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Thin Clients 


 

 


 

 


 

 


assorted thin clients

What's this site about?

It's about repurposing Thin Client hardware. If you don't know exactly what a Thin Client is then you'll find the answer further on down the page. In most cases the underlying hardware of a Thin Client is actually a general purpose computer and can be reused and reprogrammed to be something other than a Thin Client. This site provides reasonably detailed information on various thin client hardware I have had my hands on so that you can assess whether a particular one can be tailored to meet your own needs.

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.

When I first created the site the primary question was How easy it is to get them to run an alternative operating system?. These days the answer to that is simples (in Meerkat speak - possibly lost on those of you who don't see UK TV advertising). Now it's more about how much RAM you can fit and how expandable the hardware is.

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. Clicking again on the manufacturers name may bring up some more general information on that manufacturer.

More general information is available on the home page - which is where you are now. For example the LINUX button will take you to a section which covers some general observations about Linux on thin clients and some specific stuff I've written about using Tiny Core Linux.

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, no fan 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.

Back in 2011 I wrote 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. Since then the market has moved on and these days (2019) the latest models do have more powerful graphic chip sets. Similarly there are now models with dual core and quad core CPUs, but they still adhere to the philosophy of low power consumption.

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.
  • Retro games machine running DOS or Windows 98.
  • CNC controller running LinuxCNC.
  • ....

One correspondent used one as a file transfer platform. He exchanged lots of data with family on the other side of the world - usually over night. By using a thin client rather than his PC he saved significant electricity costs and, an important fact in the timing mentioned earlier, it was totally silent (no fans).

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

In the early days of this site I 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. By May 2011 this dropped to 2%.

Over the years I've had one set up as a web server that has acted as a mirror for this site and a couple of others that I looked after. As I type this I'm editing the page on my local mirror. When I'm happy with the text and also checked that the html is error free I'll upload it to the public server.

My current mirror (2019) is running on a Wyse Dx0D and the 'How To' for setting it up is written up here.

Descriptions of what I (or others) have done with thin clients often appear in one of the tabs associated with the hardware that was used. The more extensive write-ups (and any general ones) might appear in the projects section or the Linux section.

As you'll see from the site I usually use Tiny Core Linux as my preferred operating system with related articles here.

Power Consumption

When I first started playing with thin clients my main Windows computer (a Shuttle XPC) was drawing 20W when it was off(!), and 140W-170W when it was running. By comparison thin clients, then and now, draw at the most a few watts when off, and maybe ~10W-15W when running. These are significant savings.

Recommendations

I occasionally get asked which Thin Client I would recommend. I find the answer to that to be fairly simple but maybe not always helpful to the person who asked the question. My response is generally:

  1. Unless you are a masochist avoid the early Wyse and Compaq thin clients - even if given one for free.
  2. Draw up a minimum specification for what your application needs.
  3. Have some idea of how much you are prepared to pay.
  4. Look on eBay to see what is currently available at what price.

To me it is the final point that's the key. It is what is currently available and at what price. As we're looking at the second hand market there are huge variations in value for money depending on who is selling it, where they got it from and how much they want for it. Some sellers specialise in recycling old IT kit which possibly gives you a benchmark figure for the market price. With others the thin clients may have turned up with a load of other stuff in an office clearance. In the latter case they may not know exactly what they are, it probably cost them next to nothing and they'd just like to see it (or them) shifted out the door.

I would suggest that you do an eBay search based on your budget. Set the upper price limit and then browse the results seeing what's there, whether a power supply is included and how much flash and RAM is fitted. If nothing suits then you'll either have to lower your requirements, up your budget, or wait. In the past I've had to wait maybe 6 months or so before a particular model I was interested in appeared at the right price.

I had a recent email from somebody with a Wyse S10 that was lying around that he had a specific application for. Unfortunately it was the early model with limited RAM and so unsuited to the job. I'd got a spare later model here, could up the amount of flash, up the amount of RAM in it and post it to him. In the process I'd gain a little bit of cash and reduce the clutter here at ParkyTowers. However a quick glance on eBay showed he could get a Wyse Cx0 with 2GB of flash and 1GB of RAM for £12 delivered so I pointed him at that. Checking again as I write this I see something similar is ~£23. Timing is everything.

 


Any comments? email me. Added pre 2010    Last update June 2019