Thin Clients 







assorted thin clients

What's this site about?

It's about turning a Thin Client box into a general purpose computer that can then be tailored to meet your own needs. Primarily the question is How easy it is to get them to run an alternative operating system of our own choosing? Depending on the make and model of the hardware this can be a trivial or not so trivial task. Life is a lot easier these days with the more modern Thin Clients.

When I first came across these devices I often found it difficult to track down sufficiently detailed information on them to be able to judge whether it was worth paying the asking price for the particular model(s) on offer. I have made some mistakes along the way - hopefully this site will save you from the same mistakes.

What's here is my own personal record of what I've done. Reasons for putting it up on the website are twofold:

  • It makes me adequately(?) document what I did so I don't forget.
  • It may be useful to others and so is some return for the help I've received from other sites along the way.

If you have any observations/comments/complaints about what's here feel free to email me.

There is a hardware summary page that lists the models I've had my hands on. Clicking on any of them will bring up more details about that particular model. On the main pages the various manufacturers are listed on the left, and, clicking on any of the buttons will bring up a list of those models of theirs that I have played with.

More general information is available on the home page - which is where you are now. For example the MFRS will take you to a section which covers some of the major manufacturers and their product ranges.

What is a Thin Client?

It is a physically small low-powered (both in terms of computing power and electrical power consumption) computer. It has no mechanical disk and has an operating system and a few basic applications embedded in some flash memory along with some RAM. It's been designed to effectively act as a terminal to a central server. Usually the operating system is an embedded version of Windows - starting with Windows CE thru to the latest version depending on the age of the hardware - or Linux. The "applications" are usually implementations for Windows Terminal Services (RDP) and Citrix ICA.

The concept behind them is for businesses to run all of their applications on a central group of servers and have users remotely log onto a desktop session on these servers to access their applications and data. The advantages with this type of set-up are centralised management and reduced hardware cost as users only need a small, inexpensive client device (the thin terminal) instead of a fully functional desktop computer.

Also, in my trawlings of the Web, I've come across one individual with a largish family who has actually used them this way at home to reduce his own personal IT budget!

Why might we be interested in them?

As they reach the end of their useful commercial life they end up for sale in places like ebay where they sell (or not!) at prices between 0.99p and several hundred pounds depending on the age and specification of the hardware and the aspirations of the seller. So for not-a-lot of money you can pick up a small footprint computer that you can potentially press into service in a way not envisaged by the original manufacturer and along the way maybe have some fun bending it to meet your requirements.

Most of the thin clients have a fairly standard PC architecture and so readily lend themselves to be re-purposed. However do remember that most of these are NOT high powered devices so don't expect to use them for anything that calls for large amounts of processor power or high speed graphics.

What do they get used for?

A quick get-out is "Only limited by your imagination", but some possibilities are:
  • A thin client(!) - but one you can customise. (See Linux Terminal Server Project)
  • Terminal for e-mail and web browsing.
  • Small Web Server. (HTTP, DHCP, ....)
  • Firewall (some models - most only have one ethernet port)
  • Wireless access point (with a USB Wireless adaptor)
  • PBX (see PBX in a flash)
  • An internet radio/music player.
  • ....

I have an HP t5730 with XPe/IE7 that I've set up for my grandchildren to use on the BBC cbeebies website. What ever they end up doing can be fixed with a reboot. (Once up and running any changes happen in RAM and vanish when the system is restarted).

I've used an unaltered HP t5700 running XPe and Internet Explorer 6.0 to check the rendering of the pages on this site. In mid 2010 14% of visitors were still using IE6. As of May 2011 this has dropped to 2%.

Some examples of setting up small compact-flash based web server are documented on this website. For example:

These descriptions generally appear in the 'Linux' tab associated with the hardware I used. The more extensive write-ups (and any general ones) I've also put in the projects section.

Power Consumption

My main Windows computer (a Shuttle XPC) draws 20W when it is off(!), and 140W-170W when it is running. By comparison a Compaq EVO T20 draws 4W when off, and ~14W when running. A Neoware CA15 draws 0W when off, and 14W-18W when running. These are significant savings.

Note: All measurements quoted here and elsewhere were made with a mains power monitor so the efficiency of any power supply is also factored in. Some of the external switch mode power supplies I have can draw 5W-10W with nothing actually connected to their outputs. (I'm not too sure why).


Any comments? email me.    Last update July 2011