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The The Franken-Opener - iOpener Mod
Date Posted: May 1 2000
Author: Joe
Posting Type: Article
Category: Hardware Modding
Page: 1 of 4
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Note: This is a legacy article, imported from old code. Due to this some items on the page may not function as expected. Links, Colors, and some images may not be set correctly.
The Franken-Opener - iOpener Mod By: Joe

Welcome to the first Non-Cooling related hardware hacking job for the site.  Since many have no idea what an iOpener is, or for that mater, why someone would want to hack it to bits, I am going to let you see and know what this little pearl is.

Before we get all nuts on this box, lets see what it was first

The i-Opener is a all-in-one Internet Appliance that has been on the market for a couple months.  Circuit City was the only company for some time that carried these and at first retailed for 199$ (without a Service contract). Then in mid March the price fell quite a bit down to a 99$ without a service contract.  For 99$ here is what you got -

The iOpener Box:
 10.4" DSTN  LCD
16bit Stereo Yamaha Sound
Printer capabilities
Integrated Email and connection LED's
An Intuitive GUI interface to rock the net to you.
Keyboard:
A very user friendly custom iOpener keyboard layout with easy to use hot keys, and even a pizza button mapped to Papa Johns.

All this is run on a x86 compatible WinChip 180 or 200 C6 CPU, with 32mb of ram. It has a built in "call waiting" v.90 modem.  It also has a USB port that is not available for use in its default config. 

It was truly the first plug and play PC. I got mine on their services and running (a tutorial at first) in 30 seconds after removing it from the box. I used it for 1 month on their service to see how it really was. I was flat out impressed!  The Interface is the best out of any "web in a box" offering I have seen. Its fast, responsive, intuitive, and packed enough bells and whistles to keep me on it for hours (even on the 56k modem, when I have a 1040K SDSL on my machine!).  Netpliance really did nice on it.  I was (and am still) looking at getting one for my grandparents, cause its that simple to use.  The monthly service is a bit pricey but is in-line with most "Free PC" or Web TV type things at 21$ a month.  Until recently (April 1st) there has been no service agreement, but they have now implemented a 3 month min.

OK Sounds like a sweet box, why hack it?

With the work of a few hacks on the net that noticed that little word on the Netpliance site about an "x86 compatible WinChip..."  They bought one and ripped it apart.  Then spread the word throughout the net about the hidden features and capabilities of this little box.  The main thing they found was a fully functional IDE header on the mother board of the iOpener, and the fact that it ran a normal Award Bios that could be instructed to boot a hard drive instead of the onboard 16mb SAN disk.  At first and still today many people just wanted to load a Linux kernel on it in order to run the Internet with any ISP and run some apps on it, essentially turning it into a fully functional PC, but in a much more condensed form and with a nice lil LCD display for 99$ + the cost of a slim HD. Then as the the goals on how far to go with this box expanded, it included upgrading the Ram from 32 to 64 or 128mb, upgrading the CPU from a WinChip C6 200, to a Winchip2 200 or Pentium 200.   But as with most everything people had to go faster then that! Now people are running 400 - 500Mhz CPUs in these machines, making them small work horses for techno geeks.  The device is built by a company called Quanta that mfg's a few different notebooks, namely Dell.

Netpliance Freaks out

Shortly after I ordered my iOpener (3.24.00), Netpliance was starting to freak out about the "Hacking" that was spread all over the news including Slashdot, Cnet, ZDnet, and the Times. "Hackers" were ordering iOpeners by the bushel in order to score one. At first Netpliance started limiting orders to 1 per customer. Then on April 4th and 5th when the iOpeners started to trickle in  (including mine), the hackers community found that Netpliance was fooling with ways to make them not hackable. As of April 1, you must agree to a 3 month Terms Of Service (TOS) and you are charged with a 500$ fee if you cancel before then. People started to find Epoxy coating the bios with a new Bios revision installed to not allow the HD to boot.  Some also saw some with IDE pins cut.   I fortunately got one that was mint, and wasn't tampered by the Netpliance monkeys on the assembly line.  Today still, people are clamoring for BIOS flashing to take the "bad" iOpeners (referred to as iO from now on) to make them functional once again as PC's.

Time to get Down and Dirty

Here's an image of what the Quanta Mobo looks like with the heat sink off. Its labeled as to where all the goods are. This is a pic after all the hacks I did (the wires).

You are looking at the back of the iOpener , behind the LCD.

Since I was one of the few that got a fully stock and ready to rock iO from Netpliance, I HAD to mod it, or it would be a waste.   It took almost an entire month to get all the parts in to mod it, But here is a list of what I ordered:

Part

Qty

Price Per Unit

Use

IBM dbca-204860

1

Friend Deal :)

Hard Drive for the iOpener, 4.8gb 4200RPm 9.5mm

Powerleap K6-2 400 CPU

1

149$

a Valid upgrade for the iOpeners existing CPU

PNY 128mb SODimm

1

102$

To 4x the ram in the system.

I-Mod 1 Kit

1

35$

Mod Kit for mounting the iO, I only used the HD cable

Blue LED's

2

3$

For changing to Blue LED's and adding IDE activity

Project Boxes

2

3$

2 project boxes to join to enclose the second PS

SMC USB to Ethernet 10/100

1

30$

Nic to connect it to my Ethernet network

The First Step - Getting the HD Mounted

You can NOT go any further then here if you dont have Bios Rev 10/01/99 - HD Booting is disabled in any later versions

The first step to getting the iO to be a functional PC is to get a HD wire and HD to work on it.   The HD cable isn't your normal IDE 2mm wire. It needs to have the pins flipped, like 1, 2, 3, 4... become 2,1,4,3... 

You need to find a place that sells 2mm (notebook type) 44 pin IDE wire, and the 2mm IDC connectors, and either flip it by hand or buy one pre fabbed to do it.  The HD needs to be a 2.5" notebook hard drive in order to fit in the case of the iO, but you can use a 3.5 and mount it on the back with an ext power supply.

I mounted the HD on the inside of the RF shield so it sits nicely over the video processor, and chipset.  To mount it there I needed to drill 3 new holes in the RFshield for mounting.  I used Silicone R/C Fuel Tubing to buffer the drive from the RF shield and give it some bounce against shocks, and bumps.

The back of the RF Sheild

Because there is no floppy or ability to boot from any device you can use removable media with you need to "prime" the drive in a working PC. I ran mine on a 3.5" to 2.5" converter and put it on a test box, and dumped all the USB NIC drivers, and all the Win98 SE stuff I needed to get the system loaded. I didn't worry about video drivers yet, I can yank them off my network once I get it up. You have to remember to set the partition active before trying to boot on it in the iO or it wont work.

You will need to be using a HSF setup and not the stock heat sink to fit the HD here, check out the Tennmax Lasagna 5v fans.

More hacking...

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