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What's inside?

A project log for Hacking the AlphaSmart NEO

From Zero to Homebrew!

Greg KennedyGreg Kennedy 07/01/2017 at 01:431 Comment

I was going to open up my NEO unit to see what's inside. But, fortunately, people have already done that. There is a CR2032 coin-cell inside that serves as backup to retain SRAM while the AA batteries are removed. Some power users have opened their units to replace the lithium backup battery, and photographed the innards.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/83235901@N00/5347018436/

https://www.flickr.com/photos/83235901@N00/5346409483/

http://imgur.com/gx9aJdX

So, what have we here? Well, there's...

Based on how the device functions: the system appears to store the OS and applications on the flash chip, do all computation using the processor within the SoC and attached SRAM temp area, and store the users' writing on the SRAM too. This makes a lot of sense, because the device is from the Early Days of flashmem, and it would be smart to limit the number of writes to the chip - like, don't save every time a key is pressed. Also, if the batteries run out, the OS and apps won't disappear : )

Disappointingly, it doesn't appear possible to give space to the text editor at the expense of apps. They live in separate RAM environments. Scratch that long-requested feature off the list.

The USB opens up possibility to read and write to an external drive...


When you install the NEO Manager software, it unpacks a number of files of format ".os3kapp". These are the SmartApplets that you can install to the device. Now that we know the CPU architecture, and we have local dumps of the applications, maybe it's time to dig up a 68000 disassembler.

Discussions

Kristian Sims wrote 07/25/2017 at 10:34 point

On mine, at least, it's a NOR Flash chip from ST, the M29W320EB. 32 Mbit, so 4 MB (x8). It uses 22 address bits and has a 16-bit data output (although one pin is shared between address and data). Datasheet here: http://www.datasheetcatalog.com/datasheets_pdf/M/2/9/W/M29W320EB.shtml

Also, it turns out that one of those SmartApplets in the manager software is the OS :)

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