Get to know the versatile eWay TK-63T--and install a hard drive yourself

Justin James is building a low-energy UNIX server using the fanless eWay TK-63T bare bones system. Step one: A look at the system (and the adventure of ordering it), along with an illustrated walk-through of the hard drive installation process.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download. For a complete set of images illustrating the hard drive install, be sure to check out this photo gallery.

The eWay TK-63T computer system (Figure A) is an extremely small, energy sipping system that is perfect as a router, gateway, or other networking device. It sports all of the connections you would expect to see on the back panel of any normal PC (USB, VGA output, parallel port, PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports) and two 10/100 NICs. It also has a slot for a compact flash card.

Figure A

The box and drive CD-ROM for the TK-63T

Although eWay sells even smaller systems, the TK-63T is a great fit for networking projects, due to the dual NICs. The model I ordered was outfitted with 256 MB of RAM as well as an 800 MHz VIA EDEN CPU. eWay also offers to install a 2.5-inch hard drive for a substantial price increase. Thanks to its low power usage and low speed CPU, the TK-63T contains only heat sinks. Unless you add a hard drive, it contains no moving parts other than the compact flash ejection button, a rocker switch for power on the back, and a power switch on the front. As configured, this system was $220 when purchased singly; eWay offers discounts for larger orders.

Since I wanted to enable this system to run a larger OS and provide caching abilities, as well as store log files, I decided to install a hard drive instead of using a USB key or compact flash disk. I ordered a 20 GB Samsung MP0201H notebook drive from for $29.99. This drive is not great on the price/size ratio, but I didn't really need more than 20 GB for this project.

Hurry up and wait

Ordering from eWay was rather interesting. It's located in Taiwan, and its Web site does not have any online ordering or order tracking capabilities. All orders and communications are done through e-mail, and transactions are performed by international wire transfer. I was rather nervous about this process, to be honest. Because of the time differences, it took about a week for me to place and confirm my order and to make sure that payment had been received.

As a side note, shipping and handling (Airmail) was $30, and my bank charged me $40 for the wire transfer, which adds a lot of overhead to the order. I suggest that you buy as many as you need at one time to minimize the impact of wire transfer fees on the per-unit price. Unfortunately, eWay took nearly a month to ship my order. Even after the unit had been shipped, I could not figure out how to track it. This is not eWay's fault; apparently, the English version of the Taiwanese Post Office Web site does not properly track packages. It took nearly two weeks for the package to arrive.

Package contents

The package arrived in excellent shape, and the unit was extremely well padded in the package. eWay also included a driver CD, which was a burned CD-ROM with no label or markings on it. eWay definitely seems to be a small operation. Ordering was successful despite my fears, but if you need to buy something ASAP, look somewhere else. Besides the CD-ROM, eWay provided an invoice in the package, a small Allen wrench for opening the unit, a short 25-pin IDE/power cable for 2.5-inch notebook drives, four screws for securing a hard drive, a stand to hold the unit in a vertical position, and a power cord (Figure B). All parts, including the unit, have an outstanding feeling of durability and quality craftsmanship. My only complaint is that the stand lacks rubber feet (you can buy small rubber feet at RadioShack for a dollar or two) and that the unit does not lock into the stand at all.

Figure B

The TK-63T inventory: A stand, four drive screws, a 2.5-inch IDE cable, an Allen, and a power cord

Hard drive installation

Installing the hard drive was quite an adventure. No manual was provided, so I had to feel my way through the process. Here are directions to get you through it safely.

  1. Remove the four Allen head bolts on the side of the unit that has the compact flash slot (the bottom) and remove the cover (Figure C).

Figure C

The TK-63T with the bottom removed
  1. Remove the four screws holding the top circuit board.
  2. Gently pop the metal top of the compact flash reader off by prying under one side and lifting off.
  3. Pulling straight up, remove the top circuit board (Figure D). I had to use a small pick with a 90-degree bend to get the board off because the connector pins to the lower board were so tight. I hooked the pick through the screw holes, made sure that the pick tip was flat across the board (I did not want to pry and crack the board), and pulled straight up. This is the hardest part of the process, and if you break something, this is when it will happen.

Figure D

The TK-63T with the top circuit board removed
  1. Connect the IDE cable to the hard drive, aligning the red strip with pin #1 on the drive, which is usually marked or labeled. The drive should also have a slot on it to ensure that the cable can be installed only one way.
  2. Make sure that the drive is jumpered to be the primary drive. On the drive I used, there were no jumpers on the selector block.
  3. Connect the other hand of the cable to the IDE connector on the circuit board, making sure to align the red strip with pin #1. You shouldn't need to twist the IDE cable (and it's too short to let you twist it).
  4. Mount the hard drive on the top of the removed board, securing it with the included screws. Put the screws through the board, from the bottom to the top (Figure E). The drive's pins should point toward the IDE connector on the board. Make sure that the IDE cable is neatly folded and securely attached. Figure F shows the top circuit board with the hard drive installed. Notice that I removed the metal cover of the compact flash reader to make it easier to reinstall the board.

Figure E

Location of screws securing the drive to the board

Figure F

The top circuit board with the hard drive installed
  1. Align the top circuit board, using the mounts in the bottom circuit board as a guide, and gently push down. Remember, you are connecting two sets of pins in this process, so take your time and make sure that everything is aligned right. A mistake here could potentially be disastrous.
  2. Screw the top circuit board into place (Figure G).

Figure G

The TK-63T with the top circuit board reinstalled and the hard drive mounted
  1. Make sure that the drive selection jumper on the top circuit board as well as the hard drive are set to Master before resealing the unit (Figure H).

Figure H

Proper settings for drive selection jumper and hard drive
  1. Snap the metal top to the compact flash reader back on.
  2. Screw the case back together.

You are done! If all went well, you should now have a hard drive installed in your TK-63T at a much better price than eWay would have charged. If you do not feel comfortable performing this task, I suggest that you pay eWay the premium for the factory-installed hard drive. I did not feel comfortable when I was separating the boards, and I am quite experienced with PC hardware; my photographer was too nervous to watch.

Your TK-63T is now ready for its first boot-up to verify the hardware installation and to install the operating system. You can boot off of any USB device, PXE boot, and the compact flash card. In an upcoming article, I will show you how to install and configure the TK-63T with IPCop to act as a router, gateway, virus scanner, spam filter, firewall, VPN gateway, and more.