Hacking An Android Laptop To Run Linux

A few years ago, someone at Lenovo realized they could take an Android tablet, add a keyboard, and sell a cheap netbook that’s slightly more useful than a YouTube and Facebook machine. Since then, Lenovo has stopped making the A10 notebook and has moved on to manufacturing Chromebooks. That doesn’t mean this little Laptop doesn’t have some life left in it: it still has a Cortex A9 Quad core CPU, is reasonably priced on the ‘defective’ market, and can now run a full-blown Linux.

When the A10 notebook was released, there was a statement going around saying it was impossible to install Linux on it. For [Steffen] that was a challenge. He cracked open this netbook and took a look around the Flash chips. There were two tiny pads that could be shorted to put the device in recovery mode, and the entire thing can be booted from a USB stick.

[Steffen] ran into a problem while putting a new kernel on the netbook: there was a null pointer reference in some device during boot. The usual way of diagnosing this problem is to look at the console to see what device failed. This netbook doesn’t have a UART, though, and [Steffen] had to use an FTDI chip and set the console to USB to see why this device failed.

Just about everything on this tiny laptop works right now, with a few problems with WiFi, webcam, and standby mode – all normal stuff for a putting Linux on a random machine. It’s worth it, though: the quad-core ARM is a very good chip, and [Steffen] is running x86 apps with qemu. Not bad for something that can be found very, very cheap.

Fail of the Week: WinCE is a Noun and a Verb

A few years ago, [localroger] found some incredible hardware on sale: a very tiny laptop with a seven-inch screen, full keyboard, trackpad, Ethernet, WiFi, USB (with support for a lot of HID devices), and a battery that would last hours. They were on sale for $30 USD, and [localroger] bought four of them. A great deal, you say? These machines ran Windows CE. No, owning a WinCE device is not the Fail of the Week.

Figuring he should do something with these machines, [roger] thought, ‘a clock will do’, and began to figure out how to program or write an app for these things. These tiny netbooks did come with a programming language, JavaScript, in the form of the built-in IE6 web browser. This was actually a really, really good solution – WinCE apps formatted for portrait displays just didn’t work with the ‘widescreen’ laptop, and a hand-coded HTML table is probably the best solution anyone could have hoped for.

These machines – [roger] used three of them over the years as alarm clocks – did their job well, even if NTP had been left out of the OS image. The real fail here comes from buying a $30 WinCE netbook, and using it for something as mission critical as an alarm clock. The displays burned in, the batteries began puffing up, one unit somehow wouldn’t allow IE to run (probably a bad Flash chip), and the trackpad in another one sent the cursor on a random walk. You get what you pay for.

These WinCE netbooks have finally been put out to pasture, hopefully the same one laser printers go to. It’s all for the best, though; [roger] made a much better alarm clock with Nixies.

2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every now and again. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

The Tale of Two Wearable Game Boys

We’re well past the time when Halloween costume submissions stop hitting the tip line, but like ever year we’re expecting a few to trickle in until at least Thanksgiving. Remember, kids: documentation is the worst part of any project.

[Troy] sent us a link to his wearable Game Boy costume. It’s exactly what you think it is: an old-school brick Game Boy that [Troy] wore around to a few parties last weekend. This one has a twist, though. There’s a laptop in there, making this Game Boy playable.

The build started off as a large cardboard box [Troy] covered with a scaled-up image of everyone’s favorite use of AA batteries. The D-pad and buttons were printed out at a local hackerspace, secured to a piece of plywood, and connected to an Arduino Due. The screen, in all its green and black glory, was taken from an old netbook. It was a widescreen display, but with a bezel around the display the only way to tell it’s not original is from the backlight.

Loaded up with Pokemon Blue, the large-scale Game Boy works like it should, enthralling guests at wherever [Troy] ended up last Friday. It also looks like a rather quick build, and something we could easily put together when we remember it next October 30th.

[Troy] wasn’t the only person with this idea. A few hours before he sent in a link to his wearable Game Boy costume, [Shawn] sent in his completely unrelated but extremely similar project. It’s a wearable brick Game Boy, a bit bigger, playing Tetris instead of Pokemon.

[Shawn]’s build uses a cardboard box overlaid with a printout of a scaled-up Game Boy. Again, a laptop serves as the emulator and screen, input is handled by a ‘duino clone, and the buttons are slightly similar, but made out of cardboard.

Both are brilliant builds, adding a huge Game Boy to next year’s list of possible Halloween costume ideas. Videos of both below.

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Cheap ARM netbooks have Linux forced upon them

[Doragasu] got his hands on one of these WM8650 Netbooks for around 50 euros (~$63.50) delivered. They come with a version of Android preinstalled, but he wanted to use them more like a computer and less like an Android device. So he set out to load Arch Linux on the ARM-based Netbook.

This is possible because the hardware inside is actually pretty good. The 800 MHz SoC is accompanied by 256 megs of RAM. There’s 2 gigs of internal storage, a 7″ display, USB, Ethernet, WiFi, and an audio system. This is comparable to what you’d get with a Raspberry Pi (without video acceleration) but also includes all of those peripherals, a case, a touchpad and keyboard… you get the point. There are several patches that need to be applied to the kernel to get it working with the hardware. [Doragasu] covers each of them in the post linked above. You can also hear his presentation in the video after the break.

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Android on your netbook

Looks like there’s a pretty easy way to install Ice Cream Sandwich, the newest version of Android, on your Netbook. Actually this is limited to a few types of hardware including netbooks like the eeePC. That’s because the ISO files used during installation have been tailored to the hardware used on those devices. As with other Linux distros, the ISO file can be loaded on a thumb drive using Unetbootin. From there you can give it a whirl as a Live CD (or USB as it were) or choose to install it on your hard drive. We haven’t given it a spin as the eeePC version doesn’t want to boot on our Dell Mini 9, but we don’t see a reason why this couldn’t be set up as a dual boot option.

Now why would you want to run Android on your netbook? We’ve already seen that there’s a way to run Android apps in Ubuntu. We bet some people just love Android, and others just hate the Unity desktop that Ubuntu now uses… especially when the Netbook Remix had a lot of good things going for it.

Recovering a corrupted EEE PC BIOS


[Jeremy] had an ASUS EEE PC 1000HE netbook on his hands which had succumbed to a corrupted BIOS. In most situations, people replace a motherboard when the BIOS is damaged beyond repair, but considering the price of motherboards, especially those built for portable devices, he simply refused to go that route.

Instead, he took it apart and did a little investigation to find out what SPI flash chip ASUS used in the netbook. With that information in hand, he put together an SPI flash programmer using a breadboard and a DLP-USB1232H USB to UART module. He couldn’t program the flash chip in-circuit, so he had to desolder it and deadbugged it onto his programmer. Using a few Linux-based flashing tools, he was able to reprogram the chip with a functioning BIOS in short order, saving him from a costly motherboard replacement.

While some motherboard manufacturers have built in secondary BIOS chips to prevent the need for this sort of recovery, it’s nice to know that the process is relatively straightforward, provided you have some basic soldering and Linux skills.

This also isn’t the first time we’ve seen someone recover an EEE PC from the brink – if you’re looking for an Arduino-based alternative, be sure to check this out.

Add some LED enhancement to your netbook lid

[Mathieu] needed to open up his Acer Aspire One to do a hard drive replacement and decided to add a bit of pizzazz while he was in there. The image above is the lid of the netbook adorned with RGB LEDs and a spray painted stencil.

He previously purchased a set of surface mount RGB packages on eBay and thought that they were perfect for this hack. after removing the case he found that by using a flex PCB he would be able to fit the LEDs inside, and pass the connections through to the main computer housing. The leads connect to a Teensy board, which is held in place with a liberal application of hot glue. [Mathieu] removed the USB connector and soldered jumper wires to one of the computers ports. In the video after the break you can see that he uses the programming software to write some code to the Teensy, driving the LEDs. We’d like to see it set to listen for serial communications and react accordingly. That way you could use it for notifications, as an audio VU meter, to track torrent progress, etc.

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