DOS Palmtop: How Tidalwave infected the world with their palmtops and noone noticed

Tidalwave - the company, the curse and more

So this is the story:

You can barely escape the name "Tidalwave" if you look deeper into DOS-based palmtops. I often talk about a "Tidalwave clone" when actually what i mean is a Tidalwave OEM version - some Tidalwave product that has been branded by a company that bought these units in large quantities from Tidalwave.

Tidalwave was a Taiwanese company - not even a really big one if you compare to todays global players like "ASUS", "Acer" or "HTC". They saw themselves as producing "niche products" - as their president David Chen said in late 1992.

"Tidalwave" was actually also a chip manufacturer, but obviously a "fabless" one - which means they didn't have their own factory to produce chips but had other companies produce them in large quantities. "Made in Japan" is printed on the TM8886A - the central "System on a chip" of the "Palm Star 1000" (PS-1000) units adopted by countless OEM manufacturers. So we can only guess, but obviosuly some Japanese company produced these chips for them. They also made the chipset of the NEC MobileGear Palmtops. These are some very early "System on a chip" products where one chip was not just containing the CPU, but also graphics card, PCMCIA controller, IDE controller and so on. The "Memorex clones" were actually also made by Tidalwave, but to distinguish that very different design i call them "Memorex clone" to keep it less confusing.

They had several daughter companies over the years. I think the oldest one and probably the "head" of Tidalwave was probably "Tidalwave Microtech Inc.". There was also a Hong Kong company with the same name - if they are related is unknown. Then there was "TidalPower" - which i think is a later company from the late 1990s when they switched to producing mini Notebooks with color screens. Actually these were quite neat "Toshiba Libretto" clones with a touch screen. The notebooks were also sold under the "Palmax" brand name which belonged to Tidalwave (Or Tidalpower?). Later Palmax named "ComPal" as their parent company - a rather big Taiwanese electronics manufacturer back in the days. My guess is that they bought the remains of Tidalwave at some point in the late 1990s.

What amazed me a lot is the fact that such a rather small company effectively produced the hardware for many big companies - Zeos, Highscreen, Peacock, Master, Philips, NCR and so on. Here are some pictures to see how the production looked like in the late 1990s:

They were really just some company at the 6th floor of some office building in Taipei (There were dozens of other companies in that building) which was producing palmtops that were sold by some big companies all over the world. At least the earned my respect. Even Apple just used a stock 6502 processor bought from MOS for their famous Apple II, but such a "garage company" like Tidalwave designed their own SoC processor, made custom PCBs for them and assembled everything in what looks like a large version of my living room.

Generic Tidalwave box - few companies made the effort to manufacture a branded box.

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