I bought an emachines MSN companion for $15 and have learned much about it Here are my findings, (as a summary)
Please bear in mind that I've only had this thing for a week and already have it booting Linux
The box is based on the NationalSemiconductor Geode chipset which is a desendent of the Cyrix MediaGX family of processors Of what I understand(so far) this means that it uses the AC '97 codec for audio. Support for this in the 2.4 series kernel exists b/c one of the boxes i have also contains a sound card based on the same thing.
The Modem in the box is a certifiable WinModem. It uses a conexant chipset and to my knowledge it is not currently supported in Linux. if it is, please let me know!
The video is capable of at least 800x600 @ 32k colors. It "steals" up to 4M from the system RAM which is 32 MB.
The box also has a 16MB flash disk that reports as Master. It is said to be a SDP3B-16 however Sandisk is unwilling as of yet to provide me with a pinout of this chip. If i get the pinout, I am planning to provide this information on a website as hopefully it means that the addition of an internal HDD is a possibility. Sandisk also refuses to acknolige(sp?) the chip's existence and it is not listed anywhere on their site in their customer areas nor their OEM sections as well.
If you are planning to boot off of some external device plan to be taking stuff back for refunds a lot. To date I have tested at least 20 diffrent USB Hard drive adapters and NONE of them support the USB-HDD,C: boot order that is listed in the system's BIOS. (Hit F2 when the eMachines splash screen starts just before the MSN O/S loads.) For booting, I find that the USB-Zip100 is the only zip drive that is boot-capable. This is the old zip100 that looks like the parallel port/SCSI models (the square blue ones) except it is translucent blue. It is also self-powered. I found out that the USB-powered Zip250 does NOT boot at all, but have not tested it with a Self-powered Zip250 (if there is such a thing) The USB ZipCD CDburner also boots as well, perhaps this could be a good thing for installing (insert favorite OS) at a later point? I have not tested booting off of a USB-Floppy although the BIOS supports that as well.
The DOLLY disk-imaging utility is excellent for switching out images. Albeit it's slow, it is reliable and I have yet to trash an image loading it. It is also extremely hard to find. I have trversed Google and Download.com both to end up with 404s or the ominous 0byte zip file. If you find a copy and it works, make copies and keep 'em safe!
To copy an image to the SanDISK:
a:\> dolly image.img HD128:
To make an image of what's CURRENTLY in the SanDISK:
a:\> dolly HD128: image.img
One of the more popular distros running aroud here is "Jailbait" Please note that Jailbait is more specifically written for the Compaq IA-1 and not the MSN eMachines device. After three days of hacking at Jailbait, I finally have it booting off of the 16MB SanDISK inside the box but it is still not complete. I need to compile some aditional drivers at some point and pray to $god that it will work. Thank $god that the geode is an x86 compatible chip.
If you are going to get a USB-Nic I recommend the units made by 3Com or Netgear. The 3Com units are 10/100 and are typically on sale at computer shows for around $10-%15. I picked up a handful of these at the last show. Although i realize that a USB 10/100 nic isn't really 100 MB/s, it is better than 10 alone, as the full duplex factor of the NIC is good enough to justify the extra expense. The 3Com units are recognized as using the pegasus driver and the Netgear nics use the kaweth driver. Both nics work well under Linux and should work good here too.
If anyone can recommend to me a good Hard drive USB sled for Linux, pleas let me know!
What i hope to do at this point is:
(a) find a Linux supported USB-IDE drive sled
(b) Install Linux on it, using the 15MB partition as /boot
(c) compile drivers necessary for usb-storage and usb-hotplug into the kernel
(d) let people know if I do manage to pull it off. :P
Let me know what you think, I hope this helps someone out here!
Partnetship for an idiot free America