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Hacking Acer's Set-Top Box 97

Posted by timothy
from the add-eye-of-newt-and-stir dept.
Buell Smelt writes: "I found this site about these set top boxes out there, and it seems kind of cool, now that I'm bored with my iopener... http://www.phoenixgarage.net/ Seems like a bigger challenge than the iopener in some ways, but maybe not. I just like the fact that it has NTSC/PAL out, so I can use it as a home MP3 player in my livingroom and don't have to haul a monitor out there. It also has the same form factor as most home stereos. It's a lot less expensive than the iopener, that's a plus. There are some floating around in the 'Internet Appliance' area of eBay. I guess you can also turn an old VGA monitor into a TV with these things. That's kind of handy too."
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Hacking Acer's Set-Top Box

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  • Yeah - this is what I have looked into - but I am really interested in doing the same stuff as the current Liberate software - that is, a small OS, with a small (but highly functional) internet browser. I figure you could possibly set up an LRP type system, then throw Lynx on it - but I would like to see something more graphical. I am sure it can be done (one promising source that I found was a distro called TVLinux - I have a link on the site).

    It's too bad these boxes couldn't be used as a router/firewall of some type - you can only put in one NIC. But they can be used like they were designed - I am just wondering why there isn't more embeddable Linux stuff (TVLinux is the one promising thing - but they ask sooo much for the distribution - but if they can do, others can too).

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • FWIW & IIRC, Acer bought out TI's notebook division.

    I wouldn't be surprised that if your notebook is still working to your satisfaction that your model is a direct copy of the TI notebook design.
  • If you don't like these set tops, why not build your own? Get a 2u rackmount case [gorilla.net], an LCD panel [omnipotent.net], some Infra-red conrol [lirc.org], a set-top motherboard [ati.com] or some other ATX, hard drive, an All-in wonder Radeon [ati.com], some RAM, a chip, and if you're feeling really rich, maybe even a custom keypad with a serial interface for the front. I got so far as draw up some sketches and figure a price for something like this, and decided that since I'm poor, I'd rather buy a new 'real' box at the price (~$1400 for something nice).

    Plus I'm lazy. The All-in wonder would really only be usefull to Windows boxen (especially with all the cool software.)

    Oh... And the patent's pending ;)

  • I have an old Acer 6202 CD-RW, which has been burning fine for about four years now. It's probably finished off at least a fewthousand CDs (at one time it was the only CD-R in my whole circle of hacker friends), and it still burns well, and never makes coasters. In fact, as far as I can tell, every coaster it ever made was directly attributable to some piece of hardware other than itself.

    Can't ask for much more than that.

    Also had a roommate that had an Acer computer while I was in college. Wasn't the best machine out there, and was extremely propriatary, but otherwise, a good solid computer. He's still using it -- not as a gaming machine or desktop, but it's just fine for a mp3 server.

    I wouldn't buy one of their computers, the one I played with was too hard to upgrade. However, I can't say that it was a total turd, like a Packard Bell.

  • Well, there is a table silk-screened on the motherboard that seems to indicated bus speed settings in some way, but there aren't any jumpers. You should be able to see this table on the scan of the main PCB, near the processor (I believe).

    Heck - I just took a good look and realized that the tables don't turn out at all - going to have to fix that. Basically, there are a few tables silk-screened on the board. One indicates some settings that seem to be related to bus speed settings (like a jumper setting table), but there aren't any jumpers near the processor to mod. It is either some kind of settings that are done with solder jumping, or in a special hidden area in the BIOS...

    Supposedly, though (I haven't tried this yet myself - Chris Healy has), it plays MP3s well, just like it is, without overclocking. Maybe it is the MP3 files he is using - I had built an MP3 player for my truck, using an AMD 586/133, and I had to OC it as well to get it to play MP3s nicely.

    Maybe this machine is architected slightly differently to alleviate the issue?

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • http://cgi.ebay.com/aw-cgi/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem& item=1208382162
  • I am the owner of the site - no, I have nothing to do with the Ebay listing. I wouldn't stoop so low to do the kind of thing you are suggesting.

    The wording may look similar, but I assure everybody that I don't have ANYTHING to do with the Ebay auction...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • You certainly could set it up as a firewall/VPN/router device with only one NIC. It wouldn't be ideal, but it's a total hack job to make anything with it.
  • You can use it as a router/firewall if you use something other than Ethernet for the second network link -- you can choose from serial, parallel (note the parallelEthernet adapters), IR, or sound card data links; PPP will run through many devices.

    Or, if you have another router on the Ethernet, you can use a single NIC as a network translator -- make this device the "gateway" of devices which will use the translations services, and this device would be configured to pass the translated (ie, NAT) packets to the other router. The easiest configuration probably involves aliasing the NIC to have several IP addresses.

  • You can fit quite a bit of linux into the 4 meg flash, if you can get linux to handle the flash. cramfs is perfect for this sort of thing.

    There are a lot of misconceptions about the TiVo. The 133mhz Elan in this box beats the tar out of the cpu in a TiVo - a PowerPC 403 at 50mhz - way slower than anything ever put in a macintosh. IBM puts them on RAID controllers. they are Low End ppc. Embedded class. Wimps.

    The major reason the tivo works so well is because of all the dedicated hardware in it. With a tweaked kernel, a hardware mpeg encoder, and a hardware mpeg decoder, there's no reason this box couldn't do something similar - but without a couple of open PCI slots and a considerable development effort i don't see it happening.

  • How do you do this? Do you have links on where I could find out more about this? It might not be an ideal use, but it would be an interesting use...

    Thanks...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • The TiVo software isn't open source. The TiVo modifications to the linux kernel are. All of the binaries that comprise the bulk of the non-kernel TiVo software and service are proprietary.

    FP
  • wow. i could see hooking this up to my home network and using it as a way to play mp3s/videos/internet radio in my living room. currently i use an old p133 for that, but it's pretty damn clunky.
  • by barawn (25691) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @02:29PM (#500759) Homepage
    There's no reason you can't use the device as a router/firewall with only one NIC - that's easy. Obviously you have to have some way to connect to the Net in the first place - if you have a cable modem or DSL, then just plug the cable/DSL modem into a hub, plug the set top into the hub, and bind two IP addresses to it (one for the modem, one for the internal network), and set it to route one to the other. No big deal.

    The only loss is that you're using one NIC twice, so your effective bandwidth is cut in half. This also screams for a full duplex solution, since it's guaranteed that there will be roughly equal traffic in/out. This allows one-way traffic to be roughly full speed, but bidirectional traffic will be cut in half. (Effectively, half duplex using this solution acts as 'quarter duplex' and full duplex works as 'half duplex' since every packet in needs to go out as well).

    This downside isn't really that bad at all if you use something like a 10/100 hub/switch ($40-50 average). Here your effective bandwidth is so high, who cares if you cut it down by a bit?

    I'm a bit confused as to why people think you can't use a one-NIC PC as a router/firewall... I've already done it several times.
  • If you want to do it for the challenge, knock yourself out.

    When I bought this box, I was on the Webplayer coop list - I thought getting one of those would be fun. But after purchasing this box, and seeing nobody doing anything on it - I decided not to get a webplayer (and they recently had a problem with paypal - so maybe it was for the better), and look into what this box can do.

    Yeah, it's cheesy - you can't put it in the bathroom easily. But that isn't what it was designed for! It was designed to go with your TV. To act as a smart terminal for a backend server, dishing out a funky version of html (that has, for example, tags to control the TV window size and position, in addition to others) - to bring about a form of interactive TV.

    Basically, what would happen is the user of the box would turn on the box, and his cable service. The program that was on would have special data in the VBI of the video (same area as closed captioning), that would cause the box to go to one of the servers and get one of these special HTML documents. The HTML would cause the custom browser to "frame" or overlay the video with the web page information, that could be navigated as the program progressed. The video program could control the box, and the user could control the box as well. So, it was a two way interaction.

    You don't need much power for that.

    This box has the power of around a p75. Think outside the box, here - a P75 is a lot for this type of thing.

    I remember when a p75 was a high-end machine (and a good 486 was over $1000)! Come on, people...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • See my comment one up, and choose the other article. But, to summarize, here's the basic points.

    There's no reason one Ethernet card can't bind to multiple IP addresses - this is 'IP aliasing', and Linux has had it for a while. What it does is creates several 'aliased' Ethernet devices called (if the first is called eth0) eth0:0, eth0:1, etc.

    So, go look up the HOWTO on IP Aliasing, and get that working (not really that hard - it's just a kernel module). Then, setup the firewall as if eth0:0 was a separate Ethernet card (i.e. eth1).

    Physically, you just need a hub - plug the device with outside access to the Net into it, plug the settop box into it, and plug other machines into it as well.

    My guess is you could easily - easily - handle firewalling + MP3 playing under Linux. No sweat. My 486/66 tweaked heavily plays MP3s fine, and you barely need any processing power to do routing/firewalling.

  • From what I understand (and I haven't had a chance to verify it yet), if you boot it with it plugged into a TV only, it will activate the TV, otherwise only the monitor is activated only.

    Also, when using the monitor, yes - you can view TV signals (so yeah, I guess this would be a way of using your monitor as a TV)...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • Thanks for the info - would you care to write up something I could stick in the FAQ - or could I just pop what you wrote in? This is definitely going to have to be something I try later on.

    I guess why people think only a dual-NIC solution will work is because people are used to thinking in terms of "pipes" - forgetting that it can go both ways on a network. A one NIC firewall/router - now I am definitely going to have to set one up...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • Full-body-gold-plating on an original Cray might, economically, be worth more than the computing power that the machine provides.

    If I had a warehouse in which to hold such a thing, and didn't have to pay shipping, it might be feasible to have such a Cray. My Alpha 433 box is probably more powerful, mind you.

    It's pretty valid to be a bit schizophrenic about it: On the one hand, that Cray may have cost $10M to build way back when, and it's a shame to waste that; on the other hand, if I can get a machine that's more powerful for $5K today, then I'd stupid to offer more than $5K for the Cray, unless I felt some special sentimentality.

    I feel no sentimentality for some Acer set top boxes, so I'm certainly not inclined to overvalue them.

    In contrast, I feel a little sentimental towards my Digital Multia; the case engineering is so nice that I keep it around even though it doesn't work anymore. It probably cost $5K to build, and people have literally been giving them away of late.

    There's some sort of balance between economic rationality and sentimentality; it's easy to bash it by heading to one extreme or another. Of course, we're talking about Acer set top boxes here, so I doubt sentimentality enters in heavily...

  • Have you looked into QNX [qnx.com] at all? It's a real time OS and they're demo disk is pretty impressive. A GUI with TCP/IP support and a Web Browser, all on a 1.44 MB disk. If you can get it to work on the hardware, it would be a much better solution than *nix/bsd. The Cyrix WebPad that was announced quite a while back was supposed to use it, but I'm not sure if that's still in production or not.
    Good Luck..

  • Does anyone know of any linux programs that would actually allow me to create a tivo or mp3 jukebox out of this acer box or maybe an old pc? What kind of horse power are we talking about?
  • These guys sell all kinds of video adapter products, they may have something:

    http://www.svideotorca.com/

    Get involved
  • I bought an Acer P100 about six years ago, and still have it to this day. Granted, I had to swap out the HDD (for a bigger one), but OTT I've had no problems. It's running slack7 and being an intranet FTP server, and been up over 122 days!
  • Sure you can watch a TV image on a monitor. I like to watch a TV in a small window while doing other work on the PC. Check out this site [hauppauge.com] for some pretty cheap PCI and USB TV tuners with A/V and coax inputs.
  • by cr0sh (43134) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @10:39AM (#500770) Homepage
    This is my site.

    One could say it is old hardware. But the fact is that they were manufactured in 1998, but they haven't really been deployed. You wouldn't believe the tight grip the companies involved have on this thing, with regard to specifications and settings. There are still several jumpers on the main PCB that no one knows what they do, or what thier purpose is.

    Acer won't tell me anything - only to say that such information would be "very expensive" for an individual.

    Liberate wasn't forthcoming at all.

    Neither of these companies would tell me, or sell me, squat. All of the information obtained has come from other sources and my own experimentation.

    Actually, it is almost understandable - you see, I wasn't supposed to have gotten one of those boxes through "outside" channels. I got mine off of Ebay (for much less than $100 - the $100 figure is based on ideas me and my contact have been throwing around). From what I understand, they aren't available from the guy I bought mine from anymore (he sold his last one a while back - at least, that is what he told me).

    Could you build a Tivo with one of these? No, unlikely. But think about what can be done...

    Sure, it is only a souped up 486, but it can play MP3s. Chris Healy has done this, and he has also gotten Nintendo and Sega emulators running on it as well. This thing is meant to use an embedded OS - a small, fast, and preferably real-time OS. Think small applications - things that don't tax the CPU. The "built in" browser software is actually pretty powerful - if you could get one of these boxes with the OS and browser on it, your could set up a WebTV type box for doing any number of things - set up a "proxy server" to browse through on another box, and supply the funky HTML it uses (detailed on the Liberate site), and you could do some pretty cool X-10 control stuff (I can think of a way to do an X-10 wireless camera control system, with the video in the corner, and the controls arranged around it). Or, you could set it up to be a "WebTV" type system for others, using any ISP you want.

    That is just with the built in software - put in your own OS and software, and you can do almost anything. The point is not to think of this thing as a general purpose PC type system...

    What has me excited about it, is the fact that supposedly Acer distributed over 50,000 of these boxes. So where are they? Why haven't they been deployed? Are they just waiting for the right time? If not, will they just be put in a landfill? Will they flood on the surplus market in the near future?

    AOLTV uses a similar product, but it is more powerful, and not made by Acer (I am not even sure if it is PC compatible in any way). I think these set-top boxes are going to be a big thing, in the near future. Maybe I will be wrong - but a lot of time, money and energy has been put in place by a lot of major players recently (and almost quietly, I might add).

    So - think small. Think of the device as a front-end device, not a do-it-all box. Think ASP like applications - what can be done?

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • The product looks nice. But the web site is definitely high bandwidth with all that Flash. And I noticed at least one MS proprietary character [slashdot.org] in the FAQ, which looks ugly on some systems.
  • The reason there are a lot of these boxes out on the market is the lack of RAM. The liberate software stores a lot of information on a central server that would normally be stored locally (such as cookies). This made the browser very slow on high load systems.

    Well, Linux can use NFS for swap and storage, so these could be used on a LAN with a file server. A "network computer" configuration. Or perhaps just an X terminal. For that matter, if the NIC supports a boot PROM it could be booted from the network.

  • by Kagato (116051) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @10:43AM (#500773)
    Since I actually own one of these things and have been able to get linux to run on it. I thought I'd share some of my insights on this.

    Basically, the units are shipped in many different configs. In fact many times it's custom to the buyer. Typical config is a 150Mhz Intel Clone (usually cyrix) proccessor and about 4-8 megs of RAM. There is also some flash RAM for the OS/Liberate stuff.

    The reason there are a lot of these boxes out on the market is the lack of RAM. The liberate software stores a lot of information on a central server that would normally be stored locally (such as cookies). This made the browser very slow on high load systems.

    Also, because of the limited RAM, there really isn't anywhere to go with the box. It's never going to play real video or the ilk. Almost everything is SMT on the mainboard. You COULD upgrade the memory if you had the correct tools. People have done this their palms and tivo's. Although at some point I'd question just buying a normal PC.

    The video chipset is an older Trident type. You could probally get the box to use the Video Features under 95 assuming you could still find the drivers, but none of the video overlay is supported in Linux right now, and the chipset was really only used in a few notebook computers and the NT 150. I doubt anyone is working on this.

    The modem is an ISA slot. You can use a NE2000 nic is this slot just fine. Some of the older linksys cards actually line up rather well.

    Some of the NT 150's had built in smart card reader/writters. It's not clear from the picture if the model has the hardware. This is really what the box would be most useful for. Assuming someone could scratch together a linux driver for the smartcard device you could use it to clone smartcards.

    In general the Liberate stuff can be removed if they have the liberate flashing utilities. The ISP generally had some utilities to configure the hardware type. Usually to config if the box had a modem, DSL, or ethernet. You should be abel to erase it with those.

    In general it's an okay set top box, but the lack of support for the video chipset and lack of memory does present a barrier to being a good linux box.
  • I think you'd be better off using an IDE hard drive for swap rather than NFS. The whole reason why you don't see more NT 150 deployed out there is because running you swap space off a WAN enviroment slows the whole thing down. Don't get me wrong, you can certainly use this for linux alright, but I wouldn't pay more than 99 bucks for the box.

  • by Hard_Code (49548) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @12:21PM (#500775)
    I hear ya. Why, the other day I just threw away a gold-plated Cray. Not much I could do with, being old hardware and all. I'm just about to throw out my Beowolf cluster too.

    When will all these loser learn that to be a 1337 h4x0r you must waste and throw away a lot of expensive hardware. Sheesh, I bet they're working on wearable computing right now, dorks.
  • TiVo isn't open sourced. The modifications they've made to linux are available, but the tivo software itself is closed and available only in binary form on the tivo itself.

    Not to mention that TiVos use PowerPC processors. Thus, the binary wouldn't run on the Acer box even if you could extract it from the TiVo.

    ---
    Check in...OK! Check out...OK!
  • I currently use a diskless workstation. It's an old 486, but it works just fine. What I am still looking for is an appropriate chassis. An "empty set-top box" or something alike would be cool. Anyone knows who sells such stuff? Some time ago, there was an article on ./ about a set-top box by Allwell (http://www.gctglobal.com) which was said to be able to run Linux. Any success stories? best wishes
  • I have an external box, an AverMedia TV Genie, that converts composite or SVHS to VGA, and also works as a video switcher, switching between your VGA input and your video input. We use them at trade shows to use the same monitor to display either our live software demo or our taped VHS demo reel.
  • I remember when a p75 was a high-end machine (and a good 486 was over $1000)! Come on, people...

    I remember when a 4mhz Z80 with 64K of RAM was a high-end machine. Mine was fancy. I added a real-time clock to it! Woohoo!

    I do see your point about the non-standard use of the box. What gets me is the people who want to make it into a general purpose computer. What good is a P75 with 8MB of RAM as a PC? Add $100 for a hard drive and all of your time and you've got more into it than you can buy a used P166 desktop machine for.

  • Have you got a URL for that? I can't seem to find it on the web.
  • Hang on - I'll email something to you later tonight more appropriate to a FAQ. Though you might have to edit it to be appropriate to your situation, as I don't have one of them (though I'm actually quite interested). I think setting up a 4 MB flash distribution of linux should be a breeze - all you need is a 'bare minimum' distribution with kernel/file utilities/networking and then you can NFS mount or SMB mount (NFS... definitely NFS. Though even NFS sucks) a better array of tools. Seriously need to avoid distribution bloat, though. Trying to get some of the code from SmallLinux working would be a good idea.

    As per the MP3 file playing, I can't really say much about under Linux, but I did have to heavily tweak my 486 to get it to play MP3's without stuttering, plus I had to sacrifice a bit on the quality. Also, don't forget you might be able to overclock other portions of the system as well. I heard something about an ISA slot? Most ISA cards are tolerant to up to 12-15 MHz, if not a bit more, for the bus frequency (This might stem back to older days when certain PCs ran at 12 MHz-ish: I'm not sure, but I don't remember there being multiple clock chips on one of my old Tandys...) While this may not seem like an obvious benefit, it may help out the video, if the video is sharing the ISA bus. If not, don't bother to do it, since while you may speed up your network connection, you might slow down the PC with the additional traffic.

  • I'm a bit confused as to why people think you can't use a one-NIC PC as a router/firewall... I've already done it several times.

    Yes, you can, except many cable modem or DSL providers will disconnect customers who do that.
  • To "emulate" a dial tone you must create your own phone system. You need a 9v power supply (battery?) to run the power on the line and then simply cross the send and receives. Read the article on telephone systems at www.howstuffworks.com
  • by CAIMLAS (41445)
    I'd say that's more than handy - it bypasses the 'need' for HDTV.

    -------
    CAIMLAS

  • This along with the new internet radio boxes and I'll be happy. Who cares if the internet is the cause of the power problems out here in California, but I need it. I wonder what my kids will say when I tell them I lived in a day before we had MP3 systems, Tivo's, and internet radios.
  • by bencc99 (100555) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @09:39AM (#500787) Homepage
    Unfortunately, interesting kit like this is somewhat harder to come by over here in the UK - the tivo has only just been commercially released, and many of the cool hackable gadgets don't even make it out. It's a real shame, as there are a lot of us over here who would like a chance to have a play, but the cost/inconvenience of getting them shipped over makes it prohibitively expensive :(
  • > I guess you can also turn an old VGA monitor
    > into a TV with these things. That's kind of
    > handy too

    Boy, do I *ever* need 14" colour TV with a lousy refresh rate.

    </sarcasm>

    The rest of it sounds like a pretty standard port; a lot of hardwork, mind you, but nothing truly *elegant*.

  • by q000921 (235076) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @09:40AM (#500789)
    For less than $100, you can buy a little box that converts VGA output to something your TV understands. They are usually used for presentations (PowerPoint), but work fine for general usage, games, etc. as well.
  • I'm wondering, if they can put a hard drive in it, and they can get it to run linux. CAn't they put the tivo software on it since the software is open source? Sure you'd still have to pay tivo some dough or just use it as a digital recorder that only works if you know the exact time you want to record....but still...Perhaps a modified tivo software that gives better functionallity?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    So if I had this ACER thing, I could outpu European video for my European friends to send them American shows that they can't yet get in Europe, like South Park and Battlebots.

    Of course, I don't want to make them too jealous.
  • by smartin (942) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @09:57AM (#500792)
    It seems to me that with the increased availablity of gadgets that want to dial home to connect to a proprietary service, there is a need for a project to spoof modem connections and reverse engineer protocols. I see these things all the time and think, nice piece of hardware but I don't want to be shackled to their service. Take for example these new digital picture frames. They look like something that has a lot of hacking potential but how do you get them to talk to your own machine instead of calling home. Is it possible to attach two modems together using some sort of crossover cable? Is anyone working on reverse engineering some of the protocols used by these devices? I know may of these companies are selling the hardware at a loss in the hope that they will make money on the subscription, too bad for them.
  • w00t!!!

    Acer made something Useful???

    Be careful that this latest piece_of_garbage from them doesn't break or fry by itself before ya start hacking it up.

    I once had a customer complain soo much about acer workstations crashing and hosing (granted they had Winblows, 10+ hosings and lockups/8hr workday is still uncommon under 95) that we had to eat the cost of 225 of them, and, the cost of 225 "stable" dell machines, and the cost of 3 techs for 3 weeks swapping out the POS'S.

    ----Fuck Acer, dont ever buy that shit.----------

    Plz reply if you are happy with yours, I would like to hear other adventures in Acer.

    dig this kewl shit baby...http://www.crazyasscrackers.com/ [crazyasscrackers.com]

  • it is possible to connect two modems together directly and have them communicate. make sure that one is set to dial without checking for a dial-tone, have it dial any number. (not sure if it has to be a number of a certain length or not.) after an appropriate amount of time (appropriate=long enough to have dialed the numbers) have the second modem pick up. they should initiate a connection. go from there.

    -:-:-:-:-:-:-
    view [angelfire.com] my life here and bitch [network54.com] at me here
  • Maybe I'm just feeling old and cynical today, but, this is how I'm feeling...

    My time is worth enough that, instead of hacking at some little POS set-top machine, I'd much rather just buy a decent box. I mean, come on! a "decent" box (interpret that however you like) certainly outperforms one of these things, and I can slap one together for, what, $350, maybe? And, generally, I have enough extra parts around my place that I'm only buying a few key items!

    I can't even think of an argument that I want to pre-emptively rebut; Most anyone that would be trying to hack these things are going to be in the same boat I am (the I-have-my-own-computer-flea-market type of person) and could easily create a second (or fifteenth) machine out of spare parts with a few strategic purchases.

    This isn't to say that the pursuit of hacking into one of these isn't a noble venture in and of itself. I am just talking (or blathering, if you like) about proposing such a task to be some sort of low-cost solution to getting a new Nth machine.

    Or am I just getting old at 24?

  • by cr0sh (43134) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @10:46AM (#500796) Homepage
    Shoehorning a running Linux system into a 4 meg flash ram is certainly not pedestrian. We haven't done it yet - but perhaps someday we will. Then, of course, you have to get some kind of application and networking going...

    It doesn't make a bad MP3 player at all - and it makes a decent platform of Sega Genesis and Nintendo emus.

    It doesn't have a floppy (well, actually it does, in a way - read the FAQ on what info I have on it), but you can hook up an IDE hard drive easily enough - and there is the 4 meg of flash (once you can get access to it, that is).

    No, you won't be able to build a Tivo - but that wasn't the reason for this device - it was meant to supply interactive TV. Think ASP-type applications - that is where the power of this box is...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • Actually, you wouldn't believe how much this box has been opened and fiddled with since I got it - no problems yet. This machine is actually a pretty solid box.

    Don't worry about actually buying one of these from Acer - it is unlikely you will even be able to get them to admit that they make them. It took me over a month to get an answer from Acer Taiwan that basically said "get your support elsewhere".

    I would imagine that unless you waved a ton of money in their face, and ordered several thousand of the boxes, you wouldn't get anywhere...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • I have an SBC using the same IDE chipset and it's worth nothing that the IDE Chipset they use in this Acer Set-top box (the ALi M1487/M1489) DOES NOT, in fact, support DMA (or at least it doesn't support it correctly). This will cause a huge hit in system performance, especially under Win9x.

    For those of you who don't know that the absence of DMA capabilities means, it means that the CPU has to do a lot of the work to access the IDE drives so while the Drives are being accessed the system is essentially halted for that timeslice. I think the newer Linux Kernels have some kind of workaround for it, but I'm not sure.
  • How hard is it to make the second modem emulate a dial tone?
  • From what I understand, the boxes that people currently have all have NICs in them - no modem. The were meant to use either. The units do have the smartcard slot. Liberate will not give any info or support in the form of the flashing utilities.

    You say you have one of these boxes - do you mean an actual Acer NT-150, or a similar box? If you have an NT-150 running Linux, are you running it from flash, or a hard drive? Where did you get yours? Email me, please!

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • I don't think that you want to do this. AFAIK, the TV is 480x320 or 512x384 or something, and the resoution is going to be absolute crap if you do it. Anyway, why do you want to use a monitor as a tiny TV screen? I don't think you'd like the size very much. Better to sell the monitor and use the $20 to buy a small TV set instead.
    Basically, I've got a pretty good 19" monitor that I almost never use (because the machine it's hooked up to is a server and I use my laptop most of the time). I don't want to get rid of it because, hey, it's a pretty good monitor and you never know when you might need one. :) But I've got a small apartment and it does take up several cubic feet of space; I'd rather not have to take several *more* cubic feet of space up with a TV. (At the moment I've got a tiny dorm-style 12" TV that a friend didn't need any more.) For a TV 19" is a little small these days, but I don't have room for something larger than about 24" anyway. As for the resolution, hey, it's not going to be any worse than an actual TV, right?
  • Thought: The Linux Router Project has a configured Linux system all on a floppy (1.4MB). Now, that doesn't include a lot more than the base kernel and a network driver or two... It could be done... it all depends on your definition of "system".

    --
  • TiVo uses complex MPEG-2 encoding routines to encode video in real time. A 133Mhz x86 would be unable to keep up with the encoding routines. In addition, while Tivo's extensions to the Linux OS are open-source, Tivo's software to display the TV programming and maintain listings is proprietary and closed. Sorry.. no go.
  • Hmmm, the problem is that you have no control
    over the modem that you are trying to spoof.

    Seems to me that in order to reverse engineer the protocol, you would need to snoop an actuall conversation.
  • Sure you can watch a TV image on a monitor. I like to watch a TV in a small window while doing other work on the PC. Check out this site for some pretty cheap PCI and USB TV tuners with A/V and coax inputs.
    Perhaps I should have specified "without using a PC". My thinking is more "hey, I've got this pretty good 19" CRT that's not hooked up to anything right now, why go to the trouble of getting another CRT just to watch television, which I don't do a whole lot of anyway?"
  • Checking out the internet appiances section on e-bay (pure coincidence - honest!) I came across this ad http://cgi.ebay.com/aw-cgi/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem& item=1208382162 [ebay.com]
    25 I-opener for sale at one hit!. Odd thing is some of the wording is rather similar to the URL in the original post at http://www.phoenixgarage.net/ [phoenixgarage.net].
    Oh how strange there is also a link there from E-Bay. Is someone here trying to get /.rs to check out the add on e-bay.

    Or worse still have I just fallen for it and now helped in his plan?
  • Surely the refresh rate of a VGA monitor is higher than that of a TV?
  • It kills me when people claim their time is valuable. Time is time is time. Do with it what you will. I think this was intended as purely a project thing like the i-opener (but in my opinion not as cool as the i-opener) Here's a new challenge for someone to dig their hands into if they're looking for something. It could be worse. Someone could be trying to hack one of those dumb Boogie Bass things. Aw crap, too late.
  • Anyone tried this with one of those countertop Compaq Ipaq flatpanel things? They're only $199 if you "promise" to buy service for it, and they look pretty cool. They run WinCE, so I assume they are StrongArm based.

  • "if it's an AMD K5-133, as seems to be the case, this is basically like a Pentium 75"

    You are thinking of the AMD 5x86-133, which was actually a 486-133. The performance was about the same as a P75. The K5-133 is a real 586 CPU, whose performance was on par with a Pentium 133.

  • Assuming you have another PC on the LAN, you can mount your root filesystem over NFS.

    Cryptnotic

  • I see your point but I would like to have one of these in my stereo cabinet playing mp3's from my networked pc drive, out to the stereo amp. A regular pc case is a bit large for a stereo shelf and at
    $100 its cheaper than most of the custom mp3 players that would do the same job.
  • A normal 2-wire telephone does not have a "send" and "recive" side. The modem will transmit and then recive based on a time delay. AFAIK, there is no easy way to make a 2-wire modem talk to another without a telephone switch.
  • It kills me when people claim their time is valuable. Time is time is time.

    My time has value and I bill based on the number of hours I work. If I am going to spend my limited time on a project, it's either because the end result will be worth the effort or because I will enjoy what I am doing. Hacking an outdated 133mhz set-top box satisfies neither criteria. I could spend the same time doing billable consulting work and use that money to buy a complete, current generation Athlon system.

  • NTSC: USA

    PAL: Europe (but not france)

    Arska

  • Sure you can watch a TV image on a monitor. I like to watch a TV in a small window while doing other work on the PC. Check out
    this site [hauppauge.com] for some pretty cheap PCI and USB TV tuners with A/V and coax inputs.
    Perhaps I should have specified "without using a PC". My thinking is more "hey, I've got this pretty good 19" CRT that's not hooked up to anything right now, why go to the trouble of getting another CRT just to watch television, which I don't do a whole lot of anyway?"
    AITech used to have a box that was basically a TV tuner with a VGA output. A quick check of their website [aitech.com] doesn't indicate that it's a current product, but maybe you can turn up a used one someplace. It even had a remote, so it would be perfect for couch-potato mode. :-)
  • Hi ya'll,

    The easy part is this:

    Connect a phone cable between the 2 modems.

    On the modem you want to have originate the call, type:
    ATX0 -- disables sensing for a dial tone
    ATDT -- awaits carrier signal

    On the modem that will answer, type the ususal:
    ATA -- Sends the carrier


    Or try (and this will tell you how long this info has been on my HD):

    Modem originating the call:
    28.8K Fax Modem: ATB15%P1&L1S0=0&W&W1 -- 14.4K Fax Modem: Replace B15 with B9

    Modem answering the call:
    28.8K Fax Modem: ATB15%P1&L1S0=1&W&W1 -- 14.4K Fax Modem: Replace B15 with B9


    The difficult part might be getting the proper command to the built in modem.
    If all fails, you could get a little box that simulates a phone line - the one I have is made by "MX Engineering" in Taiwan ... look around for more info.


  • Dude,
    How wrong you are...
    I have RIGHT NOW in front of me three boxes made by Acer that have never given me any trouble.
    Oh, one "intersting" thing about these boxes is that NONE of them say Acer on the front.
    They are Sony, Hitachi, and Fujitsu IDENTICAL boxes, with the ONLY difference being the front label.
    I used to have "a few" IBM boxes that were also identical to the remaining three and which also never gave me any trouble.
    My guess is you had bad luck...

  • It's certainly a cool enough "hack" for someone to deploy Linux on one of these machines. It's slightly less challenging, due to the pedestrian choice of x86 family CPU, than, say, running Linux on Sega DreamCast.

    The flip side of it is that this is pretty old hardware. I would not pay $100 for one of these units; if it's an AMD K5-133, as seems to be the case, this is basically like a Pentium 75 with 8MB of RAM and no disk.

    It's not going to make a great MP3 player; it's certainly not going to provide the CPU horsepower needed to build "something like TiVO."

    The iOpener represents more "modern" hardware; ditto for the ThinkNIC. I've actually thrown away newer hardware than this, and I'm hardly near to having 1GHz Athlon boxes going to waste...

  • Maybe I missing something, but I couldn't find a page to actually order one. Anyone?

    Get involved
  • For less than $100, you can buy a little box that converts VGA output to something your TV understands. They are usually used for presentations (PowerPoint), but work fine for general usage, games, etc. as well.
    Does anyone know where I can get the reverse -- something that will convert NTSC (preferably S-Video, but something with an ordinary RCA composite jack would do) to VGA, allowing a VGA/SVGA monitor to be used as a TV? There are all kinds of boxes out there to hook PCs up to TVs, but I haven't been able to find anything going the other way.
  • I just interviewed with this [zapmedia.com] company - got to see their prototype MP3 / DVD / Web Portal boxes. They were sweet. It runs linux, has a hard drive, broadband ready (aka ethernet port), built in DVD player. It was purty.
  • It's a lot less expensive than the iopener, that's a plus.

    Of course it is, ever since NetPliance bundled the service inside the box, the iOpener jumped up in price by $200. They pulled the old version because people were hacking it to turn it into an ultra-cheap x86 machine. After having many units sold but far fewer users registered for the service, though, NetPliance finally grew a brain and bundled the license. Auntie Eula knows no limits.

  • So ... don't buy any HP, Gateway, Compaq, IBM or Dell notebooks. Most "brand-name" notebooks are built by Taiwanese companies like FIC, Compal and Acer.

    BTW, I own an Acer notebook. Works just fine.

    -Martin

  • I haven't seen, heard or experienced any issues with system performance. Would an MP3 player even work if this was the case (or the Nintendo or Sega emulators)? I would think you would see a problem with these type programs...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • My time is worth enough that, instead of hacking at some little POS set-top machine, I'd much rather just buy a decent box. I mean, come on! a "decent" box (interpret that however you like) certainly outperforms one of these things, and I can slap one together for, what, $350, maybe? And, generally, I have enough extra parts around my place that I'm only buying a few key items!

    Amen! I did the i-Opener thing and now have one in the downstairs bathroom. Now I can take an e-Dump!

    But the i-Opener had some important features lacking in the Acer device. It had an LCD flat screen. The CPU ran at 200mhz (vs 133 in the Acer). It had 32MB of RAM vs. 8MB in the Acer and could be expanded with industry-standard SODIMMs.

    The Acer seems like a waste of time to me. It's slow, lacks RAM, requires a TV or monitor for output, can't support DMA hard disk transfers (according to another /.er), and has very limited expansion capabilities.

    If you want to do it for the challenge, knock yourself out. If you want a computer, put one together at today's dirt-cheap prices and have something truly worthwhile.

  • Well, the sysem I have (Which is a Flytech BookPC with an AMD 5x96/133 with specs that are remarkably similar with the NT-150) also plays my MP3's just swimingly when OC'd to 160mhz.

    The DMA Issue I was meaning was not speed during operation, perse', but speed during times a high disk access, like Boot up or Scandisk/FSCK. Thats when the bottleneck becomes apperent.

    Speaking of which, any ideas if the Acer can me OC'ed? The AMD 5x86 are really great for overclocking provided you have a good cooler.
  • &L1 or &L2 etc. are for analogue leased line mode. Most modems do not support analogue leased line mode AFAIK.

    An example of a modem that does (2 wire leased line) is the Microcom 28.8P. The Microcom 28.8 Fast+ supports 2 wire and 4 wire leased line modes.

    This is off topic, though...

  • OKAY, but what about this: I have setup a slackware box to have 2 nics, because on one it gets the IP address via DHCP, from the DSL device (it's some sort of hub, but it gives you only 1 IP address) while on the other it works as a DHCP server for my internal network. How would you solve this, with only one nic? Making all the internal network addresses static is not very good, as I like to hook my laptop there sometimes, when I bring it from work, so it's much less trouble to just boot it and get an IP address, than boot it, change to static IP address, and then reboot it. The other computers enjoy the benefit of DHCP in a similar fashion.

    If you have a solution to this, I would be very grateful. I would save one perfectly good NE2000, and the wiring would be much simpler.

  • Your "bandwidth is cut in half" is only true if you're buying an Internet link of at least 5Mbps. Most Internet links are much slower than that. A parallel-to-Ethernet adapter is more than fast enough for Internet links.
  • I have given it some thought, but the whole reasoning behind going with an open source, Free OS was so my contact could sell off his boxes, without the Liberate/VxWorks stuff on board (he said it was because of contractual reasons/licensing concerns). However, maybe getting that demo to work would be good - if we can get it onto a hard drive - and transfer it over to the flash ram (the device doesn't have a floppy drive - except for some funky one that plugs into the parallel port, which I haven't seen yet)...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • One guy I have talked with who is supposed to be getting one of these boxes lives in Argentina - and he says the PAL standard there is different from the European standard. I haven't been able to find anything that says whether the PAL standard on the box will work in Argentina. Does anyone have any experience with this?

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • You got modded up as "Insightful" - can you explain you comment? Exactly how does it bypass the "need"? Are you saying this because you can hook it up to a monitor (potentially higher res)? Or for some other reason?

    I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this...

    Worldcom [worldcom.com] - Generation Duh!
  • My point is that expensive top of the line hardware does not necessarily a good hack make. Clever hacks are done with old, cheap, "worthless" hardware all the time.
  • Yeah, that's basically it. The understanding was implied - my appoligies. :) Basically, with this device and being able to hook it to a monitor, you'd have the hi-res of hdtv for a fraction of the price, with a bit more functionality. (say, grab a 21" monitor - still cheaper by quite a bit, and you could hook up all your things like PSX, etc through your VCR, which is connected to said device.) I personally don't have a TV, but I'd certainly prefer this sort of arrangement over a TV-only 1k$ HDTV. (Heck, hook up one of those nice LCD projectors from compaq - oh yeah!)

    In the same respect, a good TV tuner would, IMO, be preferable to a hdtv. hdtv's seem to be aimed at those who are not technically savvy enough to mess w/ these things. (computers, etc)

    If this is incoherent, I appoligize. 7 minutes till class, and still have to run across campus. :)

    -------
    CAIMLAS

  • Well, one of the two ethernet interfaces is static - it's probably 192.168.0.1. The fact that it doles out IP addresses using DHCP is meaningless. Thus, just set up the linux box to bring up eth0, then bring up eth0:0 (the alias) just as the aliasing-HOWTO says, and set 192.168.0.1 to the address of eth0:0. Run the dhcp service on eth0:0, and you're done.

    Note that you need to make sure that 255.255.255.255 is routed to eth0:0, rather than eth0 so that the DHCPd boxes can know who really is trying to give them an IP. To do this, add 'route add 255.255.255.255 eth0:0' to the routing table.

    I'm not sure if this will work - I hate DHCP, since it gets rid of the benefit of DNS, and I love giving computers names, rather than adsl-dialup-68.east.pacbell.net (fake, I know).

    Good luck!
  • True, however, just check to see if they have a policy against users setting up a home network. In many cases, they don't - if they don't, call them, and when they say 'oh, we disconnected you because the ethernet address was not bound' just explain that you have a network set up, and the modem is plugged in to a hub - in many cases, they'll basically just say 'okay' and fix the problem. It wasn't a big deal for me.

    The other option is to have a cron job running that periodically pings the gateway on the other side, and when it goes down, simply issue the equivalent of /etc/rc.d/init.d/network restart. Strangely enough, this works... I don't know why.
  • It might make a n33t little MP3 jukebox, but there's no way I can see it recording video.

    According to the FAQ, it's only got a K5-133 in it.
    I think it's pretty unlikely that it could do realtime encoding even if it had dedicated MPEG hardware. (Which it doesn't.)
    Besides, I don't think the Tivo software is open source, or even available outside of a Tivo.
    The Linux OS stuff is open, but that's only a fraction of what ya need.

    --K
  • I don't think that you want to do this. AFAIK, the TV is 480x320 or 512x384 or something, and the resoution is going to be absolute crap if you do it. Anyway, why do you want to use a monitor as a tiny TV screen? I don't think you'd like the size very much. Better to sell the monitor and use the $20 to buy a small TV set instead.

  • TiVO, no, but it'd do just fine for MP3s. You can add a HD, some guy supposedly booted windows on it.

  • The only experience I've had so far was the knowledge that a large number of their laptops have such cheap metal connectors for their IDE channels that they will melt off within the year...imagine Windows having to cope with harddisks disappearing half of the time. I wanna swap!!!
  • I came across this product [tvone.com] last year when I ripped apart a laptop to see if I could figure out a use for the LCD.

    I guess this proves there is a market for choosing a unique name. All I remembered was "cheese". Enter "cheese vga" into Google, and voila!

...when fits of creativity run strong, more than one programmer or writer has been known to abandon the desktop for the more spacious floor. - Fred Brooks, Jr.

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