[conspire] Cobalt Qube2 revival

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Feb 9 13:10:14 PST 2006

Daniel wrote:

> I was more curious about the Cobalt Qube, but the NetWinder is
> interesting, too. IIRC, the voltage on the Qube's power supply would
> trail off. 

They were notoriously weak, that being people's biggest complaint about
them.  I've just sprung $15 on eBay for a replacement, beefier PSU
intended for HP Omnibook laptops:  One can hack those (re-soldering to
the Qube PSU's plug) to make them Qube-compliant.

We got our Qube2 in 2001 as a gift from a co-worker who used to be a
Cobalt employee, prior to that company being emborged by Sun
Microsystems.  He warned us it had (ta-da!) a dodgy power supply.
This will be our first effort to fix it, and, in particular, I have 
no idea how much RAM is currently in it.  

It's similar to the NetWinder, and yet different:


o  Exotic, anemic CPU:  250MHz little-endian MIPS5000-family (Quantum
   Effects model QM5231), versus 275Mhz StrongArm in the NetWinder.
o  Tiny, very quiet, power-thrifty unit that runs cool.
o  Exotic, problematic RAM:  3.3V SIMMs, versus 32-bit-wide SODIMMs.
o  Theoretical ability to support 256MB of RAM.
o  Shipped with a hideously vulnerable Red Hat fork using a 2.0.x
   kernel unable to support large hard drives.  OS replacement requires
   a tricky exercise in netbooting.
o  Currently maintained OS options are Debian and NetBSD.
o  Completely and hopelessly orphaned hardware, such that even many 
   of the hobbyist Web pages are findable only through Internet Archive.


o  Qube's CPU does floating point.  NetWinder can also handle FPU code, 
   but only through software emulation (very slow).
o  NetWinder has much less physical room to work with.  E.g., it can 
   accept a maximum of one laptop IDE HD.  The Qube is about 8" per
   side, and can support two standard-sized IDE drives.
o  NetWinder has PS/2 and monitor connectors.  Qube has no way to
   connect monitor, keyboard, or CD-ROM.  (It's intended to be a 
   network appliance.)
o  The Qube therefore completely lacks the NetWinder's hardware to 
   handle streaming video, and doesn't even have a sound chip.
o  Both of the Qube's ethernet ports are 100Mbps, versus one on the 
o  The NetWinder will need a firmware reflash (fortunately easy) before
   you can add a decent HD, which won't be necessary with the Qube.

The key difference for my household is that more RAM for the Qube turns
out to be feasible and not too expensive, thanks to S.A. Technologies in
San Jose, who keep impressing me:
http://www.satech.com/128mb-cobalt-qube-2.html  I can max out the Qube
for $98 plus tax.

And, with minor work, I can have up to two PATA (regular IDE) hard drive
of any size:  http://www.shon.org/qube/

So, in short, it's going to become my family's MP3 / icecast server,
when its hardware is working again, and it has a real OS.

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