Neoware Capio 508 and CA15

In mid-1990s business environment started to look for alternatives cheaper than a PC in every desk. IT managers realized that intranet-based or remote computing solutions are used more and more in corporate applications and PC is usually much more than enough. Neoware corporation started to fulfill their needs - they manufactured a cheap, small PCs with terminal software installed on it, called NeoStation. Later it was renamed to just number like, in a "next generation" released in early 2000s, C50 or "Capio". It was not possible to upgrade it too much (well, in this one only RAM in PC100 or PC133 SODIMM modules), they were not as fast as desktop PCs but they were totally sufficient for terminal applications. This is an idea of a thin client, a terminal PC. Capio was the first of a "second generation" thin clients, made around special PC-compatible chips for embedded systems with low power consumption. A new Cyrix System-on-chip processor called Kahlua, later renamed to Geode or GX1, running at 300MHz gave performance of Pentium MMX processor running at around 200MHz.

Capio C50, model CA15,  is a newer iteration of Capios, one of the last manufactured by Neoware before they were bought by HP. It has VIA Eden (Samuel II core) CPU at 400MHz (a Cyrix descendant), a DDR SODIMM RAM and IDE controller. On board there is a space for CF card socket too, and socket for DiskOnChip has been finally removed. These machines were used as a full-featured thin clients for runing not only graphics terminal software, but also web browsers or applications under Windows CE.
After serving its primary goal, these machines often had their second life as routers, small servers or downloading machines.
 


Manufacturer Neoware

Origin USA
Year of unit 2002 (508)
2006 (CA15)
Year of introduction 2001?
Class Thin Client
CPU NS Geode 300MHz (Model 508)
VIA Samuel 2 400MHz (C50)
RAM DRAM SODIMM PC100 (508)DDR1 SODIMM (Model C50)
ROM Phoenix BIOS
Graphics Built-in chip
Sound on-CPU
System expansion bus None
Floppy/removable media drives 44-pin PATA IDE (both)
DIP for Disk-On-Chip (508).

Hard disk: None

 

Peripherals in collection:
 - None

Other boards:

 

Built-in network adapter, Serial/parallel ports, USB (USB 2.0 in C50).
Non-standard expansions: None
Operating system(s): Linux
   

Both of my 508 units have been retrieved from company which used it as terminals for probably Citrix system. Inside its disk-on-cihp modules there was a small Linux distribution with cut-down X window system and client allowing to connect with servers.


Contents: Starting, usage Linux, Windows Hard disk Links

Starting

It boots as typical PC having a typical Award/Phoenix BIOS. Models later than 508 usually have USB boot in menu. In 508, you may need to use some hack-like solutions to make it boot from USB. You can use PloP boot manager installed on Disk-On-Chip (from IDE disk) or into external hard disk. Installing of PloP on Disk-on-Chip may require hot-swap of DoC. Toolkit for DoC is supplied below.
First Capio units can be very picky about memory. Sometimes 256MB module is seen as 30MB, while other as 500MB, filled with errors visible in Memtest. The best method is to check. Later Capio with DDR support are a bit more tolerant.

Up

 

 


Linux and Windows on Capio

Linux
Generally on 508 it works, yet you need to carefully choose and tune it. Geode GX1 is a Pentium-type processor, so choose distro with 586 support. Most distributions creators blindly type "i386" while having architecture built for e.g. 686 (Pentium II onwards), so make sure that it will work in 586, Pentium I - Newest Debian or Arch are totally out of question as they are compiled for 686. This mistake is normal as Linux developers don't think that someone may use hardware older than year and bugs related to older drivers are never fixed.
The easiest thing to set up is network - there is some Realtek chip inside which just works out of the box, it pops at eth0 and is ready.
The worst thing is with graphics. Geode GX1 is specific, it was designed to run in embedded systems in which VGA screen was not always the best solution. So it's not even totally VESA-compatible. By running typical framebuffer or XVesa driver you usually hang Geode on black screen. The only and proper driver is called in some distributions xorg-video-nsc, generally it ends with -nsc.
Not  -geode, not -cyrix - this is for newer chips which with similar acceleration may run at VESA modes. The last Debian version with -nsc driver is Lenny (5.0) and this is probably the newest Linux with support of this video chipset. In next versions of Debian, -nsc driver has been removed from X system.
About audio - I don't know, I haven't used.
To make your distribution lightweight, go with some really light window manager with launcher menu. I set up WindowLab and wrote a ton of scripts to make all programs needed in its menu. I have used my unit to download things from Internet to USB flash disk and it was running perfectly in this function, yet remember that it has USB 1.1 ports only so the speed is limited to 1-1.25 MB/s.
Avoid using DiskOnChip in Linux or do not use it at all. And better remove it before installing Linux on drive. For some unknown reason Debian 5 (anr former Arch 586) wants to install GRUB on it so much that it destroys original Neoware's filesystem.

So let's imagine you want this outdated Debian Lenny (5.0). Go to https://cdimage.debian.org/mirror/cdimage/archive/5.0.10/i386/iso-cd/ and get a netinstall CD. The set-up is straightforward except that you need to give archive.debian.org mirror instead of all of these *.debian.org. If you prefer to install from a "solid" CD, specify the mirror for package manager (put these 2 lines in /etc/apt/sources.list):

deb http://archive.debian.org/debian/ lenny main contrib non-free
deb http://archive.debian.org/debian-security/ lenny/updates main contrib non-free

Windows 98 on Capio 508
It is theoretically possible to install Win98 on first Capio. Below you'll find Cyrix Kahlua SoC drivers attached. The problem is that in some devices, every time Setup tries to make CF card bootable something goes really wrong and system hangs fatally. If it's a problem, it is needed to prepare CF card in other computer, put a Win98 command line on it and Win98 directory with installation files, then boot and install on Capio. Generally Win98 on CF card is not as stable as in HDD.

DOS on Capio 508
If you think about using your Capio as a platform for old DOS games, think twice. Geode chip, although giving more-or-less SoundBlaster-compatible audio, does not supply a fully VESA-compliant video. More, its Super-VGA modes are not compatible and many DOS games will not run.

C50 Quick Start Guide

Capio 508

Capio Quick start Guide
NeoLinux guide
Disk-On-Chip tools package
RTL8019 and RTL8139 drivers
Win9x and WinNT 4.0 video drivers - version 4.03
More up to date drivers for Chipset, Video and Audio for Cyrix

Up

 

 


Hard disks

In C50 installing a hard disk is easy as it already has needed connectors and space. Some revisions even have a nice CF card socket soldered in. Problems begin with CA508.

Before opening the machine, power it off by disconnecting the power plug. Do the same thing during handling machine without exterior cover. The power supply unit's circuit board's bottom is not shielded any way and contains a HAZARDOUS HIGH VOLTAGES. Even when powered off, handle the device carefully as there may be voltage in capacitors.

This is for the first Capios only. Generally these models have never been designed to run with 2.5" hard drive. The connector is for a small board with DiskOnModule or even a CF card. You need a female-female ribbon cable to connect a notebook PATA connector to the drive. Typical 1:1 cable is OK. The drive won't fit, so you have to remove, unfortunately by cutting, a part of upper chassis. Then you will see the nut in which screw may come, this is for holding this board, but don't fit any screw there. This will support the drive, while the other side of the drive will be held by sliding part of casing. Use a piece of foil or thicker paper to insulate drive electronics from mainboard or casing.
As the air flow in this machine does not exist, this modification will make the Capio hot. Be careful and monitor temperature by touching the place on casing in which the drive is installed.
If you installed a hard disk, you should look on the mainboard for LED. It may be present or not, if not it usually needs only resistor and LED to make it operate. Then only a hole and part of transparent plastic is needed.


Links

http://www.parkytowers.me.uk/thin/neoware/CA15/ - CA15 explained
http://www.parkytowers.me.uk/thin/neoware/Capio/index.shtml - Page about first Capio. This is a good site with information about various thin clients.