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ARM Information

The original NetWinder is based on the DEC/Intel StrongARM processor, along with the 21285 FootBridge companion chip. It also features a Winbond '553 disk/ISA/superio chip, RockWell Waveartist audio, Philips 7111 video capture, Cyberpro 2000 video output, and two ethernet interfaces. See the complete list in our FAQ.

History. The NetWinder design evolved from Corel's video console (a video conferencing system). Originally the product was to be called "VNC" for Video Network Computer, and it was to have a simple desktop with tabs for email, video conferencing, web surfing, etc. The desktop software was written largely in Java and showed promise until it was actually run on the cache-challenged StrongARM platform. The project was eventually cancelled and the NetWinder was re-born as a general purpose Linux machine.

Recognizing the significance of remote managment capabilities, Corel set about to create a powerful yet simple remote administration system. The design started as a series of scripts using the dialog(1) facility, but this was soon axed as being too unfriendly. A freeware program by the name of Webmin sparked the idea of using the web interface for remote management. Attempts to spice up Webmin with on-line help and new graphics failed to impress the marketing department, so development began on a replacement. This gave rise to the "WebServer" product, which was followed shortly thereafter by the "GroupServer" to better address multiple user scenarios.

In early 1999, Corel decided to divest itself of its hardware division and sold the NetWinder technology to Hardware Canada Computing, which subsequently became Rebel.com. The NetWinder remote administration interface continued to be polished and features were added, and the name changed to "OfficeServer" which better described the functionality. Rebel.com developed a successor to the ARM-based hardware platform (see the Crusoe info page), but just as it was ready for market, the company fell into receivership in July 2001.

Hardware flavours. Over time the StrongARM-based NetWinder existed in several hardware variations. The characteristic "Frog" beige plastic case, with green speaker and stand, is the most commonly found version. Inside, the motherboard contains 32/64/128 MB of RAM, a 2/4/10/20 GB hard drive, along with all the standard chips. Later revisions (called the "officeserver" version) removed the video capture and audio chips, along with the corresponding rear-panel connections. The fully-populated version came to be known as the "developer" model.

There also exist two rack-mount configurations, both of which trade the plastic case for a 19" wide, 1U high metal case that holds two motherboards side-by-side. The first rackmount merely replaced the plastic case by metal, keeping the 2.5" disk drive. Later the metal work was redesigned with a separate hard disk board, sporting a 3.5" drive. This redesign also added a power control circuit for software-controlled powerdown.

The NetWinder motherboard accepts a daughtercard in the form of a riser board. Only one daughtercard is in common usage: the default one which features a serial port and a DEC "tulip" 10/100-base-T ethernet interface. There also exists a handful of SCSI daughtercards, and a so-called "developer" card which adapts the nonstandard pinout to a single PCI slot. Neither of these daughtercards were ever produced in volume.

Software. The NetWinder architecture is similar to a desktop PC in all aspects other than the CPU and southbridge. This was a conscious design choice to aid in porting software to the platform. As a result, many device drivers can be used with minimal changes. The Linux kernel was ported by Pat Beirne and San "NeTTwerk" Mehat, based on work done by Russell King. Note that the NetWinder does not have a traditional BIOS, so it cannot run any operating system that depends on BIOS calls.

In the early Corel days, there was much debate as to which Linux "distribution" should be used on the NetWinder. Slackware, RedHat, and a few others all had their supporters. While the debates raged on, Andrew Mileski began porting RedHat and eventually produced a well-behaved disk image that could be reproduced entirely from source. After a few incarnations, his work became the NetWinder Linux distribution, thereafter called the "dm" (developer machine) image.

Today, there are two viable software options for the ARM-based NetWinder: the DM image, which is still maintained largely by Andrew, or the Debian GNU/Linux distribution, which includes ARM as one of its official ports. Note that neither of these include the OfficeServer remote admin features, since its source code is not publically available. In an ironic twist of fate, the Webmin project has continued to grow over time and now far surpasses the features and extensibility of the OfficeServer GUI.

Porting software to run on the NetWinder is now a relatively painless task, for the most part. The development page lists the issues one is likely to encounter.