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Netpliance's Modified i-opener

The Board
  • 32 MB memory with 16 MB flash memory
  • 200 MHz Winchip processor
  • 9.33" x 11.96" x 3.5" Weight: 5.08 lbs.
  • 10" LCD screen (800 x 600 resolution)
  • 56k call waiting modem
  • On board video and sound
  • Shortcut keys on the keyboard
  • Printer and USB connectors on the rear

(+,-) $100USD

1 2 3 4 5 N/A6 7 8 9 10

When I reviewed the i-opener a couple of things became obvious about the unit. First, for $99 you could get a pretty capable computer. This is not a machine that you would want to game on but could cover the basics necessary for most web browsing and word processing. Second, the operating system shipped with the unit left a lot to be desired. For those who are still wondering why anyone would bother to modify an i-opener should consider that for $99 you get:

These aren't the specs I would pick for a Quake III server, but it more than gets you by for a basic machine that can be portable due to its small size. I needed a replacement for my aging laptop. I had priced installing a larger HD into the laptop and adding more memory but that alone cost nearly what it cost to modify the i-opener (including the price of the i-opener). I still wouldn't have had USB or the built in 56k modem so it didn't take me long to realize I could sacrifice a floppy and CD-ROM in order to get more CPU power. To move files to and from the i-opener I simply needed to connect it to my network.

Let's get started

If you have access to an i-opener that is out of its internet service contract you can follow the steps I outline here to modify your unit. I wouldn't recommend someone who is not familiar with OS installation or hardware trouble shooting try this because of the amount of problems that can pop up. The i-opener is a unique piece of hardware: part laptop design and part desktop design. If you are comfortable doing normal hardware upgrades you should be able to upgrade your unit without too much difficulty. I hope you realize I'm not responsible for any damage or loss of function of your unit if you attempt this, and obviously you will void your warranty by opening the case. Hate to throw in the legal bomb there but I'm sure I would get an e-mail from somebody if I didn't.

The first thing you should determine is if you have a unit that was shipped with the modifications that were supposed to thwart hackers. The original units are the easiest to modify, but this won't stop you from modifying one of the newer versions. On the rear of the unit it the small access door that allows you to upgrade the memory. While looking into this area you can look to the left of the memory and find the BIOS chip. If the chip has epoxy on it then you have one of

the "modded" units from the factory. The picture to the right is hard to see but the BIOS chip is just below and to the left edge of the memory. That black stuff covering two corners and sides is the epoxy. You need to know which version of the I-opener you have because one of the changes made to the unit was a BIOS change. The BIOS chip is flashable, so you merely have to obtain the correct BIOS. This can be done through a web search or simply use an original BIOS equipped machine as the BIOS donor. I won't go into high detail about BIOS flashing, especially considering there is no floppy drive to make this easier. I recommend that you get a replacement chip with the original BIOS from Badflash. Be forewarned Jack from Badflash will want to be sure that you have an original i-opener and already own the original BIOS. Jack doesn't want to be labeled a software pirate. One thing that will be necessary is a regular PS2 keyboard with an ESC key. You will need this so that the BIOS can detect your HD and then exit. The stock keyboard doesn't have an ESC key. Once you set your BIOS settings you may use the stock keyboard if you prefer it for its size. I've read a few reports of an even newer version of the unit that comes with a different CPU (not a Winchip) and it may not work with the earlier BIOS versions.

Next, you should determine which OS you will install. I installed Win98 because this is what the other systems on my network are running and I found the correct drivers for the video, sound, and modem quite easily. The opensource community has really taken to the i-opener so you may be able to find complete drivers at sites that specialize in Linux with the i-opener. One problem that users are running into is that there are no commonly available video drivers that allow 16-bit color in Linux and USB is only supported in the latest kernel version.

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