I found this strange looking device at Goodwill yesterday. Originally, owing perhaps to the bright blue color, I thought it was some sort of educational or kids device. It had no branding on it, so overall, something of a mystery. At first, it didn’t even have the button membranes installed, just exposed raw button switches, more on that shortly.
What really caught my eye, and definitely made the sale, was the clear prototype labeling on the back. So, all of $6 later, I was headed home with a project. “Not for sale” be damned.
It didn’t come with a power adapter or even any kind of labeling about what it needed, so I had an immediate problem there. A standard barrel plug socket was apparent on the side, but the polarity and voltage would need to be determined. It would be a shame to release the “magic smoke” on this mystery device with some sloppy experimentation, so I wanted to tread lightly. I also still had no real idea what I was dealing with, so some disassembly was in order.
Getting it apart was very simple. The metallic blue cover on the bottom of the back was held on by two standard Phillips screws, and the rest of the chassis was held by seven of the same screws. It certainly seems like someone was interested in simplicity here. Notably, I found those silicone button membrane pieces under that metallic ‘battery cover’, and promptly installed them.
Another note about this battery compartment, that strange looking jack on the back appeared to have been hacked in for an external power source. It’s wired directly to what I’d assume is the battery connector.
Slightly inconveniently, the main chassis screws only freed the front fascia, so some further disassembly was necessary to acess the interesting bits. Eventually, I got to the main logic board.
Immediately apparent is the Cyrix x86 processor and chipset. These are flanked by an empty RAM socket, an empty PCMCIA slot, and a third unique type of slot that I didn’t recognize at first but was filled.
That turned out to be a solid-state DiskOnChip DIMM. Looks like this one is 32mb.
Some simple work with a multimeter confirmed that the power socket was center-positive. A datasheet of a power regulator chip found on the board suggested an input voltage range of 4-14V. With this, I was comfortable enough to start experimenting with an actual power source.
It’s alive! 9V seems to do the trick. It relatively quickly booted into a very spartan Linux installation, featuring only a software keyboard and the Netscape web browser. There isn’t much more to poke around at than that at the moment, despite my attempts. No networking hardware is currently installed. I would take an educated guess that the PCMCIA slot was intended for an early Wi-Fi network card.
This is backed up by some stuff I found on the internet while googling various permutations of Cyrix, National Semiconductor, and WebPad. Looks like the WebPad was a reference design developed by Cyrix for a late-90s era wireless internet appliance. If you’ll forgive the simplification, this was the first iPad in an era where people didn’t even know that internet could be wireless.
TV Show including a segment about the WebPad prototype: https://archive.org/details/CC1634COMDEX
So, that’s what I have so far. I’ll continue to explore what I can do with this device, and maybe I’ll have an update with more at some point.
Thanks for reading! If you’ve got any information or ideas about this device, don’t hesitate to reach out.
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