Evaluating an EBox 4863 for OLPC XS server

I’m in the process of evaluating a really awesome little machine called the EBox 4863.They are small, have no fans or moving parts (apart from when you put a laptop hard disk in), and will likely suit both urban and remote implementations as well as humid Pacific conditions.

I’m still testing so I don’t have a final verdict (will post soon) but so far I really love these little boxes :) They do seem a little warm, but they are designed to be basically just one big heat sink :) If you get one, make sure you get the 4863S as it comes without an OS (and in Australia, the only OS you can get is Windows).

EBox 4863 - back

EBox 4863 - back

EBox 4863 alongside my IBM T42

EBox 4863 alongside my IBM T42

Specifications

  • VIA Esther 1.2GHz
  • 1GB DDR2
  • MPEG4/WMV9 decoding accelerator
  • Dual LAN
  • Compact Flash slot
  • Mini PCI socket
  • 2 x USB 2.0 ports
  • Support 2.5″ HDD
  • PXE diskless boot
  • Wireless LAN (option)

Cost

Approximately $550-$600 (AUD).

Installing the hard disk

Requirements: small Phillips screwdriver, IDE laptop hard disk (3 1/2 inch). Some time :)

Firstly you need to use the Allen key that comes with the box to open the bottom of the EBox, that is the side that doesn’t have the VGA and power. Then undo the two screws on the back (where the devices plug in) and loosen the back cover so it doesn’t inhibit the top motherboard being removed.

Once open you need to undo the four screws in the top section of the motherboard and you need to lift the top board straight up as below. Note that there are two sets of pins, one on each side underneath the top board, so you need to lift straight up to get it off:

Remove the top board

Lift off the top motherboard

Lift off the top motherboard, straight up off the two sets of pins.

Turn the top board over and you’ll see the pins. Take the very short IDE cable. Join the IDE cable to the top board, and to your IDE hard disk. Then you’ll have to align the HDD with the holes in the board which ends up squishing the HDD up close to where the IDE cable plugs in.

Add the IDE cable to the top board

Add the IDE cable to the top board

Secure the HDD to the top board.

Secure the HDD to the top board.

Now carefully put the board back in place ensuring you line up the pins correctly on the underside of the board. Then screw the backplate on like below.

Screw the backplate back on.

Screw the backplate back on.

Final step – replace the cover and ensure you put the correct screws into the correct side. The side without the board gets the long screws :)

Ensure you put the long screws into the correct side.

Ensure you put the long screws into the correct side.

And there you have it, below is a picture of the EBox with a great little 9.2″ monitor alongside my rather large looking IBM T42 laptop and an XO. Welcome to my workbench today :)

The EBox, XO, screen and my laptop

The EBox, XO, screen and my laptop

Installing the XS software

Requirements: Internet access, USB key (at least 700MB)

Firstly,you need to make it bootable from the USB key. Delete will get you into the BIOS, and you have to have to USB plugged in when you turn it on to choose USB as a boot option and to move it to the top of the boot options.

Then you have to make the bootable USB key with the XO image. At this stage I’m still on XS 0.4 for deployments and testing 0.5, but the process is generic. You can following the directions for 0.4 here, or the most recent image here.

I’ve tested XO 0.4 and am testing 0.5. All looks pretty good! Only problem so far is that on 0.5 the graphic card didn’t seem to show the Fedora boot screen, so I just pressed enter to a blank screen which worked fine (as I knew the question would be whether to install).

Update: 0.5 doesn’t appear to work on it, and neither does Ubuntu Hardy. Am trying to come up with work arounds. Input welcome! Error on XS 0.5 (Fedora 9) installation is GrubbyPartitionName. It finishes copying the packages and then fails.

Update II: To make 0.5 work I had to a) ensure it was referencing the correct location for the ks.cfg file, and b) comment out/delete an option in the ks.cfg which for some reason causes it to crash. I’ve updated the 0.5 install page and now have successfully installed 0.5 on the eebox! Yay!

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8 Responses to Evaluating an EBox 4863 for OLPC XS server

  1. 19zim says:

    So the ebox must be installed with XO to in order to work with other XO laptop…

    Can we put some server on the ebox such as webserver or mail server for internal use…

    http://olpcmalaysia.blogspot.com/

    • greebo says:

      Hi 19zim, you actually don’t need the XO to make a bootable USB key anymore, I edited my post. Sorry for the confusion :) There is a script you download to make bootable USB keys on the schoolserver installation page I linked to. I needed it for image 0.4 which didn’t have a link to the new script. Sorry for the confusion!

      You can put whatever software you want on it! It is Fedora 9, so just yum install whatever you want. It already has Apache and other useful features.

  2. James Morris says:

    How much disk space does the XS need? You can get 2.5 inch SSDs now which are not too expensive.

  3. Mary says:

    Dammit, I’ve been considering the Ebox as a home server (not OLPC-related) but if it’s not trivial to change the hard drive, I guess I’m looking for something else. Thanks for the post!

  4. Tel says:

    There are a whole bunch of these devices popping up with a full computer on a small footprint board, low power, usually low voltage and with a CF card. Via have the “EPIA” range of micro-ITX and nano-ITX boards and the geode chip has also turned up in a whole lot of devices too. The prices are still just a fraction too high to be at the “appliance” level but prices have been steadily falling (until the recent Aussie slump, and my guess is that will be temporary). With the geode chips you don’t need any heatsink at all (but they are slower).

    If you want to easily change hard drives in a hurry then consider putting the base system on CF card (enough to boot) and then use a USB external hard drive for bulk data storage. With a 2.5″ laptop drive in a USB carrier you don’t need any additional power cables and it gets a bit more air around the drive for cooling.

  5. Willem says:

    I just installed Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex Server Edition without any problem on my Ebox 4863 with internal HD. It’s happily serving my web site, web log, mail server and name server. Just wanted to let you know after reading that you said Ubuntu Hardy could not be installed. I had to use an external CD as the installation from USB stick screwed up the MRB & Grub installation, putting the MRB on the stick i.s.o. on the hard disk.
    Installing the HD was done by the reseller, so I did not have to go through the hassle of squeezing it in myself.

  6. Filippo says:

    Mary: installing a HDD on an ebox is not difficult at all – I’d say it’s only marginally harder than swapping the HDD of your average laptop. It takes a bit of time because you need to deal with ten screws, but it’s fairly easy. The bit about paying attention to align the pins sounds scary, but it’s actually pretty hard to get wrong. :)

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