Hacking a Jukebox

by Dale Dougherty

AudioRequest makes an MP3 jukebox (ARQ), a blackbox computer that is intended to be a home theatre component. With a single CD drive, this device will convert your CDs to MP3 files and store them on its 17 or 30G hard drive. A user, on the company's bulletin board, said accurately that he bought the ARQ not to replace his CD player, but to replace his CD collection.

AudioReQuest has two Intel-Celeron-based models: the ARQ1-20 unit with a 17G hard drive at $799.95 and the ARQ1-30 unit with a 30G drive at a cost of $1199.95. This jukebox computer, which only has a small LCD window on its front panel, can interface with a PC or connect directly to a network. It has a lot going on in the back panel: 1 Ethernet port, 1 parallel port, 1 keyboard port, 2 USB ports, and 1 VGA out port. You can connect it to your TV set with either the S-Video or composite video connections. It also has audio in and out ports. Because of the lack of controls on its front panel, you interact with the AudioRequest via a remote control device or use AudioRequest's software on your PC to play music, or to upload or download MP3 files. Unfortunately, the software interface emulates the remote control, and is relatively clumsy to use.

When I bought an AudioRequest unit last year, I thought it looked a lot like a standard computer. But I didn't know much about what was really inside the Jukebox and what software it ran. The company's production information was rather light on specifics.

Then, just recently, I came across
ARQ Hacking
page, which told me everything the company didn't think I needed to know.
Christopher Richmond and friends started the page to describe what they found when they opened the AudioRequest black box and began exploring inside. They not only looked but they began to try changing things, on their own.

Now, I will probably never follow their guidance and open the Jukebox, and in the process, void my warranty. But I learned a tremendous amount from their various experimentations. Chris describes how to expand the ARQ by replacing the hard drive with a larger one (80 G). He describes overclocking the 366 Celeron processor and monitoring the rise in temperature. He even finds out how to access the BIOS, which he discovers is password-protected. But he cracks that. "After trying lots of AudioRequest specific information (including the cat names: Elsie and Abu), I was out of ideas. I did some searching on the NET and found the following program: bios320.exe," a utility that "allows you to crack the BIOS password if you've forgotten it...ahem...."

I had wondered what operating system ran the ARQ. From the ARQ Hacking, I learned that it was QNX, a real-time operating system based on a microkernel. Of course, Chris could not leave well enough alone. He installed Red-Hat Linux on the ARQ with reasonable success.

"Why did I do this?" Chris asks rhetorically. "To see if it could be done...for fun... ...to learn something new." This is a wonderful hacker quality.