Tuesday, August 01, 2006

NEC Versa 4050 Laptop

Manufacturer: NEC
Model: Versa 4040C
CPU: Intel Pentium, 90 MHz
RAM: 40 MB
HDD: 4GB 2.5" IDE
Release Date: 1995

Shown in the back of my 1995 Ford Escort. 11 years ago this was as cutting edge as it got!

You'll soon come to find out that much of my success in using old computers for modern tasks comes from OpenBSD. It's a very lightweight yet functional operating system with quite a bit of hardware support.

I bought this laptop used in 1998 to replace my dead NEC Versa 550 of about the same vintage. It came with a 540MB hard drive and 40 MB of RAM. I promptly upgraded the hard drive. This machine went to the DEFCON 6 and 7 conventions with me. I had been running Red Hat Linux 5.something, but at DEFCON 7 I installed OpenBSD 2.5 and never turned back. Hardware support wasn't nearly as good as it is now, but I was hooked. I spent many an hour with this laptop tehered to an acoustic coupler and payphone, accessing dialup BBS's and PPP Internet from various cities.

Now, the Versa 4050 regularly finds itself in the back window of my car, attached to an inverter, GPS and Wireless ethernet card and used for "War Driving". It's not open like it shows in the photo while I'm driving around. I hacked it to stay on when you close the lid, and removed the floppy/CD drive, leaving enough of a hole in the case to keep it running cool. Recently, I ran across an excellent deal on a new battery for it. It runs for about 3 hours on a full charge, and runs X.Org at 640x480, 64K colors. Not awesome but very useable. I typically use BSD-Airtools in text mode for wardriving. If I must use it to get online, I use links (not lynx) in text mode to surf the web, unless I really need graphics.

I also have done quite a bit of word processing with it. I usually stick to vi for text files, but AbiWord runs like a champ. Sure, this one doesn't have as glamourous a backstory as some other machines in my collection, but it's easily one of the most versatile and reliable arrows in my quiver.


Anonymous said...

hp laptop battery usually have liquid crystal displays and most of them use different memory modules for their random access memory (RAM), for instance, SO-DIMM in lieu of the larger DIMMs.

Colin said...

i google 1995 ford escort and found yoursite, i'm a bit of a hacker too, its surprising that you could still use that hardware and get the GPS and wifi working. Definitly a good use of an old machine. Just wondering Are you able to analyze the data with a mapping software to plot out the points visually though?

Noah said...

I upload the log files to www.wigle.net, and it stores them in a global database, charts them out, and puts them on a map. It also keeps track of how far each base station's signal goes using the signal strength as a function of GPS position. There's a java application that runs fine under X that lets you poll that database, but I usually visit the web site if I want that information.