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Making an X Terminal from a PC

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the resource-efficiency dept.

X 176

PSwiss writes: "I recently wrote an article for Linux Gazette on how to make an X Terminal from an old PC (486s work great). It's a neat application of Linux and would make a good project for some weekend." This is a nice step-by-step guide ... we posted a similar project not too long ago, about diskless linux kiosks.

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Re:For 16 bit or better display, need PCI bus (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 13 years ago | (#123838)

The REAL problem with a VL or ISA vidcard is the high likelihood that they won't have enough DRAM on them to manage a reasonable resolution.

Most museum piece video cards simply don't support very interesting video modes.

Fortunately, P5/60's and P5/200's are also dirtcheap landfill fodder as well.

Re:great banner ad... (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 13 years ago | (#123839)

There's nothing about a floppy drive or an rs-232 port that makes a machine less stable or slower. The "extra cost" of such things is minimal at best. If those pennies really worry you, you shouldn't be squandering money on computers anyways.

All this "enforced progress" does is cause perfectly happy computer users to squander resources on otherwise unecessary hardware.

Re:Nothing beats my 31337 NCD :) (1)

Big Jason (1556) | more than 13 years ago | (#123840)

I picked up one of those at my University's Surplus Auctions a while back for like $25. It even came with 20MB of RAM, but the absolute worse thing was the (lack of) colors available. It was *black* or *white*, no shades of gray (unless you count the horrid dithering). About the only useful app on the damn thing was xterm, =).

What about laptops? (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 13 years ago | (#123843)

So, I'm a student at CMU and am thinking about buying a cheap laptop (somewhere between a 486 and a Pentium II), slapping a wireless card on it, and exploiting CMU's almost-ubiquitous wireless network to use it as a nice and portable X terminal.

Are there any concerns specific to laptops that would be nice to know? For example, are there any particular types of laptop hardware I should avoid? Also, what mostly determines how smoothly an X terminal runs -- memory, the video card, cpu power, or something else?

Lastly, does anybody happen to know of a good place online (besides, say, E-Bay) to get "outdated" laptops?

Re:Has anyone done this with... (1)

CoolVibe (11466) | more than 13 years ago | (#123844)

I was actually thinking of doing something like this with booting from a cd-rom. Floppies are flakey, y'know. /me wonders more about how I would fit this on a boot prom so I can boot a box without a harddisk and without a floppy, just from the network.

Which brings me to another point (sorry for the offtopicness), does anyone know if it's possible to have a openfirmware-like BIOS for x86 boxen? Because that would make all this just moot point.
--

Re:X terms all the way (1)

CoolVibe (11466) | more than 13 years ago | (#123845)

Hell yes... Thin clients (like X terminals) rock. I am posting this on a SunRay (which has probably less hardware).

What would be really cool if you could put chipcard readers on your X terminal to imitate the desk-hopping usefulness of a SunRay. Not to mention it will run fine (speedy even) on a 10Mbit network.

Oh, more info about the SunRay appliance I am using right now can be had here [sun.com] .
--

Has anyone done this with... (1)

Teancom (13486) | more than 13 years ago | (#123848)

... the Oracle ThinkNIC? I've searched all over the 'net, and keep finding links to old info ("the roo password is 4getit!!!" Wahoo. Like you can't change it by booting editing the iso and reburning), but no links to stuff like "heres what I did, how I did it, and here's the iso for you to download so you don't have to replicate all my hard work. I have the beefy machine to host it, I have the monitor to use, and can quickly string the cable to the part of the house my nic will end up at, but after many nights of both searching and trying myself, I'm about ready to give up. Which would be a shame as I got my nic for free, and I hate to throw away free hardware. Help? Anyone? Anyone?

Thanks,

Re:The more things change... (1)

Octorian (14086) | more than 13 years ago | (#123851)

My favorate platform for a nice lite X terminal is actually an old SPARCstation running something like NetBSD. Sure, it'll probably only do 8 bit color well, but the image quality will be good and you'll get a res of 1152x900. Another advantage of machines like Suns is that you can make them behave more "terminal-like", by running them totally diskless. Net-booting the things is very easy.

Linux Terminal Server Project (1)

itsjpr (16533) | more than 13 years ago | (#123853)

So, what about the Linux Terminal Server Project [ltsp.org] . Isn't that all about X-terminals. What's to important about this "News". The benefits are known.

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (1)

rasilon (18267) | more than 13 years ago | (#123854)

X is affected by the speed of the graphics card that it's displaying with. A 486/33 will be running an ISA, possibly VESA graphics card, which will be slow, whatever you do. Now, running Solaris 8 on an SS10 (40MHz) gives a fast display to a fast X-server, so even a slow box can be a good X client (remember the display is the server, the app runs on the client).
I would reccomend that you try and use PCI 486s so you can get a fast card, and one that has good acceleration support under XFree86. Given the hardware we are talking about, spending an extra couple of quid in the right place can make a world of difference.

Re:The more things change... (1)

bcaulf (30350) | more than 13 years ago | (#123857)

It sounds nice but there are a couple of details missing. X on a shared server is not a solution for high performance video games, or even for CPU hogging stuff like hires video playback or Flash playback or Java program. You can't buy Quicken for Linux.

Very little of the consumer software available on the Web is Linux compatible which is a bit of a bummer. Staroffice ain't Office. Mozilla ain't IE5, in terms of compatibility with existing sites.

Re:486es do not work great. (1)

bcaulf (30350) | more than 13 years ago | (#123858)

Hmm, a perfectly reasonable new computer costs $500... reasonable used 586 system $200... Nope, can't say that I do know anyone who can't afford one. I do know plenty of people who don't have the interest or inclination, just the same as with other toys that require a certain amount of commitment to use. But I wouldn't think anyone who can afford a roof over his head in the US can't afford a computer if he wants one.

Re:Term-inology (1)

MrCreosote (34188) | more than 13 years ago | (#123860)

The hardware is the Xterminal - the software (process) running on that hardware is the Xserver.

Just to confuse the issue, the applications software (processes) running on the (hardware) server are called X Clients

In general, when talking client/server think processes rather than hardware. Client processes make requests (gimme a file/query some data/draw this box) and server processes accept requests and perform the requested action

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (1)

lostguy (35444) | more than 13 years ago | (#123861)

(remember the display is the server, the app runs on the client).

YM, "the app is the client". HTH

Re:The Best Antitank Weapon... (1)

Pfhor (40220) | more than 13 years ago | (#123862)

...is another tank.
Was another tank
Was a helicopter
Is an A-10 Warthog

Re:A good use... (1)

vectro (54263) | more than 13 years ago | (#123864)

It should be easy enough to find out. Download a version of XFree86 from 10 years ago and run a performance comparison against a current version.

Re:I still use my Labtam CT300... (1)

verger (54784) | more than 13 years ago | (#123865)

I just got hold of a Labtam CT320 and am wondering if anyone knows where i can get the boot software from to boot this thing.

--
A pencil without an eraser is just a pen.

Why bother with a terminal? (1)

tentac1e (62936) | more than 13 years ago | (#123866)

The author of the piece used a 486 66mhz with 32 megs of RAM to create an X-Terminal. About 5 years ago, I was running X on my 486 sx, 25mhz, with 8 megs of RAM. Sure, it was slow, but none that of "terminal" stuff for me... it was a genuine workstation.

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (1)

quartz (64169) | more than 13 years ago | (#123867)

yet how do you ever learn to do something other than by trying to reinvent the wheel?

Um, I thought that's what HOWTO's were for...

Re:A good use... (1)

Markos (71140) | more than 13 years ago | (#123869)

In my expereince, isa cards are very slow at 16bit. Droping it down to 256 helps, but things dont look as nice as they should. I have an old 486sx/33 and the graphics preformance of X was just about the same as windows. So I suspect XFree isn't to blame here, crappy hardware is.

Re:Nothing beats my 31337 NCD :) (1)

mnot (71203) | more than 13 years ago | (#123870)

NCD's rock ass. I had two; one of the portraits and one of the square 15" ones. Fantastic machines; still wish I had them.

*sigh*

Peanut Linux (1)

Teratogen (86708) | more than 13 years ago | (#123871)

Peanut Linux runs just fine on a 486/66,
at least the PRE KDE 2.x Peanut Linux distro. =)

Re:Oh, get real... (1)

ninewands (105734) | more than 13 years ago | (#123874)

You just might be surprised to see just how snappy an X-terminal really can be with minimal processor power, given an appropriate networking environment.

True, it's going to cost the library/non-profit/what-have-you a few hundred bucks to use switched fast ethernet, but with an appropriately customized kernel and a reasonable display (don't forget that there are a LOT of old 486's out there with a PCI buss instead of ISA-only) I think this is a very viable topic.

Regards,
ninewands

Re:The more things change... (1)

ninewands (105734) | more than 13 years ago | (#123875)

And ... BTW, the average age of THIS slashdot poster is the reverse of what you've read ...

Regards,
ninewands

Re:Because you're trying to run X apps (1)

ninewands (105734) | more than 13 years ago | (#123876)

Actually, with an X-terminal, all you're running on the 486 is X itself. The apps run on the server and the X-terminal only manages/provides the display.

Re:The more things change... (1)

ninewands (105734) | more than 13 years ago | (#123877)

Actually, the situation is quite reversed from the big-iron days. With AS/400s and S/390s pretty much relegated to their appropriate tasks (i.s being file/spplication/database servers to PCs) the cumulative processing power of the workstations attached to a mainframe far exceeds the processing power of the mainframe itself in a large company.

That being said, let's concede that the average slashdotter is going to have sufficient use for all the processor power and bandwidth he/she can get. On the other hand, this article brings togather all the information necessary for a savvy "system/network consultant" to open the final door to Linux's achieving "world domination."
You can build a world-crushing server-class box for (I'm guessing) under $2000. You can add 4 X-terminals to it (using single-board computers) for about another $1500. Preconfigure the server for your client, using Star Office, or your productivity suite of choice, make sure the whole thing works reliably, and sell the new homebuyer a "Smart Home" package for less than the cost of 5 retail market packaged PCs (plus MS Office on each) plus the router they'll need to share their DSL/cablemodem connection.

True we don't have the depth of entertainment software the Windows world has, but Loki's working hard to set that situation to right.

just My US$0.02.

Regards,
ninewands

Bettter Single Disk options (1)

-tji (139690) | more than 13 years ago | (#123885)

An X terminal is great for some situations, like a school lab environment, where you have a server machine doing NFS for a bunch of terminals. But, in most situations, a standalone machine is better.

For a great single floppy system, check out the QNX Demo Floppy http://www.qnx.com/demodisk/ [qnx.com]

I'm sure similar things exist based on Linux. I think I even saw a Boot-CD based linux system that included a lot more applications.

Re:The more things change... (1)

Saint Aardvark (159009) | more than 13 years ago | (#123891)

But now we have this crap about creating X terminals now. Don't we learn anything?

LOL...good troll.

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (1)

child_of_mercy (168861) | more than 13 years ago | (#123892)

90Mhz machine?

i think your server was a touch slow....

Note the example machine in that setup was a 1Ghz beastie

Re:I'm using this in concept two places (1)

nagora (177841) | more than 13 years ago | (#123894)

I doubt he's ever tried to load a 373 page Powerpoint file. That must be one looooong presentation (especially at at least 1min per slide)!.

TWW

Re:VNC anyone? (1)

chompz (180011) | more than 13 years ago | (#123895)

Yeah, but VNC actually is a bandwidth hog! I had to upgrade my hub to support 100Mbps because a single VNC session required roughly 100KBps when in heavy use. VNC just doesn't cut it.

Re:Its still not as quiet. (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 13 years ago | (#123896)

It's really easy to change a PSU fan. The difficult bit is making the replacement fit, because it might not necessarily be the same mounting. Most are though

The other thing to remember is that with no HD, CD or any other power-guzzling device, the load on the PSU is much lighter.
So you can modify the PSU to power the fan from 5v instead of 12v (connect the red wire from the fan to the red wire on the motherboard connector, instead of the yellow wire).
Result - a much quieter fan!

Re:Never works out (1)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 13 years ago | (#123900)

Well I like the Roaming Profile thingy to some extent: it protects the user from losing things due to BSODs and is quite transparent to the user....The big problem is the "writing" of the "My Documents" part. (You can redirect it to a mounted "drive" on your samba-server, i know, so it is fixable)
If some people store all stupid joke-movie they get by email in their My Documents and also all their MP3's you have to transfer all those files over the network to the server. Very funny if nearly everyone leaves work at about 17:30.... It nearly takes half an hour to log out! (100Mps network...seen this personally)

Re:Because you're trying to run X apps (1)

Auckerman (223266) | more than 13 years ago | (#123904)

"Today's X apps don't run on a 486sx 25 very well."

Unless you are running ssh, X-Windows uses very little ram and cpu. Since the apps are not run locally, you only have to worry about the network and X-Win itself. I've done it. Works fine.

There was a time when a 25Mhz computers were speedy. Those very same computers run Xwin perfectly.

Term-inology (1)

ian_po (234542) | more than 13 years ago | (#123908)

I am not a super X guru so I am recalling this from just being around X. Wouldn't this actually be an X server not an X terminal? Ian C.

Re:I'm using this in concept two places (1)

jsse (254124) | more than 13 years ago | (#123911)

they run KDE, StarOffice, Mozilla, etc. with no troubles.

I'm not going to challenge the truthfullness, I believe you run them well. However, my 233Mhz 96MB box has some difficulty running Mozilla smoothly, and StarOffice requires 5-10 minutes to load a 373 pages Powerpoint slide.

Would you share with us how to optimize Mozilla and StarOffice in a slow machine as such?

Thanks!
&nbsp_
/. / &nbsp&nbsp |\/| |\/| |\/| / Run, Bill!

Hmm... Brazil... (1)

Neurohype (309255) | more than 13 years ago | (#123917)

... I'm biting my tongue on this one because Brazil has enormously more complex problems than finding an equitable way of providing cheap machines to public schools. But, I know regardless this is a good thing, and any executed ideas that proliferate open source to the rest of the Americas just adds another warning blip to the MS's marketing screens. It was a particularly considerable blow to MS exec's in the know to have heard when one of the largest cities in the world decided to phase Linux based platforms to service their 20 million plus inhabitants. The reason being was that Mexico City has broken the ice and many more cities in the Americas will follow suit. Personally, I'm brushing up on my Spanish... don't do the thing Proteges very well.

the interesting part (1)

321603 (321603) | more than 13 years ago | (#123918)

From the article: "Now for the interesting part, finding an old computer . . ." Hmmmm, lets see. Under this monitor: an IBM PS2. Under that: an Amiga A 2000. Under that: an Apple IIe. Any of them work? Now that's the really interesting part.

8Mb? (1)

pilez (413476) | more than 13 years ago | (#123919)

from the debian x86 installation manual: [debian.org] "You must have at least 12MB of memory"
so you can forget about 8Mb...

I tried installing my 486 with redhat7, and it wouldn't even boot with 12Mb, luckily debian would.
I now have 16Mb but running X on it? I don't think so

jw

Re:The more things change... (1)

lurvdrum (456070) | more than 13 years ago | (#123921)

From a business perspective I would say PCs are the WORST thing to ever happen the the computer infrastructure. Back in the "bad old days" before terminals we had punched card interfaces; a complete nightmare. We then entered a nirvana like state for ten years or so where "dumb terminals" were the order of the day connected to remote servers; very little in the way of administration problems, all software installs under easy and obvious central control, net result: stability and satisfied users. Along comes the PC and within five years we have a complete organisational nightmare on our hands, no standardisation, users installing all sorts of crap and then blaming central support when it doesn't work, you know the score. And the benefits twenty years on? Our users spend two hours fussing over the font they should be using in Word documents, underlining bits, fannying around with nineteen million formatting features, attending training courses to learn fifteen million more, and all for internal memos which before would have been scribbled on a piece of paper in five minutes. Where exactly is the improvement here? Nurse! The flannel please!

Good Article (1)

RadioheadKid (461411) | more than 13 years ago | (#123923)

I just wanted to let Patrick know that he put together a pretty good article, and he should keep up the linux hacking and the article writing.

On a side note, it's nice that the *nix's have this graphical server, but if they, and most specifially Linux, are going to make it in the desktop world, X needs to go. It's nothing short of a mess how these graphics card drivers have to deal with communicating between user and kernel space. X is an app, and what we really need is something on the system level to compete in the desktop market. But besides that, the article shows one of the better sides of X....Oh well, enough ranting...

Office Workstations? (1)

LyNXeD (463123) | more than 13 years ago | (#123925)

This could be a really nice and cheap solution for office workstations, especially in the days of the dot-bust industry. :)

Think about it - take a decent box and load Linux onto it, make it the app server, and then have all the users run their stuff on their little 486 X terminal. Best of all, they can't get into the 'doze control panel and mess things up. :P

On the subject of the kiosks - I have actually seen these at the Circuit City store in Chattanooga. They have several of the flat panel display deals where you can search their site for products, etc. Any *NIX and X user with half a brain (and sufficient caffeine content) will immediately notice the style of drop-down menus and the mouse pointer heavily resembles X. Not sure if these are full-blown boxen, or just X terminals.. but in any case, neat.

Re:Office Workstations? (1)

ubermenschen (463170) | more than 13 years ago | (#123927)

I think this is a great idea for a cost cutting measure for universities. I work at the University of Kansas and or IT budget has been cut. We have a million old 486s in storage and this would be a great and cheap method of placing email kiosks all around campus. Unfortunately we nixed all telnet email access and switched to Exchange. Everyone seems to believe it will work better for file sharing and campus/class communication. Personally, I believe that it just obfuscates real tech education while cattering to the lowest common denominator that doesn't care about learning. uber

Re:VNC anyone? (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#123928)

yup, this is why we wrote svncviewer, an SVGA client for VNC. even the lowliest 386 with less than 4MB RAM could become an X terminal. it was small enough to fit into a single-floppy distribution. really useful in university labs with huge numbers of ancient machines.

ganesh

For 16 bit or better display, need PCI bus (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#123929)

XFree really sucks with support for ISA bus and VLB bus cards. Most of those old clunky 486s use ISA and VLB bus. It is a real pisser to see 64K color display in Windows 3.1 but XFree can only do 8 bit 256 colors with the same card. XFree is brain dead with respect to any video card which isn't PCI bus. Some (very few) VLB bus cards can be used for greater than 256 colors with XFree, but only if the address bus on the card and the address bus on the motherboard can handle addresses higher than 16 MB. It is a damn shame that XFree can't make good use out of those old video cards and motherboards. Those oldies can look pretty good under MS Windows, but are a no-show for XFree86.

Re:The more things change... (2)

Jason Earl (1894) | more than 13 years ago | (#123932)

Exactly. X allows me to use my new AMD box out in my fort from my crusty old Cyrix P150+ in the bedroom. It honestly is better than having two computers for the price of one, because the X terminal is much easier to maintain than a second PC. And since the Cyrix machine has a pretty good video card in it I honestly can't hardly tell the difference between sitting down at my actual machine. I even have gotten sound to work (with a little help from Gnome and esd).

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (2)

Jason Earl (1894) | more than 13 years ago | (#123933)

Yeah, that makes sense. However, it's not too difficult to set up an X terminal using the formual in the article. Heck, I wish that I would have thought about using Debian base system as the base for my X terminals. I rolled my own, and it was quite painful.

As for your problem trusting your firewall. If your attacker is sniffing packets on your local area network you have bigger problems than the fact that they might eavesdrop on your X session. If that's the case then one of your devices has already been compromised.

Take care friend.

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (2)

Jason Earl (1894) | more than 13 years ago | (#123934)

That is perhaps one of the most insightful things that I have ever heard on Slashdot. That was the original reason that I set up an X terminal as well. A buddy of mine was using them in his small business, and he wanted to know if sound would be possible. So I dug up some old hardware and I tried it out (it is).

When I was done I found that I had something useful for myself as well. Being able to use my fancy computer while I wasn't in my fort was very nice. Being able to introduce my wife to Linux without forcing her to go out into my fort (which she would then require I clean), was even nicer.

But mostly I did it to see how to do it. Come to think of it that's probably the prime motivation for nearly every piece of software on my home LAN.

Thanks for the conversation. It seems that every time I despair that /. has gone to the dogs something like this happens and my faith is restored.

VNC anyone? (2)

MoOsEb0y (2177) | more than 13 years ago | (#123935)

Why use X, when you can do VNC. Terminal for any platform and you can resume your session from anywhere. http://www.uk.research.att.com/vnc/ [att.com]

Re:VNC anyone? (2)

Adnans (2862) | more than 13 years ago | (#123936)

VNC requires relatively speedy machines on both sides of the connection. Have you tried using VNC on a 486 class box? It's close to unusable and you better have a 100Mbit network between endpoints since it's a huuuge bandwidth hogger (hence the increased CPU requirements). X, on the other hand is quite snappy on 10Mbit + 486 hardware.

If you need to keep "sessions" alive you can try something like the xmove program, available from the Debian repository at least. It lets you migrate X clients from server to server, with some restrictions.

-adnans

Its still not as quiet. (2)

Bazman (4849) | more than 13 years ago | (#123937)

Yes there's no disk spinning and with a 486 there's no CPU fan, but there's still the 'gentle hum' of the power supply.

We've got a few users in our dept with Tektronix X-terminals, and these are silent. They use black box transformer power supplies with no fans. These people value their silence, and would find even the hum of a fan annoying (especially on an old 486 which is going to start rattling and failing pretty soon! New PSU time...). It's hard to concentrate on pure mathematics with any distraction, they tell me!

So can anyone suggest silent power supplies that can be hooked up to a PC to make a truly silent X terminal? Has anyone done this? Can I just find a transformer with 9V and 5V and enough wattage and hack together a connector to the machine?

I've actually done the reverse - hacked a single PC power supply to drive three Tek Xterms! Noise wasn't a problem because there are other machines in that lab, but cost was. New Tek PSU's = about £80 = $100 each. Old 486 PSU = £free = $free. Fun hacking power cables off = priceless.

Baz

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (2)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 13 years ago | (#123939)

There's a simple patch [ic.ac.uk] you can make to OpenSSH to enable the cipher 'none' (no encryption). I did that to let my PS/2 Model 55SX [ic.ac.uk] work reasonably for remote X applications, while keeping the familiar ssh interface.

If you want a 'pure' X terminal with no disk at all, you might as well send the X protocol straight over the network, no ssh involved. But if you have a mixed-use system with some local and some remote stuff, and you have a trusted network that isn't going to be eavesdropped, 'ssh -c none' is pretty neat. You can always go back to Blowfish or 3DES for connecting to stuff outside your local network.

Re:The Best Antitank Weapon... (2)

Bad Mojo (12210) | more than 13 years ago | (#123942)

...is a helicopter.

Now that we've clouded the issue with facts, let's all move along.

Bad Mojo [rps.net]

Booting from a floppy is lame (2)

OpperNerd (16084) | more than 13 years ago | (#123944)

I created a bootrom and now the X-terminal boots from net. I use FreeBSD.

Oh, get real... (2)

wirefarm (18470) | more than 13 years ago | (#123945)

Unless that Dell laptop was in the sub $100 range, you're not even talking about the same thing.
What he's outlined is how to make good use of hardware that is affordable to almost anyone.
I once was asked by a non-profit group to help them make use of about 30 donated computers. (Donated by the NSA, no less - Beautiful IBM tempest cases and no hard drives.)
They had no budget. This would have been perfect for them.
Sure, in a perfect world, someone is going to donate 30 newish laptops with Wavelan cards, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

One of the major strong points about the whole Gnu/Linux movement is it's pricetag. Cutting hardware costs can put one more computer in front of one more user, who might not otherwise have a computer to use.
You really can't see this in a school or an adult training program or at a local library?

Doesn't anybody appreciate a good hack anymore?

Jim in Tokyo


Join the Great Fujisan Expedition! [mmdc.net]

Re:Oh, get real... (2)

wirefarm (18470) | more than 13 years ago | (#123946)

The progrm I was helping out with was in Southeast Washington, DC - I guess that qualifies as third world...
I've personally seen Net Cafes with better equipment in Russia and Thailand - since they are often used for online gaming, the spec's are much higher.

As for giving a bad impression of Linux, I doubt it. I used to use a pretty similar setup to run remote X off a guy's Linux box at my old office. (It was the backup webserver.) On a P90 with 16MB of ram and a 2MB video card, it was surprisingly responsive. KDE looked great at 1024x768x65000. I happily used that for web browsing, since it bypassed the firewall.

I just think that too many useful PCs get tossed into landfills before their time. This guy's howto could delay that a couple of years.

Would I want to use one of these as my main PC? Probably not. Would I use one if that was all that was available? In a heartbeat.

Cheers,
Jim in Tokyo

Join the Great Fujisan Expedition! [mmdc.net]

Re:Why bother with a terminal? (2)

saihung (19097) | more than 13 years ago | (#123947)

While this is certainly true, that old 486 would be hard pressed to run a more modern distro with KDE or Gnome and all of the bells and whistles that go along with it. On the other hand, my school had a bunch of old color X terminals in a nice quiet compsci lab, and I was able to use them to access my computer in my dorm room and run all of those neat things just fine. While a 486-based X terminal wouldn't be as fast as a more modern pc running the same apps locally(maybe) it certainly would be faster than running all of that stuff on the 486 itself - and thus a pretty decent allocation of otherwise obsolete hardware.

I still use my Labtam CT300... (2)

anonymous moderator (30165) | more than 13 years ago | (#123950)

Five years ago I came upon 3 (then old) labtam CT300 X terminal... Nice machine, 21 inch monitor etcetera. As time goes on the server that they are based on has moved up from a 486 to a pentium 200 (adequate, given enough ram), and will probably soon move up furthur.

The remarkable thing is, without significant administration, and no spare parts, they are ALL still working (made in about '91 remember) and in use. No software upgrades have come out since the comany stopped making them about 7 years ago, yet they run the latest mozilla, kde etc as fast as the server! Just upgrade the werver and the rest works like magic! (unforuntately enlightenment doesn't work very efficiently as it uses some new fangled x extensions, that are only 5-10 years old.)

Maybe there is something in this new fangled Network Computer (or hyper new innovative .NET idea) after all.

Maybe the zero administration, low maintanence claims are true, you just need these!

Re:Never works out (2)

mpe (36238) | more than 13 years ago | (#123958)

that's because X *is* a bandwidth hog. It's certainly powerful and useful, but it is also quite bloated and bandwidth-heavy.

But nowhere near as much a hog as the Windows "write back" user profile mechanism.

Re:VNC anyone? (2)

mpe (36238) | more than 13 years ago | (#123959)

Why use X, when you can do VNC.

Exactly how would you use VNC to set up 20-100 terminals?

Re:Bettter Single Disk options (2)

mpe (36238) | more than 13 years ago | (#123960)

An X terminal is great for some situations, like a school lab environment, where you have a server machine doing NFS for a bunch of terminals. But, in most situations, a standalone machine is better.

How is a standalone machine better, you'd be expecting the end user to act as their own sysadmin. (Though if you ran Windows on it this is the situation anyway.)

Re:great banner ad... (2)

mpe (36238) | more than 13 years ago | (#123961)

Help stamp out obsolete technology: destroy an older computer.

So when will you be demolishing your house and car, both of which are far older technology than any computer :)

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (2)

Pseudonym (62607) | more than 13 years ago | (#123964)

That depends what you mean by "compress". Just using lbxproxy might be a good compromise.

Because you're trying to run X apps (2)

BierGuzzl (92635) | more than 13 years ago | (#123966)

Today's X apps don't run on a 486sx 25 very well.

Re:Good Article (2)

sigwinch (115375) | more than 13 years ago | (#123968)

On a side note, it's nice that the *nix's have this graphical server, but if they, and most specifially Linux, are going to make it in the desktop world, X needs to go.
Have you actually done X programming, or are you just repeating 'common wisdom'.
It's nothing short of a mess how these graphics card drivers have to deal with communicating between user and kernel space.
X servers (generally) run as root and have TOTAL access to the graphics hardware. The video driver portion could not possibly run faster, even if it ran in kernel mode. At the same time, since X runs in userland, a wild pointer or lockup stands a good chance of only killing the X server. If it was in the kernel, it would stand a good chance of causing deep file system and data corruption.

The latter point is not academic. I've actually done debugging on XFree86, and it's a simple kill-edit-compile-restart debugging cycle. Few system crashes, little rebooting.

X is an app, and what we really need is something on the system level to compete in the desktop market.
X being an app can actually speed things up. A complex draw that invovles numerous graphics operations can be built up in a buffer, then sent to the X server in one fell swoop. A system-call based architecture like Microsoft Windows generally requires one system call for each graphics primitive, which can be hellishly slow.
...and what we really need is something on the system level to compete in the desktop market.
In a few years, gigabit Ethernet, bazillion polygon/frame graphics cards, and monster Ethernet switches will be ubiquitous and dirt cheap. At that point, the centralized administration benefits of X will be tremendous, and the resource cost will be negligible. Even if X did have the supposed performance penalties today, they don't matter in the long run.

Re:Good Article (2)

sigwinch (115375) | more than 13 years ago | (#123970)

Interrupt handling does not exist at the user level, nor should it.
Signals could be used, although that would be ugly. ;-) A special lightweight signalling mechanism might be a solution. E.g., you could wake up a sleeping X server when the interrupt occurred. That'd take minimal kernel involvement, and at least for Linux switching to the X server process wouldn't be particularly slower than switching to a kernel timer handler.
Also, I believe we're talking about two different points here. You are referring more to the interface between the running program and X. I'm talking about the interface to pass data to the graphics card quick and efficiently.
I was talking about both. For the latter, X is about as fast as possible: it jams the data directly into the video card and twiddles the bits as appropriate. That code is about as fast as possible.
And by the way, all the 3-D rendering and texturing in the world is not going to speed up 2-D frame based applications...i.e. live video etc...and it's a fact that X does not perform well in this area...
Triangles, motion compensation, bitblts, whatever. It's all just math. If somebody comes up with a new acceleration mode, just write an X extension for it.
If you write a video (movie player, etc..) app in Windows and in X. The Direct Show interface to the graphics hardware will win hands down...sorry to say it, I love Linux, but Windows wins that one...
You've hit the nail on the head, sort of. Ugly as they are, the Windows multimedia timers and real-time priorities rock for audio and video. The problem is not userland vs. kernel, it is that Linux has historically been optimized for good batch-mode performance and processor sharing. Windows goes to great efforts to schedule processes *exactly* when they want to be scheduled, and allows them to coopt the entire system if they want to. These are diametric opposites.

I think it's really just a matter of time. Linux has only been a serious desktop contender for a couple of years, whereas Microsoft has been one since the early 80s and Gates's dream of 'a computer on every desk' (remember that catchphrase?). Linux/XFree86 multimedia stuff has so far had a few tens of millions of dollars spent on it; hundreds of millions has been spent on Windows. Hell, it's just in the past couple of years that the video card vendors have started actually cooperating with XFree86. Honestly, if we were willing to spend a couple of billion on X and throw it away three or four times over a period of about eight years, it would reach Window's state of performance: fast but inflexible. I'm willing to settle for steady progress and flexibility.

X terminal? Go whole hog! (2)

small_dick (127697) | more than 13 years ago | (#123971)

I'd suggest doing a nfs mount of your apps so they can run on the PC...on a intranet, it should be pretty cool.

This offloads processing power to the node -- a very, very good thing.

Another alternative would be java apps through a browser w/ the plugin.

This would give you a taste of the "Java Platform" -- central app servers and nodes that process applications downloaded/maintained on demand to network PCs -- something that Sun envisioned some 8 years ago and Microsoft is currently implementing with .NET, C# and whatever the X-box ends up morphing into.



Treatment, not tyranny. End the drug war and free our American POWs.

Re:The more things change... (2)

krogoth (134320) | more than 13 years ago | (#123972)

The point of terminals like this is to have access to your computer from another room - you might want to get mozilla in your living room without bringing 4K$ of hardware with it. It isn't about sharing your computer with 200 people you don't even know.
---

Improvements... (2)

Cryptnotic (154382) | more than 13 years ago | (#123973)

Using the floppy drive to boot the system is pathetic. There are several other options, any one of these would be a better, more reliable boot system:

  • DiskOnChip [m-sys.com] (basically flash that looks like an IDE hard drive, usually used for embedded systems, hence the DIP package. Probably expensive.
  • A small (8MB or smaller is fine) CompactFlash card. CompactFlash presents itself to the system as an IDE drive interface. So all you have to do is load a bootable filesystem on it.
  • A network card that can boot from a LAN. 3Com cards (even the $30 ones) can do this. Many other cards can too. You'll need to figure out how to configure a BOOTP and TFTP servers on your Linux server to get this to work.
  • Possibly the cheapest option (if your motherboard permits it) is to use LinuxBIOS [lanl.gov] to actually put a full Linux kernel into the flash memory already on your motherboard, replacing the BIOS. Presumably, you would build a kernel that supports your network card, so all you would have to do is pass the "root=/dev/nfs,nfsroot=serverip:/dir" option to the kernel at boot time.

Oh yeah, any of these would be faster than reading a kernel image from a floppy disk. Also the machine would be less vulnerable to tampering.

Cryptnotic

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (2)

Saint Aardvark (159009) | more than 13 years ago | (#123974)

Excellent points. Actually, I do remember (dimly...I've had some wine tonight) running top on the 486, and it was pretty much all X and XSVGA-blah-blah-blah...it's been a few months (since upgraded the 486 running X over Ethernet to a 200MHz Pentium running apps directly) since running the configuration I mentioned in the post. But yeah, I think you're right: the compression & enryption asked too much. The main reason I went w/SSH was because of the easy setup of X forwarding. Well, that and a certain paranoia about the firewall I'm running my computers behind...might as well be safe rather than sorry, right?

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (2)

Saint Aardvark (159009) | more than 13 years ago | (#123975)

Hm...fair point, but I was thinking more about the programming side of thing...not necessarily the same as what you're mentioning.

It's all well and good to say don't reinvent the wheel, or read the howtos, but how do you get to learn about not only how to do something but all the pitfalls in doing so other than by doing the thing yourself and by screwing up in the process?

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (2)

Saint Aardvark (159009) | more than 13 years ago | (#123976)

Shucks...I'm blushing.

But I agree: doing something just to see how to do it is important. Sometimes you need to reinvent the wheel just so you can see how someone ever came across the whole idea of "round" in the first place.

It's been done (2)

cthugha (185672) | more than 13 years ago | (#123977)

This is how the Unix labs at the University of Queensland's CS school were setup until the end of last year (they now use "true" hardware-basd xterms AFAIK). The difference was that our xterms were truly dumb; they only ran the X server, everything else ran on a single dual-SPARC box (I think) and piped its output over the network to the relevant terminal.

Worked really well, unless you tried using it the day before a concurrent/communicating processes assignment was due...

Re:great banner ad... (2)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 13 years ago | (#123978)

Dont make X trolls out of your old ACs.
Destroy your old AC -- render them permanently inoperative so no one else will have to put up with old obsolete trolling.

Obsolete trolling holds us ALL back! Destroy old ACs!

Modern day ACs shouldnt have "legacy" (old crap) relic features like sporks, hot grits, Heidi Wall or Natalie Portman posts, or DOS text mode FP's. These features are obsolete, and make ACs slower, less stable, and more costly.

Help stamp out obsolete trolling: destroy an older AC. The tech support workers of the world will thank you.

X-Terms can save lives...well kind of... (2)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 13 years ago | (#123979)

Now, you sound like someone who did the DOS -> Win311 -> Win9x -> W2K path (except for the comment you compiled the Linux kernel on a 386, but I doubt that, I suspect a Troll you know). No harm done, so did I. Just about a year and a half ago (seems ages to me) I started to experiment with Linux. Separate partition of my P-III/384Meg desktop and pure Linux on my laptop (P120/32Meg). You know....just for experimenting. Real work(tm) was done under W2K.
But fortuna was not with me: three weeks ago my workstation screen got busted (power-supply, *urks*). Then I remembered (well, I use it every day at work) that X-Terms could be used instead of logging in locally to the machine. It was some (slow, on the P120) surfing to find a HOW-TO and some hours of fiddling. I'm sure it is not the *best* setup aound, but it works. Everything is fast on my P-III and the P120 doesn't even swap when working.
Could I have done this with a Windows solution? Probably...but not without buying third party software (okay, I know about VNC....no flames needed). At least, I can do everything I need. X-terminals "converted" me: as soon as I have my screen back, I think I'll have some partitions to kill (or at least reduce...you know for the games *grin*)
See, so your so called "old technology" saved me from buying a new screen for the month the repair takes (yup, that's what they said at the shop...lazy worthless bunch!) and my work is done. Neat, isn't it?

Oh, and what goes for the comment about "bad video cards" in 486 machines. Ehm, it doesn't have to be the latest NVidia GeMaxiForce 3000. You know it is 2D most of the time, so think more like an older Matrox PCI card (very good in 2D!), with 8Meg video RAM you can easily display 1600x1200@24bit...My monitor doens't even do that.

Re:Peanut Linux (2)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 13 years ago | (#123980)

Have to agree on this one: Peanut is an excellent distro for older machines. I run the 8.4 right now on an older P120/32Meg....with KDE2 it slacks a bit now, but with KDE it worked really fine (not even swap was used!). And as an X-term, it works like a dream.

Re:486es do not work great. (2)

jawtheshark (198669) | more than 13 years ago | (#123981)

Insighful? Flamebait at most!
Recycling old machines for more apropriate tasks is a noble cause IMHO. You give opportunities to people with a lesser income. Not everyone is able to buy a 1000$ machine (where I live, that's the about price of a low-end new machine) Don't count on second-hand machines (think P-II), they are in comparison overpriced to the new machines.

I'm not a tree-hugger, but think about the waste that is in older computers. Modern machines are built a bit more with environment-issues in mind (more easy to recyle the components), but older machines weren't at all. So dumping those machines just makes toxic landfill (lead for example) Of course, you can still argue that old machines use much more electricity.

I don't think the re-using of old machinery is done by the common Joe-Sixpack: it will be done by knowledgable people (IT departements, geeks). Imagine: graphics card fried, no problem: some of the old machines will just serve as "organ donors".

In your argumentation everyone should be running a AMD Athlon 1.4GHz or a P-IV 1.4Ghz. Now, well: for most work this power is overkill (think secretary using Word, or Manager making a powerpoint presentation). In your mind everyone should buy a computer every 6 months, which implies migration from one machine to another (data, preferences). This is a lot of work if you have a lot of data, eventually getting used to a new OS. I'd say: think again. A lot of people (even a lot of geeks) prefer to see a computer as an investment over a longer time. For me this period of time is 5 years. 1 year Top-machine, 2 years mid-machine and 3 years low-end machine. I am gratefull for 486 firewalls/router at home, and if I can get hold on another a nice fileserver will be implemented. Obsolete doens't mean unusable...it just means a bit more work (and fun) to continue to use it.

Re:A good use... (2)

Auckerman (223266) | more than 13 years ago | (#123983)

"The bad thing is that most 486 didn't have good videocards, and the performance (no XAA?) of XFree86 with ISA cards is not great, even as an X-terminal only."

This kind of thing bothers me. In 95 I did a Linux install which I moved a 486/25 from Win 3.1 to Linux. Back then you did these things the hard way, compiling it yourself.

We did this to use as, you guessed it, an X-Term for our Vaxes. Then, Xwin ran perfectly (8MB ram, i beleive), no gnome, no kde, just an X-term..

This raises the question...Why would XFree give bad performance TODAY on the same hardware, or is it just a matter of perceptions based of a preconceived notion of what good performace is?

LTSP (2)

dalutong (260603) | more than 13 years ago | (#123988)

I have yet to see a LTSP article here on slashdot. The K12LTSP story was okay but it was not phrased in such as way that people would flock to help ltsp development. the only reason i went to irc.openprojects.net #ltsp was because i saw it in Linux Journal and went to the website (www.ltsp.org).

Re:The Best Antitank Weapon... (2)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 13 years ago | (#123991)

...is a helicopter

I know that's true, but I think the original quote was made by some general well before helicopters were a big deal. It just sounded cool.

Anyway, a laptop is actually more like a helicopter than an ancient 486 is. :)

Re:Oh, get real... (2)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 13 years ago | (#123992)

There's nothing I like better than doing things dirt cheap; I still run a 486 for certain tasks. However, your point works best in the third world.

If you install a bunch of 486s running Linux in the local library in the US, its just going to give Linux a bad name and turn people off, especially if see they ever see of a modern computer running Windows. These people won't have the technical context to make a fair comparison.

The Best Antitank Weapon... (2)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 13 years ago | (#123993)

...is another tank.

Likewise, the best way to remotely use a good computer is another good computer; not some POS 486 that should be used as a firewall. (Along with its 16-bit ISA 512K 800x600 graphics card and a fuzzy dim monitor.)

I use a laptop that I got cheap from the Dell factory outlet for this purpose. It is big and heavy with a huge, bright display and a relatively wimpy Celeron processor. I stuck a wavelan card in it and loaded most everything from the Red Hat 7.1 distro on it. No special installation steps needed.

I run web browsing and similar tasks locally (with snappy performance), and I use it as an X-terminal for editing and other tasks that need to use the files on my main machine. It works untethered anywhere in the house, too, due to the wireless network. (Don't forget to use ssh to start X sessions since the 802.11 encryption is "questionable".)

Re:486es do not work great. (2)

dalyp (414417) | more than 13 years ago | (#123994)

"The rest of the world has MOVED ON"? Actually, I'd be more inclined to saying that MOST of the world is still waiting to own their first PC. Do someone a favour and give them your old PC and show them how to use it. If the average /.er is like me, they know AT LEAST one person who, for whatever reason, doesn't have enough disposable income to buy one. If nothing else, it'll give you the warm-fuzzies.

Re:The more things change... (2)

blang (450736) | more than 13 years ago | (#123995)

So what? There was alo Oracle and the NC. Sun tried to launch java machines. Those things never took off, but those kinds of things will always reappear when the market gets it. I am sure many ridiculed Apple for the Newton after it flopped. Now you have a whole industry selling similar devices. The newton was just a bit early, and people didn't know that they needed it.

I could imagine one perfectly good use for cheap X terminals, and that's where money and computers are scarce. You could equip a complete computer lab in a 3.d world high school. Spend money on a fast, decent server, and set up obsolete HW as xterminals. Instead of the lab having 3-4 machines and kids getting one hour of use per week, it now has 20 machines, and the kids get 5 hours per week.

Re:Good Article (2)

RadioheadKid (461411) | more than 13 years ago | (#123996)

Total access, ummm not quite..Interrupt handling does not exist at the user level, nor should it. Frame buffer flipping apps have performance problems due to piece-meal half user, half kernel graphics drivers. Also, I believe we're talking about two different points here. You are referring more to the interface between the running program and X. I'm talking about the interface to pass data to the graphics card quick and efficiently. And by the way, all the 3-D rendering and texturing in the world is not going to speed up 2-D frame based applications...i.e. live video etc...and it's a fact that X does not perform well in this area... If you write a video (movie player, etc..) app in Windows and in X. The Direct Show interface to the graphics hardware will win hands down...sorry to say it, I love Linux, but Windows wins that one...

Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (3)

torpor (458) | more than 13 years ago | (#123997)

Be nice if details on setting up an ssh link between the two were included so that:

1. The X link is compressed.
2. The X link is encrypted.

That way we'd have the ultimate fast/secure connection, and it'd be a lot handier for folks that want to use their X Terminal from anywhere on the 'net...

Generally, a good article though. Note the age of the author - good stuff!

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (3)

Jason Earl (1894) | more than 13 years ago | (#123998)

I did something similar with a 486/33 (20M ram) and a Cyrix P150+ (64M ram) without ssh, and it worked great. It wasn't slow at all. In fact, it was so much like actually sitting down at the Cyrix that it was spooky. My guess is that the latency added by compressing (and encrypting) your session killed your performance. Compression really only helps over low bandwidth links. If you aren't maxing out your pipe, you shouldn't be compressing your traffic.

I don't suppose you ran top on your 486 to see how badly your processor was swamped. My 486 would get to 100% processor utilization just running X. With the compression and encryption my guess is that you just asked to much of your client.

xterminals with Red Hat (3)

FiDooDa (23111) | more than 13 years ago | (#123999)

I liked this better: www.solucorp.qc.ca/xterminals/ [solucorp.qc.ca]
especially the nice setup.sh script.

My experience with X terminals (3)

quartz (64169) | more than 13 years ago | (#124000)

I used this kind of setup in a project at some company I worked for one time, to support the warehouse management application I had written (*please* don't ask why a warehouse management app needed X... thank you). Beefed-up server (multi-processor, RAID, the works) and 10 diskless terminals w/ remote boot and root via NFS. And RedHat Linux 6.2.

Worked like a charm. The terminals were all cheapo 133 MHz AMD's with S3 graphics cards, worthless for pretty much anything else. Did so well as X terminals, they are still using them today. Of course, they were all on 100 Mb Ethernet though...

Never works out (3)

guisar (69737) | more than 13 years ago | (#124001)

I did this with Linux 1.X- hooked a bunch of PCs up to be X terminals for our SGI. Worked swimmingly and really cut down my workload. Everything was great until some dork in Network operations found out we were using X11 across the "enterprise network". I learned something very important during the week following this revelation- X terminals are like Unix- they suffer from a bad name.

Cook up something like the SunRay- give it a funky LCD display (not included) and tie it to some proprietary server software and everyone thinks it's great. Do the same thing with X and "it's a bandwidth hog", "user's will never be able to figure it out" and on and on.

Non- Unix users don't give a damn about the power of X. They don't get why it's useful or appreciate the advantages. They like things they have to pay extra for or tie them down to a specific architecture- we in turn don't understand them or this attitude.

So, I did this in my house. My Cyrix 200MHZ became an X terminal for my kids to play tuxracer and cruise the net. Just don't tell them what's going on. Sell it at work the same way- don't say squat- just do it and spend the extra money on cool toys.

Re:Never works out (3)

sigwinch (115375) | more than 13 years ago | (#124002)

Everything was great until some dork in Network operations found out we were using X11 across the "enterprise network". I learned something very important during the week following this revelation- X terminals are like Unix- they suffer from a bad name.
X terminals are like telnet: less than total security competence, or a momentary brain fart, and a sniffer gets your passwords. If you're a sysadmin, the organization is screwed. Random people doing remote logins gives me the heeby-jeebies.
Non- Unix users don't give a damn about the power of X. They don't get why it's useful or appreciate the advantages.
They don't know about the power of X. All they've ever seen is Microsoft Windows on the console. Let them play with VNC or Terminal Server, though, and you'll make them true believers.

I'm using this in concept two places (3)

autechre (121980) | more than 13 years ago | (#124003)

The first is at the Retriever Weekly, the college newspaper for UMBC. We have 3 P-90s w/ 16M RAM and S3 virge cards running as X-terminals from a P-II 300 w/ 128M RAM. It works great; they run KDE, StarOffice, Mozilla, etc. with no troubles. The same machines were unusable with Win98 on them.

The second is in a volunteer computer lab in Baltimore city at the Agape house (http://linux.umbc.edu/gits). Most of the machines there are 486s with 16M RAM, so they use IceWM and work just fine from a dual Celeron 400 w/ 256M RAM. Jeff Covey, the main person behind this lab, has set them up to netboot using the Linux Terminal Server Project (http://www.ltsp.org). The difference in noise level between 8 486s running with and without hard drives is very noticable! I'm hoping to set up the machines at the newspaper this way soon.


Sotto la panca, la capra crepa

X terms all the way (3)

geoffrey crawford (205910) | more than 13 years ago | (#124004)

I'm posting this on a 486DX2/66 with 16 megs of RAM and a 1MB VESA video card...

It runs Xfree 4.. and uses esound for sound across the network

These things works great. My sister uses one, and I have a second so I can kill X when it locks up my good computer (which the X terms run their apps on)

If you can stomach 640x480 at 8bit... a 386 will do that fine too!

Beauty of these is the sound level... jam the fan in your 486's powersupply, and it's 100% silent!

Using config files based on MAC adresses works really great too. The machine boots, and checks if it has an existing X config file named as it's MAC address. If not, it runs xf86config, gets you to set the initial settings, and saves it for future use.

A p150 with a good video card, even on 10Mbit feels like the local machine. It's really nice.

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (3)

salty_oz (457779) | more than 13 years ago | (#124006)

Over a local Ethernet LAN (which I assume this was done on) using SSH compression would probably slow things down.

There's a trade off between network latency and compression latency. The general rule we use around here is if the link speed is over a few Mbps then compression ain't worth it.

Nothing beats my 31337 NCD :) (4)

ikekrull (59661) | more than 13 years ago | (#124007)

Theres nothing quite like the horror of running X on a 2MB M68000-powered black & white NCD X Terminal.

the 19" monochrome monitor looks cool in an old-skool way, but its unbelieveably slow.

After i bought this machine, i was hit with the shocking realisation that i am indeed a hopeless *NIX geek, and there is no going back.

Do it on your own (4)

joq (63625) | more than 13 years ago | (#124008)


You can download STunnel [stunnel.org] and do this on your own, it's definitely not a hard task to do.

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (4)

Saint Aardvark (159009) | more than 13 years ago | (#124009)

Hm...here's my experience w/that very setup:

Had a 486dx33, 16mb of ram, don't rem. the video card but it was 2mb of ram; ssh'ing into a 90 MHz pentium, 48mb of ram. The 486 was used by my wife (just got married, and boy does that word sound weird) to run Netscape, mainly, w/IceWM as a nice low-end WM.

What we found was that it was pretty slow, actually. We'd done a full install of Debian onto the 486, so we didn't have to use NFS or bootp or the like. I'd say 75% of the time she was the only one running X on my computer (the 90 MHz Pentium), so it wasn't like my underpowered box was trying to run two servers/clients (can't rem. the proper terminology right now) at the same time. And the two computers were connected w/10Mb/s Ethernet cables. But...

Well, we found it was slow: slow to display new pages (ADSL connection at home, so bandwidth wasn't the problem), slow to display new pages, and slow in general. I would listen to my computer run while she loaded pages, and there wasn't a lot of swapping, so I don't think it was that. If I had to guess at the bottleneck I would say it was running SSH on a 486 (one other thing: we were running ssh -c blowfish, so the cipher used would be less processor intensive).

That said, can anyone else offer any insight here?

Re:Nice article...but what about adding ssh? (4)

Saint Aardvark (159009) | more than 13 years ago | (#124010)

If your attacker is sniffing packets on your local area network you have bigger problems than the fact that they might eavesdrop on your X session.

Excellent point. However -- and this is a broader point than merely this article -- I wanted to learn how to do this sort of thing. There's a constant urging in Unix circles not to reinvent the wheel -- yet how do you ever learn to do something other than by trying to reinvent the wheel?

A good use... (5)

Karpe (1147) | more than 13 years ago | (#124011)

...for these X terminals would be to be put in public schools here in Brazil. Some public schools don't have even a single PC. If we could make people donate their old hardware to these schools, and buy a powerfull machine as the server, we could make some computer labs, and better, introduce young people to GNU/Linux. Here in my state, in the south of Brazil, public schools are already using preferentialy GNU/Linux, but that's another story.

But the people who should know how to do this are the responsibles for the schools' machines, most of the slashdot crowd had already thought and learned how to do that.

The bad thing is that most 486 didn't have good videocards, and the performance (no XAA?) of XFree86 with ISA cards is not great, even as an X-terminal only. I remember the performance of XFree with my Trident VLB, which sucked, even for that time. The only nice card in a 486 with XFree I used was a S3 VLB, but those are hard to find, even used, of course.

It would also be great if those IDE "disks" based on flash memory were cheaper. We could make very silent, self-sufficient (no network or floppy boot) machines. The devices don't even need a large memory, or "disk". Good to make some "NCs" (fancy name for something that exists for at least 10 years in the X world :) )

The more things change... (5)

SumDeusExMachina (318037) | more than 13 years ago | (#124012)

Well, I don't know about some of you people (I heard somewhere that the average age of the Slashdot poster is around 15), but I remeber back in the day when we had to use terminals to use a computer at all. Yup, those were the days allright. Worrying about getting your processes killed for taking up too much CPU time, running up massive bills for computer time, etc.

I thought that we had gotten away from this by the early '90s when PCs became common and powerful enough that you could operate relatively comfortably without the support of some big iron. After all, wasn't the whole big-iron-to-desktop transition about self-empowerment? I thought so, because I didn't have to worry about pissing off some sysop when I compiled my newest Linux kernel on my 386 with 8 megs of RAM.

But now we have this crap about creating X terminals now. Don't we learn anything? We have all immensely enjoyed the personal freedom accorded to us by having enough local processing power to get the job done, no matter how many times the remote server crashes and burns. Besides, I have better ways to allocate my network's bandwidth than with a ton of X packets. Like, say, playing Quake III or browsing the web, or transfering files to my Windows 98 box from my NT server.

Plus, we are confronted with the fact that 486s probably won't have very nice video cards to begin with, so you can pretty much kiss a decent-looking display goodbye.

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