Hacking up the Computer Lab International et3000w and et5000n

Written 2009-08-08

Tags:Windows CE CompactFlash 

So as part of a bulk deal, I picked up a number of these boxes. Computer Lab(what a name) makes a number of these machines, with customizable hardware as well (you pick ram, rom, and OS).

The first machine is a Computer Lab International et3000W. This little guy comes with:
Next is the Computer Lab International et5000n.

The et3000w's motherboard appears to be some sort of custom, system specific board. Indeed, even the power supply is built into it. Due to the custom ROM chip, this looks like a bit of a dead end. Now, after opening the 5000, I realized it was nothing more than a mini-ITX board. There's a little tiny ATX PSU off to the side, a spare molex power plug, 2x IDE ports this time, 2 SDRam slots, and a bios battery. The 3000 might have one too, but I put it away for now. 

When these things boot up, they show a Computer Lab logo, then boot Windows CE. If you look at Computer Lab's website, you could order similar machines with Windows XP/Embedded or Linux. Also, you could pick how much RAM you wanted. 

Back to the battery. If you take it out, wait a minute or so, and put it in, guess what happens on the next boot - a standard Award Bios comes up complaining about invalid configuration. It seems all they did was upload a new boot image, turn on fast boot, and disable the keyboard messages. However, they seemed to do a poor job. The bios has options for a floppy drive, of which there is no connector, and for some other non-existant ports. So now we can load code to this guy. A standard IDE drive should do the trick. Also, the PCMCIA is really just a PCMCIA->PCI adapter, so potentially you could add almost anything.

The 16 Meg SSD is pretty neat, and very small. Also, it requires no external power, unlike most CF->IDE adapters. It contains a Windows CE .net 4.2 Build with a load of terminal emulation software and some version of Internet Explorer. The 5000 boots up noticeably faster than the 3000.

*Note: The numbering scheme seems to go something like this: et<motherboard identifier><Original OS Install identifier>