Thin Client And Smartphone Step In For 3D Printer’s Raspberry Pi And Touchscreen

It’s no secret that Raspberry Pi’s are a little hard to come by these days. Unless you had the foresight to stock up before the supply dried up — and if you did, we want to talk to you — chances are good that you’ve got a fair number of projects that use the ubiquitous SBC on indefinite hold. And maybe that’s got you thinking about alternatives to the Pi.

That’s apparently what was on [Crimson Repair]’s mind lately, the result being the discovery that an old thin client PC makes a dandy stand-in for a Raspberry Pi, at least in some cases. The video below is on the long side, true, But it’s chock full of command-by-command instructions for getting a Dell Wyse 3040, a thin client that can be found on the secondary market for $25 or so, up and running as a Klipper alternative for a 3D printer. These machines, which usually see use in point-of-sale applications and the like, sport a 1.4-GHz Intel Atom processor and a couple of gigs of RAM, and the form factor is just right for tucking into the base of an Ender 3.

Getting one up and running is a matter of getting a Debian image onto a USB key and configuring the thin client to boot from USB. After that it’s a simple matter of installing Klipper and wiring up a buck converter to power the machine. It’s not exactly rocket surgery, but why muddle through the process when someone has already been down the path ahead of you? And if you want to take it further, the second video below walks you through all the steps needed to add a touchscreen using an old Android phone. With a 3D printed bracket, the whole thing is a nicely complete printer control solution.

Thanks to [Keith Olson] for the tip!

19 thoughts on “Thin Client And Smartphone Step In For 3D Printer’s Raspberry Pi And Touchscreen

  1. Nice project. I actually used a 3040 for a while as well (without any screen, just running OctoPrint), but I found it to be a bit underpowered. After replacing it with a Pi 4 (removed from another project where it wasn’t needed anymore) the whole thing was much more responsive. But if it’s all you have it’s a great option. Just watch out, some of them only have 8gb of soldered eMMC so you can’t just install a full distro and expect to have any free diskspace left.

    1. Thanks for the info – it may be Baader-Meinhof, but I’m seeing thin-client stuff everywhere at the moment, and have just bought a couple (Dell 5070s) to use instead of Pi’s for other stuff. Knowing that the lower-powered (and cheaper!) ones aren’t quite up to the job is useful knowledge.

      1. Also used some of the 5070s for work but those are really stretching the definition of “thin” client. They’re basically just small form factor desktop PC’s that run Windows in -mostly- read only to preserve the flash. I preferred the 3040’s because those actually fit behind a 24 inch monitor, and you don’t need much to run a RDP session.

      1. Nice one, I know that guys website, it’s THE repository for all thin client info, but this one is new (a year ago but it was longer ago that I last visited). I might order a few of these. Although I wonder about the speeds, the 3040 can also boot from USB and it has USB3. With a supposed sustained transfer speed of about 85MBit/s over USB3 vs about 100 MBit/s for SDIO it’s not a lot of difference.

    1. Octorint isn’t that point, and the octorint app is kinda buggy and tempermental. KLIPPER is the point. Which you can also put on a smart phone, but it’s much more involved of a setup process using a Linux VM on the phone.

      A thin client, or an orange pi4, or a Chromebox, or even a Chromebook are all easier to put KLIPPER on, work well with it, and even have extra power to run several machines, out do other things like run an ad blocking DNS, NAS, out other tasks.

  2. This feels like one of those “What is old is new again.” moments. Back in the mid 00’s, I picked up a bunch of thin clients by Neoware on ebay for a song. Most of them were 300MHz AMD Geode boxes (full PC in a tiny little box, PSU and all) but one was based on a VIA P3 socketed chip. I used the Geode boxes all over the place. One ran MPD attached to the stereo. One worked as a print server for a non-networked printer. One monitored the Z3801A GPS DO. Others did various tasks around the house and network.

    They finally started dying a decade later–bad caps in the AC PSU. Given how slow and power inefficient they were by that point, they never got recapped. I recently found them in an office clean/move so they’re all piled up nicely on a shelf. Should probably see about getting them properly recycled.

    1. Why is it always bad capacitors? I work in a government radio facility and 9 times out of 10 if we have a transmitter, amp, or sig gen go down its a popped or swollen capacitor somewhere in the power source. Some of the equipment is old enough that the internals are bakelite boards and tubes so at least the bad cap is easy to spot. I suspect its the dirty power we get when we have to run the backup generators once a month but trying to convince a bureaucrat to fix a problem they don’t directly deal with is like pulling teeth from a coked out badger. All we want is a bank or three of powerwalls to smooth out the supply…

      1. Electrolytic capacitors have by far the shortest life span of any electronic component. If you look at their datasheet, it can be as low as a few thousand hours. For most other components, the life span is not mentioned, because it’s close enough to “infinite” to have no reliable method of even measuring it.

        Diffusion can apparently be an issue with old silicon, and I assume it getting worse with the newer and finer structures, but I have no data on it.

    1. For something like this it might work fine. My recent experience with an Orange Pi PC was that I wrote Armbian to an SD card and it just worked in terms of the system booting and running. GPIOs may be a little more fiddly. I’m trying to use mine for a camera based application which is probably the single worst usecase for these RasPi alternatives. In my case I was able to cobble together a device tree overlay from info in the forums, get the port up, and get the driver for my camera loaded. But the camera still isn’t functional.

      I keep hoping that this might encourage all the companies trying to make other fruit pi boards to work on some bloody standards and convince the chip makers of the value in helping to supply drivers or at least be more open with their specifications.

      But when there are cheap x86 platforms that will ‘just work’ in terms of software that are comparable in computing power, I feel the community will take the path of least resistance rather than try to address the core problems with the ARM SBC ecosystem.

      1. The big problem is that the camera interface standards are closed and no vendor can spill the beans on how it works in enough detail for someone else to make a generalized driver. Blame the MIPI display alliance for this mess.

  3. No need for a thin client if one already uses a phone: just grab octoprint4a (yes, octoprint for android),
    plug an OTG cable on the phone, plug power and the printer to it, job done.
    Wifi, touch screen, camera are included on the phone.

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