DIY Dev Kit – thin clients

July 25th, 2015

A thin client is not a mini sized PC.

A thin client comes with a (very) limited OS,  like WinCE or a dedicated Linux distro, which main feature is to load a virtual system from a network server.
Let’s see it like a window to another OS installed on a dedicated hardware somewhere on your network.

If this virtual system and this main network server don’t exist, a thin client is NOTHING, just a friend of dust.

So will I show you how to setup a virtual system on a dedicated server, just for genny development ?
Of course no !

A thin client is not a full featured PC, I won’t be able to watch youtube nor play games, not even with Fusion I thing
BUT it comes with the minimal features I need :

  • x86 compatible : so any lightweight Linux distribution and software will work on it
    DOS should work too but I don’t want to fight with USB drivers for ex
  • ethernet
  • parallel port, dedicated to Super Magic Drive
  • serial ports (3 if you expect to fake JOY1, JOY2 and EXT ports at the same time)
  • USB ports (at least 2, one for USB Boot, one for usb-to-serial comm)
  • need only a few watts to works
  • silent / fanless
  • (keyboard and VGA for easy debug and maintenance)

Side note : the only thing missing on thin client is GPIO, else it will be easier to learn electronic with a thin client than with an Arduino or a Teensy


How did I select my thin client, heart of my DevKit ?

I just looked for thin clients on eBay or similar, looking for a very cheap one (the expensive ones are overkill for what I need to do).
Everytimes I found one, I opened the website of  David Parkinson, a guy who, like me, share as much information as possible on the subject he likes the most : thin clients.

So, if he posted a test on the thin client I found, I checked the available options and how hard it was for him to make a linux to work on it.
Not listed on his website ? not for me !
He needed to make some bios or hardware update ? hidden cost and lost time for sure  so not for me !
USB boot, lot of ports, easy to update ? let place a bid !

I was not looking for the “best” but for one which suit my need at a very low price.
In the end, I bought 3 thin clients (total price < 40€), in case of failure, wrong selection or hardware problems.

I selected the Neoware CA21 as a perfect match for my first try, since Neoware was perhaps the best thin client solution some years ago.
It also explain why HP bought it !

See you in some days for more details on my success or failure to boot it with all the software side of the project ready to use.

Posted by KanedaFr

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