Ok, time for a mass reply:
I scoured the board pretty hardcore. I found many (as you said) SIMILAR problems, but nothing that is just the same (NO error message AT ALL). I've been trying the procedures listed in the posts of people who had similar problems and those aren't helping.
If you had read the post line, you'd know it is an IBM laptop drive. I got it used from a guy off of ebay, he was selling because he bought a 10 gig and didn't want the 6 anymore. It ran fine in my desktop. As for plugging in - all pins are seated correctly, if you look at IMOD 3 there really isn't any way i could screw it up even if i tried.
Drive jumpers are unset; according to IBM that = master.
Seeing your bios settings would be nice, thanks.
The IO was a demo model i got from a CC for $20 :) It's Version 1, according to all the posts I've seen. No epoxy, all pins on header. Bios date is 10/01/1999. Splash screen has "nothin but 'net" on it. CPU is WinChip v1 200mhz, no dip switches. So basically, AFAIK I have the same bios that you're flashing people with...
Thanks for the pointers but I'm quite familiar with how W98's DOS works, and my IO isn't even getting that far. It refuses to even boot the drive at all.
I'm about to go remove it from the IO now and try it in the desktop again. My guess is that it is probably the geometry settings on the drive being different from Desktop to IO - I *have* tried every setting on the IO but maybe my desktop did something weird with it. IIRC i actually had the drive hooked up to an ATA66 controller in my desktop the first time, where i can't specify geometry settings, so that could maybe be it. *shrug* Oh, and BTW I know DOS commands and I understand fdisk switches and such. I know linux too. (the only reason this isn't getting linux is because I want my girlfriend to be able to play starcraft on it and i don't want to screw with making it work in Wine. ;) Please don't treat me like a baby in those respects because i'm not.
Final note: AFAIK this has never "called home," I've never connected it to a phone line. The netpliance system will still boot fine (if i remove the HD) though, and the bios is still dated 10/01/1999, so I don't think that it has killed itself by flashing and stopped me from booting.
Any more insight is welcome, and thank you everyone for your time.