Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Last of the UMPC/MID BenQ S6

This post may be 4 years too late.  MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices) and UMPC (Ultra Mobile Portable Computers) have been overtaken by new, lightweight tablets like the iPad. In 2008, this particular model went for a pricey $420 euros or roughly $450 US.

Retailers have recently unloaded some N-O-S (new old stock) inventory of the Benq S6 (BenQ has since gone belly up) at an amazing price of $60 shipped. They had this in cold storage somewhere for over four years!

So what is so special about this device? Well, long before the iPad, this was one of those few UMPC devices to sport a full x86 processor. It was incredibly small compared to its contemporaries. In theory, you can install any x86 OS that is supported by the hardware such as GNU/Linux or Windows 98.

It runs a 800mhz Atom CPU and an Intel GMA 500 GPU. It also sports a 3G WLAN modem and sports some of the accouterments such as  USB and microsd. Unfortunately, it has an anemic 2GB of SSD storage and 512MB of RAM. Later models came with 8GB of disk storage to accomodate Windows XP. This particular model originally came with Red Flag Linux.

So I bit the bullet and took a gamble. Worst case scenario, I figure I could MacGyver jerry-rig this device into something like a MAME console, in-car 3G wifi hotspot, personal firewall,etc.

I am currently backing up the drive image and I'm going to take a crack at seeing what I can do with it.

There is a renewed interest in the device so I'll post some detail pictures for those interested.

Here are some size comparison. It has a 4.8" screen 800x480 resolution vs a Galaxy Nexus 4.65" 1280x720 screen. Physically, the have the similar viewable area. I was cloning the drive with Clonezilla when I took these photos.

Here it is compared to a 7" Galaxy Tab 2.

Thickness. It is twice the size of the GNEX and approximately as thick as a box of Altoids.

This is the default OS running Red Flag Linux. It has some basic Office apps, MP3 music player, video, photo viewer, Pidgin messaging and a midori like browser. There is about 400MB free but you do have the option of adding micro-sd cards and USB storage. As you can see, this device has some Italian carrier branding. I assume this was one of those devices subsidized by the telco carrier.

I wanted to see if I could upgrade the internals so I opened it up.

Here are the internals. From top-left:  sd-card reader on riser daughter card. Next to it is the copper colored heatsink fan. Then the middle PCB may be the flash storage. It is marked PLOTECH E169497. I will investigate further and check the ZIF ribbon connectors. The module with the black cover on the top right is a removable HSDPA modem pcie card. Then you have the battery cavity. The panel, based on its markings, is a LG panel.

The middle PCB and 3G modem removed.

Top view shows the heat sink's opening and vents for airflow.

There is something underneath the motherboard inside a heat shield. The top riser is the WLAN antenna daughter card. I will investigate further.

As I wrote earlier, this post is about 4 years late. You will be better served with the thinner, sleeker, lowe powered ARM tablets/phablets/phone devices that can play 1080p video with hours and hours of run-time. This is a gadget for those who like to tinker. There are a few people who have installed a  slimmed down XP running on the 2GB drive.

Should you buy one? The forty something geek in me says no unless you are a die-hard tinkerer.

Here is a Youtube video of it in action.


  1. 40+,

    I just bought one for $60. IIRC, it has a version of Openoffice for me to use on the road.
    Any updates on your tinkering project?

  2. I got one also and I see that its difficult to get it to boot from SD card.....I think its possible somehow

  3. Excellent Pics!

    I have the 2gb version and it works well with Tiny XP.

  4. Hi,
    I've had one of these for sometime and I also had paid $60 for it. I need your help trying to figure out how to boot it from sd card so I can install Android x86 on it. Your help would be much appreciated.

    1. Nevermind, I figured it out ;) ICS doesn't work with the touchcreen so it's not worth it. :(

  5. Have you done anything with the S6 since this post? I'd be interested in knowing what else you've done.

    I just bought one for 60 bucks, to be delivered next week. I'll see what I'm able to do with it once I get it, but from the looks of what's already installed, the existing applications look useful, with the exception of the web browser. I'm hoping an easy way around this problem is to use a portable app - either Firefox, Chrome/Chromium, or Opera. They all exist in portable form for Linux, so we'll see.

    I found a blog post from an Italian fellow that had some information on adding repositories, but the links he provided in his blog are unreadable, so I don't know of repositories would help. He mentions that the distribution is based off Fedora 7, so pretty old, obviously.

    In any case, I'm kind of exited to see what I can (still) do with this little thing. I still have a Zaurus SL-5600 that I actually use more than my no-name android tablet. The thing's built like a tank. I'm hoping the S6 is similarly built.

    1. I have mine in storage as I was moving things a while back. I haven't had time to go to storage and take it out to play with.

  6. Just wanted to give a heads up for anyone that may still be interested in this little device.

    The one glaring thing that was giving me some problems was the web browser. Honestly, there was no technical reason that I could see. Just websites (most of Google's services, for one) checking the browser version and complaining that it was unsupported. BTW, Coolfox reports itself as Firefox 3.x. Anyway, I was able to install Opera 12.01 directly onto the device using the rpm provided on Opera.com's site (you have to hunt for the i386 versions).

    I can say that it's a little slower than Coolfox, but all those annoying "you're using an ancient browser" messages went away.

    I don't know if this is usual or it was just my unit, but there was no swap enabled. Enabling a swapfile has helped tremendously overall, not just for the browser.

    I've actually installed a lot on this little gem. I've got Notelab, Gftp, XChat, Stardict, and VNCServer (and Client) installed, in addition to the already installed but hidden Audio Recorder, GCalculator, Leafpad, and windowing Gnome terminal. Sshd was also already installed and just needed to be started up (changing the root passwd first, of course).

    At some point I'm going to do a write-up of everything I've done with instructions. The above-mentioned Italian fellow's blog posts helped a lot.

    I'm discovering again how much I really don't like android :-)

  7. Sorry to keep adding on, but I wanted to include that I also was able to install a screenshot tool - scrot. It was just missing one library dep, giblib. So I no longer have to take blurry pictures of the screen, I can just call up scrot.

  8. I'd actually prefer to email this to you and you could just do with it as you wish (I couldn't find a way to just email it to you), but I've created a web page documenting everything I've done to my S6. It seems like I add something to it or update something every day.

    Anyway, here's the URL: http://benq-s6.weebly.com.

    No need to publish it on your blog (unless you want to, of course).

    1. no problem publishing the link. I haven't done anything with the BenQ in months so maybe your efforts will help others. I get a lot of search referrals for it and it lands on my blog.