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iOpener

iOpener: LTSP configurations for iOpeners

In the spring of 2000 I embarked on a project to build a low cost mobile terminal cluster for my CONGO conference registration system. It required a low-cost, high performance cluster of 8-12 workstations, server, supporting hardware, and printers, and it had to fit inside the back of my Suburban with room to spare.

What resulted was a system based around Linux, LTSP, and NetPliance iOpeners. This page contains the collected wisdom from that project, including pictures and pointers to other information.

While this is not really a Stonekeep product, I am providing this for public information.

If you have comments, or have additional details I'm missing, please send them along to dbs@stonekeep.com and I'll update things!

Project sources summary

  • LTSP - Linux Terminal Server Project
    The source from which all wonderful disklessness flows. I can't say enough good things about Jim and the rest of the project. #ltsp on irc.openprojects.net was invaluable in getting things running.
  • New iOpener boot image
    iopener.img.gz
    9.8meg
    May 8, 2002
    This is an image of the iopener Sandisk to be installed on a new iOpener. It is custom configured for my particular setup, but should be useable in any LTSP environment.
  • NetPliance iOpeners
    The company NetPliance folded in the DotCom Bust, but they left behind THOUSANDS of these workstations. Best source for these is eBay - search. The current going price is somewhere between $30 and $50 per machine. Still not too shabby for a Pentium200, 32meg RAM, 800x600 color passive LCD screen, USB port, keyboard with built-in mouse. Other tasty information is on the i-Opener BBS at Linux-Hacker.net. Many of the people still doing research and development on the iOpeners are still there.
  • New Flash roms from www.badflash.com
    The EEPROM in the iOpener comes in zillions of flavors. The best bet is to replace it with a new image as sold by the good fellows at BadFlash.com. I couldn't have done all that I did without the help and support of Jack Rowland at BadFlash.
  • D-Link USB Ethernet cards
    I use D-Link DSB-650TX USB ethernet adapters. I have about 14 of them now, almost all of them bought off eBay. Note there is a DSB-650 that is only 10mbit. You can get the 650TX for around $12.
  • SODIMM RAM upgrade
    The iOpener has a slot for a SODIMM memory card. The unit only supports up to 128meg of RAM, but that's -plenty- for a functional Xterminal (heck, 32meg is enough for that), but 128meg will make it possible to run decent apps locally, speeding things up nicely.

Preparing for the work

  • Download iOpener image
  • Aquire new BIOS EEPROM
    The BIOS on the iOpener comes in many many different versions. I would HIGHLY recommend replacing the BIOS with new version. Many of the BIOS versions in iOpeners will not even allow an external HD to be attached and booted. New BIOS chips are available from Badflash for about $15. Secondly, make sure your iOpener is not GOOPED! See below in 'Performing the Surgery'.
  • Install LTSP and test! test! test! okay!
    I would highly recommend getting LTSP up and running before starting down the road of aquiring iOpeners for terminals. Use the Rom-O-Matic to get an Etherboot image for that clunky PC you have lying around, and try out LTSP. Then if that all works, start your iOpener surgery.

Perform the surgery

  • Here is a virgin iOpener, awaiting its lobotomy:
     
  • Remove the RAM cover
    This part is easy. Just pry the cover open with a small screwdriver:
  • Confirm upgradeable iopener

    Once NetPliance realized they were losing their shirts on the iOpeners, they started panicing. They began to epoxy the EEPROMs so they could not be removed and zapped with a non-braindead BIOS. You want iOpeners that are not, in the technical jargon, 'Gooped':


    Not gooped. The EEPROM in the lower left corner has no epoxy around it.

    Gooped! Bad news. Epoxy has been layered into the socket around the EEPROM. This -is- removeable, but it takes patience and a very sharp screwdriver.
  • Remove the keyboard cover
  • Remove the stand

    Note that some of the iOpeners had the stand screwed in using torx screws. A driver for these 5pointed star-shaped heads can be found at Home Depot, but a very small component screwdriver like the set I have in the pictures can undo them pretty easily. Also, one of the screws may be covered with a silver "If you break this seal..." message. Your call what to do from there. :)
     

  • Remove the back 'gray' casing
    The case is held on with 4 screws along the top and 2 on the bottom. Once they're removed, the case needs to sort of 'pop' apart. This'll take some wrangling, and you make break a plastic piece or two, but the unit does come apart. I have yet to seriously damage a machine doing this.
  • Remove the shielding
    There is an inner layer of shielding that covers the main board of the unit. Remove all the screws you see. There are some that are 'recessed' into the shielding, including one behind yet another notice about breaking warranty. Make sure you get the small screw next to the power supply connector. The small posts aorund the parallel connector can be gotten with a nut driver or a pair of pliers.
     
     
  • Check to make sure your IDE header is not 'clipped'

    I don't have a picture of this situation, but some iOpeners had some of the pins 'clipped off' the IDE header for the hard drive. If this has happened to your unit, you are most likely SOL. Time to shop for another iOpener. Of the 18 units I've purchased so far, only one has come in 'clipped'

  • Remove the heat sink
    The heat sink is to keep the CPU cool. There are several versions of CPUs that went into iOpeners, so what you find under the plate may vary. The CPU will have been stuck to the heat sink, so careful when pulling it off. The screws are easily visible.
     
  • Remove and replace the EEPROM
    I've put several pictures here, because this is the most delicate of operations. The EEPROM needs to be pried out of its socket CAREFULLY. Use a very fine screwdriver or a sharp needle to work up each corner of the EEPROM. Eventually it'll pop loose. Do NOT pry up one corner and just torque away until it comes loose. You'll have an mainboard with bent pins, and thats no fun. The 3rd picture shows the EEPROM out of its socket. The 4th is a very large picture of how to INSERT a new EEPROM into the socket.
     
     
     

Install the new boot image on the Sandisk

  • Hook up the hard drive
    The cable flops in sort of an odd way. Make sure you hook it up right!
     
  • Power up!
    Look at the nice new EEPROM boot message. If you did things right, this is the first screen you should see.
  • Boot up Linux off the HD

  • Install the new boot image on the Sandisk
  • Reboot into local mode from LTSP and mount the volume
    Once the image is in place, you can disconnect the HD, you're all done with it for this machine, assuming all goes well. The iopener.img file is set to boot up as 'luke' from a server on 10.0.0.190. Make sure your LTSP server is there, and you have a 'single user' configuration for 'luke'. That'll drop you to a bash prompt after boot
  • Change the boot paramters, install LILO and shut down.
    Once at a bash prompt, you can re-mount the Sandisk and alter the boot parameters to match your local configuration.
    Remember after doing this to re-init lilo:

       mount -t ext2 /dev/hdb1 /mnt
       cd /mnt/etc
       ed lilo.conf
       lilo -r /mnt -C /etc/lilo.conf
       umount /mnt
    

    After the 'lilo' command, you should see something like 'Added iop *'

  • Power up, reboot off the Sandisk. Joy!

Suggested hardware upgrades

  • New keyboard
  • New mouse
  • Keyboard / Mouse splitter

Our Configuration

Stonekeeps CONGO system uses the above configuration for the terminals used onsite. The small size and low cost of the iOpeners made them ideal low cost terminals.