FreeGeek is a nonprofit community technology center and recycler here in Portland. They came into a quantity of identical Unisys Pentium thin PC's and thought of our needs.

So JerrittCollord and AndrewWoods and IanSwift went about the process of handling/verifying hardware, cleaning, creating a standardized operating system image, etc. This is a typical what we call now "NoCat box" that performs NAT or other routing, DHCP, DNS and of course hosts the NoCatAuth captive portal software. The machines have one builtin NIC and MichaelCodanti donated a set of matching PCI nics that were installed in the one slot available.

There are 9 machines for use in nodes where PTP collectively is responsible for maintenance. Standardized for our ease of parts replacement, universality of platform knowledge, and general cuteness in size, etc. "Because someone gets a phone call"

Here's some notes describing what they are and how they were made, some tips for future similar efforts. Mostly system-level stuff, but also included the application-layer choices.

1) Use a journaling or otherwise resilient filesystem. You're retooling the hardware to be a routing appliance now, not a personal computer. Pull the plug while running, re-insert and 99% of the time it will come back on. We used ReiserFS.

2) Alter BIOS for our needs... halt on no errors (must run without keyboard), enable fast boot.

3) Test hardware extensively. Run memtest86 for RAM, a read/write badblocks scan on the HDD. (Ideally of course there would be solid-state storage instead of an HDD but cost constraints prevent that). Use no hardware that has any problems whatsoever.

4) Clean the hardware as much as possible... take it apart and dust with liquid air. Can be a problem for ventilation and cooling, also tends to muss open moving parts like floppy drives.

5) Use Debian. Intall dhcp, spong-client, bind9. Yes thinking about udhcpd and djbdns (dnscache). Drew's right below, spong is a hog; bind isn't so lightweight itself.

5.5) Install other packages, namely NoCatAuth.

6) have some StandardOperatingProcedures where the group decides on how stuff is done e.g. keep passwords written down in a couple places, use sudo, etc.

-- JerrittCollord

A couple other thoughts, not sure if you want them here. Install, Spong, NoCatAuth (MetaNet in the future?). Possibly worth investigating DNSMasq instead of Bind because it's much lighter weight, A nice DNS standardization would be for the gateway to always resolve as (or somesuch) so that the SplashPage could refer to it for the status page in a standardized way. -- AdamShand

NoCatImage instructions - step by step instructions on how to duplicate a working NoCat box to become TWO working NoCat Boxen! -- Dan Richardson

How to disassemble your clone

  1. Unplug, unplug, unplug.
  2. Remove the three screws holding the case on.
  3. Slide the case off, Watch for strange lip thingy .. ( Stand-by for DUST!)
  4. Remove your expansion card.
  5. Remove the Ethernet card and the ISA/ PCI connector.
  6. Remove the screw in the middle of the case that hold the front cover on.
  7. Remove front panel by squeezing the expanders towards the middle. Make sure Power is OFF. See step 1. You will have to stick a something thin and pencil like, NOT conductive into the front near the power supply.... NOZAP!

  8. Pull the LED/reset SW cable connector carefully away from the pins.
  9. Remove all of the connectors from the DB connectors along the bottom of the BACK of the board. these would be the connectors on either side of the DB9 and DB25 connectors, (DB15HD = VGA) and Two DB9 males. There is one DB9 Female for IR connection, No need to remove that one. CAUTION; Two of these little connector dealies are different than the rest. can YOU tell which ones?
  10. Unscrew the Four motherboard screws
  11. The mobo will tilt from the front away from the bottom revealing the proc and mem. If you follow the map printed on the bottom of the Mobo you could now change the jumpers and replace the proc and memory.

  12. Remove memory anyway. I have never been able to put the board back together with the SIMM still in the board.


A clean clone is a happy clone

(!) Did I tell you how to hack the BIOS ? (!)

Hardware Specs of the Clone

(from a PTP list email)

The outside case has a Unisys and Intel Inside warning logo. The model number is CWD5001-ZA and manufacturing date of 12/12/1996. The processor is a P100 with a 2GB hard drive. There is a built in ethernet connection and one PCI and one ISA slot. Only one slot can be used at a time. There is a floppy drive. The case measures 2-5/8 x 8-3/4 x 11-3/8 and with a fan it is not as loud as my mid tower PII. My guess is that it weighs 10 pounds or more. The CAB has PS2 keyboard and mouse input on the back. It has three COM ports (one female and two male), one serial port and a monitor port. (lurker note-- On most PC style machines the female db25 is a parallel / printer port)


-- JerrittCollord