Instructables

Cobalt RaQ Jukebox/Drive Enclosure

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Picture of Cobalt RaQ Jukebox/Drive Enclosure
Whither the Cobalt RaQ? IT admins who are old enough may remember these lovely little machines. Cobalt Networks came on the scene in the late 90s with a series of cheap, effective, and absolutely gorgeous little rackmount servers. Lots of functions could be controlled via a series of buttons and an LCD screen on the front panel, which itself was adorned with a translucent blue bezel. For a time the RaQ made Cobalt Networks hugely successful. The company was ultimately bought by Sun Microsystems, and then subsequently dissolved in the wake of the dot-com crash of the early 2000s.

Ever since the Cobalt RaQ4 (and its 450 MHz AMD K6 processor) became obsolete, I've wanted to hack one into a drive bay / iTunes controller. When I started running out of space on the Mac Mini which serves as my living room media computer, it gave me the kick in the butt I needed to start the project. 
 
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Step 1: The Plan - The Prep

Picture of The Plan - The Prep
There were two main things I wanted out of this project:

First, I wanted to use Thunderbolt as my drive interface, so that I'd never experience any performance bottlenecks as a result of my connection, and also because I wanted a forward-looking technology (rather than Firewire, which is clearly on the way out). I already had some SATA drives on hand, so I decided to get LaCie's eSATA Hub. At $200, this was the priciest part of the project by far. But as I've said, I was going for speed. A pair of SATA to eSATA cables ensured I was able to connect my drives to the hub.

My second goal was to make the resultant device as "authentic" to the original as possible. I wanted the LCD, the lights, and the buttons to all work. I decided that: a) the buttons would control iTunes and the volume, b) an LCD would display the current track, and c) the status lights would be replaced with a music-responsive, colour LED lightshow.

I decided to keep the original RaQ power supply in order to power my drives (with the help of some molex to SATA power adapters). Everything else was stripped out. 
Gelfling65 months ago

I rescued a 3i from a local Salvation Army store. It used to be a working web host in the town the store was in, (and surprisingly, the website is still up but on another machine.) Mine, however, the stock 60GB drive, was quickly dying. Before Sun Microsystems became Oracle, I managed to download the Solaris OS-9, and install it. (managed to get an old 486 to boot, and net-install the OS.,) Alas, the poor thing died about a year ago, a failed BIOS upgrade. (Right BIOS for the chipset, Faulty Flash-ROM. ) It ran as a file server in my home for 7 years before I got adventurous, to see if I could get it to use a 5-port USB 2.0 card. (which, supposedly, the 550 BIOS would accept with Solaris-10.)... These machines were serious workhorses when Cobalt Systems was in business, but the .COM Bubble blew them out, and Sun bought-up the remainder.

Incidentally, the LCD, short-pinned as it is, IS pin-out identical to the 1602 LCD they sell for the Arduino. the difference, with 2 less pins, (15 & 16) comes automatic back-light. the backlight LED's are Pre-wired to GND (1) & VDD (2) (+5V). Just follow the Arduino wiring tutorials for a parallel wired LCD, and You're good!

Geekmansworld (author)  Gelfling65 months ago

Next time I'll build an orrery for you… ;)

Geekmansworld (author)  Gelfling65 months ago

Thanks for the feedback, and the great story. It's always nice to hear other people have good memories of the RaQs. I try to tell my friends, but they just glaze over the way they do most of the time I talk about IT. ;)

I haven't gotten into the Arduino yet. Perhaps for a future project!

Gelfling65 months ago

I rescued a 3i from a local Salvation Army store. It used to be a working web host in the town the store was in, (and surprisingly, the website is still up but on another machine.) Mine, however, the stock 60GB drive, was quickly dying. Before Sun Microsystems became Oracle, I managed to download the Solaris OS-9, and install it. (managed to get an old 486 to boot, and net-install the OS.,) Alas, the poor thing died about a year ago, a failed BIOS upgrade. (Right BIOS for the chipset, Faulty Flash-ROM. ) It ran as a file server in my home for 7 years before I got adventurous, to see if I could get it to use a 5-port USB 2.0 card. (which, supposedly, the 550 BIOS would accept with Solaris-10.)... These machines were serious workhorses when Cobalt Systems was in business, but the .COM Bubble blew them out, and Sun bought-up the remainder.

This is great! First of all, I share your love of the Raq, secondly, great work, beautiful end product and ingenious work!

TECHMASTERJOE5 months ago

if you want help i can do the code on how to do everything you did on a arduino Pro mini using much cheaper parts and a single usb port. other then that very nice project, i have 4 of the RaQ's some place in this house if i find them i might stack them and make a mini data server using one of my intel NUC i5's be nice to build it all inside... Or might take all 8 of my i7 NUC's and make a U1 7 node cluster if i pull them a part i think i might just be able to fit all 8 inside make that thing a power house only tricky part is need a switch and cat6 linking them all just think 32 core + Hyper Threading load balancing VM cluster using under 150watts might test this on my network if it's good i know what I'm building ;-) thanks your project has kicked a few ideas my way..

refnoredcard5 months ago

I totally forgot that I have a Cobal Qube stuck in a closet. Had thought of some ideas a few years ago, but your instructable gives me fresh thinking on reusing it for something fun! Nice writeup and thank you.

wazzup1055 months ago

Nice. I still have 2 * 550's and an XTR lying around (also a google mini btw but that one is just a simple blue box) it's about time I decide what to do with them.

Thanks for sharing. That was awesome.

I have an original RaQ which currently holds a G4 mac mini and a Raq550 which is about to be retired.

Great work on gathering the elements to 'frankenstien' it

Geekmansworld (author)  JAYTEE-Tompkins5 months ago

Thanks! Putting Mac Mini guts in an RaQ was another thought I've had over the years. Glad to know someone else was thinking the same thing.

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