Friday, October 14, 2011

I-Opener resurrected

This post will include a lot of "I", and generally bad writing, because it is being written from an excited state.  Forgive ok?

I spent a good portion of the last week cleaning my office area.  I'm very happy with the results and felt like rewarding myself.. but how?  It's not an easy choice because I already had ice cream and pizza today, enjoyed the pool, and the budget doesn't allow for extravagance.

Oh I know, pry open the old I-Opener and see if we can get it running again.  I had spotted its various parts during the move to Palo Alto this summer, and clung to it with ferocity when my well meaning parents tried to help us clean up after the move and wanted to dump it.

There are many issues with the I-Opener, too many to list today, but the end result of rewarding myself with unrestricted hacking is that the I-Opener is playing Cocteau Twins as I speak, running Windows 98 SE.  The I-Opener hasn't made a peep in about 9 years, after I attempted to improve the sound but accidentally desoldered the sound chip (I thought it was a misc unused chip and needed the space for the other upgrades it holds within).  Enter the JLAB USB speaker, which needs no driver disks, just plugs in and starts making sound.

Can you say AWESOME!?

I also had to remove a nice 9mm 3GB laptop hard drive from within it and replace it with a 13mm 32GB I had loaded previously but had removed to use as a backup drive during the final days of my dissertation.  The 13mm doesn't quite fit as nicely - the additional pressure on the chassis is noticeable, which mattered back when I was being careful but now that the hack is just for lulz who cares?

Oh how I love my glorious I-Opener.  I believe it is uniquely configured and there is none like it in the world.  It has a 4x CD-Rom inserted inside the case, which I have not heard or seen in any other (pictures with working CD-Roms on the net have them dangling outside).  Many internal components had to be moved or removed in order to make the space.  The RAM is upgraded from 32MB to the maximal 128MB, and the slow slow 180mhz WinChip is upgraded to a 300mhz K6-2 (not an easy hack!), which benches about 3x faster.  The massive passive (band name?) heat sink had to be removed and replaced with a lasagna fan cooler, and a giant resistor that was inserted near the RAM had to be moved to be adjacent to the lasagna fan to prevent overheating and crashes.  The onboard storage is 32GB, upgraded from the 16MB flash chip.  The original keyboard was hacked to replace the joystick mouse with a real mouse that connects by wire to the keyboard, and uses the single keyboard plug to supply both mouse and keyboard PS2 connections.

I recall flashing the bios by hacking the original I-Opener software to dial into a Windows PC I had set up on a second phone line as a dial-up server.

It is amazing that a company could get funding to sell $300 - $400 worth of hardware for $99, arguing to make up the difference in dial-up fees.  With hacked I-Openers there were no dial-up fees, and Netpliance popped like so many bubbles :-(

Sad?  Yes.  Hell of a hack?  Damn straight.


  1. How to upgrade onboard storage to 32M? Have never seen that hack.

  2. Not 32MB, 32 gigabytes. I bought the criss-crossed IDE wire with three connectors, one for the i-opener, one for the HD, and one for the CD-ROM. Do you have an i-opener? If so, what's the config?

    FYI, the wire and some other stuff is available here: