished model though so maybe the problem is deeper than the hard drive. But I really doubt it, I’d have to check every pin though to see if any of them aren’t functioning properly.

  6. Interestingly, I had an mm10 for more than a year, and now and MM20 for more than a year. I am relatively careful with both, but I do bring them to school and work every day, so they do get some wear and tear, and neither one has had an HDD failure yet.

  7. I’ve had my mm20 for over a year now. I treat this thing very badly and I’m suprised it still works. It’s been dropped many times and shoved in my book bag along with many heavy books. I have had no problems with the hard drive so far.

  8. I am looking for a little information/help. I have an MM20 running XP, but I would like to boot/run Linux off a USB flash drive. I have one set up and can run my desktop off of it but cannot get the MM20 to boot to the USB. Although the instruction book says that the MM20 can boot to USB the boot options on the BIOS does not include USB. Any suggestions/help?
    PS a friend of mine with an MM20 is in the process of the HD replacement and is having no end of trouble. Can he contact someone for help?

  9. John,

    The MM20 can definitely boot off the USB. I’ve been using one of my USB card readers and Damn Small Linux for the year since I’ve made this post. I don’t have the MM20 with me at the moment but I’m 100% sure you can change the boot order to try USB first in the BIOS. If that still doesn’t work you can still disable the hard disk from the BIOS.

    Finding the 1.6″ hard drives that fit the MM20 is pretty tough, and they are very rare. Look for the Hitachi (or IBM) Travelstar. The two hard drives I had that broke were Hitachi Travelstars, so I guess if you can get the IBM one, or a solid state hard drive.

  10. I am running Mint Dryna 4.0 (based on Ubuntu) on my Sharp MM20, I bought this notebook new about 3 years ago now and the HDD is still running strong. If it dies I will go solid-state. I just use it for notes and Emails and light coding, but for a second notebook that I really do take with me everywhere, it is perfect for me. I love it.
    – Ezra Hilyer

  11. I bought my MM20 two years ago. Have to bring it with me every single day. I have Slack + XP on it and I use it a lot. Never had any hdd problems. Still… I’m thinking about going sdd for battery life.

  12. I bought my MM10 getting on for three years ago now. The first HDD broke under warranty (I think using it on my lap in bed at an angle didn’t help it much). Second disk okay in spite of some abuse. I switched it to an 8GB 300x CompactFlash card in a CF->1.8″ converter recently. Can’t believe the difference – faster, quieter and uses less juice. The old drive is in an external caddy now for the occasions when 8GB isn’t enough. Because this is a second PC for use at home to surf and on the road as a backup it’s just fine for me.

  13. I have a MM1110, the UK version of the MM10. I’ve had it for 3 – 4 years and it’s been great. Recently it’s been an unreliable starter and now it shows only ‘Operating System not found’. I took it to a repair shop and they said ‘It needs a new drive’ but they failed to find one.

    I’ve replaced the drive, the Bios see’s it and the drive spins but it will not boot from the USB. I have a CD drive which starts spinning when I boot the laptop but the boot screen goes to’Operating System not found’ and the CD stops. This means I’m not able to install XP on the new disk. I’ve tried a USB key but I get ‘Operating System not found’ again. I’ve tried various permutations with the bios with no success and the LAN PXE looks tough.

    Any Ideas?

  14. @Gwgan

    One thing that might help with the hard drive is to make sure you tell the BIOS to auto detect the new hard drive.

    And to make it boot from USB make sure you’ve actually installed syslinux or something so that they are bootable. (And that USB booting it’s enabled in the BIOS)

    If you look in writings I have a primitive howto on how to do LAN PXE. It was very difficult.

  15. I have had my mm20 for 2 yrs now. It has been running good until recently and I have been having various issues. Yesterday I received an error that the video driver stopped responding and that i would be prompted at reboot to load a windows standard driver or something. After reboot, surprise, now i have no display whatsoever. I tried connecting to an external monitor and still nothing. Any ideas? I love the laptop but wish i could upgrade it some. Thanks

  16. Anyone knows which vendor produces ssd with 1.8″ IDE connector format? I checked big vendors but they all seem to produce them with ZIF connector :/

  17. Excuse me, but the Sharp MM20 is NOT crap, and if you know what you’re doing and know how to upgrade (it’s S-I-M-P-L-E for those that know their way around a computer), the MM20 is a dream to use and run.

    I have mine setup to dual boot Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux and it has yet to be a problem at all. It’s a sharp (no pun intended), attractive, lightweight and capable companion for the road.

    And YES, that includes a hard drive upgrade to 60GB, and along with the external USB 120GB drive, space is not a problem.

    In short, if you don’t like the stcok model, PUMP IT UP!

    D

  18. Hi, I have a friend’s MM20 that I am trying to reload with the original WinXP Home since current install has a corrupted registry hive. But I don’t have the original install or recovery CD-ROM anymore. Anybody who can help with a copy? Can I download from somewhere? Shipping etc will be paid for of course. Thanks.

  19. I have a MM10 that works intermitently, sometimes getting OS not found message. Can anyone help me upgrade this to 1. a more current HDD that will allow future upgradeability, 2. motherboard and/or memory. I know it is old but I love the form factor and have to many peripherals and compatible accessories to just give it up.

    Obviously I dont know alot about components but want someone to do these upgrades for me and to tell me what I need to increase perfromance, reliability, etc. Any help pointing me in the right direction is appreciated.

  20. @Debbi P. – I had the same problem with my MM20 in January 2007 (purchased refurbished in October 2005). There’s a known issue with the ATI video chip. Since the chip is in a BGA package and soldered to the motherboard the only way to fix it is to replace the entire motherboard. I’m finally getting around to doing this, you can buy a motherboard here for $167 – http://www.buy.com/prod/ereplacements-cpwbz1431aczz-motherboard-actius-mm20/q/loc/101/209097600.html

    @Keith – My MM10 had the same OS not found messages since the day I bought it. The HDD eventually failed. It’s a known issue with the 1.8″ Toshiba HDD. I’m fixing the computer up for my 4 year old son to use. I was able to replace the drive by purchasing a CompactFlash adapter that plugs into the internal Toshiba micro-ata interface. You can’t use just any compact flash card, see this site for information – http://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Compact_Flash_boot_drive

  21. My MM20 will not access a WPA protected Wi Fi network. Think it needs a driver update for the LAN-Wi Fi card. I have not been able to find one. Can anyone help?

  22. @John this is late, but you should just get a tiny 802.11n dongle, it’s faster anyway and won’t stick out too much, I’ve found the $10-$12 Edimax EW-7811Un to work well.

    Does anyone know how to restore this to new…did this thing originally come with a restore disc or was it a partition in the drive?

  23. The Sharp MM20 came with restore discs and windows XP home. You can replace the internal wifi with a new card that does more advanced encryption. The process is fairly easy and is documented online.

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