When Pi Supply Falls Short, Thin Clients Stand Tall For Home Automation And Low Power Computing

Do you need a cheap, small computer for a low power computing project? Historically, many of us would reach straight for a Raspberry Pi, even if we didn’t absolutely need the GPIO. But with prices elevated and supplies in the dumps, [Andreas Spiess] decided that it was time to look for alternatives to now-expensive Pi’s which you can see in the video below the break.

Setting up Debian for IOTstack

Many simply use the Pi for its software ecosystem, its lower power requirements, and diminutive size. [Andreas] has searched eBay, looking for thin PC clients that can be had for as little as $10-15. A few slightly more expensive units were also chosen, and in the video some comparisons are made. How do these thin clients compare to a Pi for power consumption, computing power, and cost? The results may surprise you!

Software is another issue, since many Pi projects rely on Raspbian, a Pi-specific ARM64 Linux distribution. Since Raspbian is based on Debian, [Andreas] chose it as a basis for experimentation. He thoughtfully included such powerful software as Proxmox for virtualization, IOTstack, and Home Assistant, walking the viewer through each step of running Home Assistant on x86-64 hardware and noting the differences between the Linux distributions.

All in all, if you’ve ever considered stepping out of the Pi ecosystem and into general Linux computing, this tutorial will be an excellent starting point. Of course [Andreas] isn’t the first to bark up this tree, and we featured another thin client running Klipper for your 3D printer earlier this month. Have you found your own perfect Pi replacement in these Pi-less times? Let us know in the comments below.

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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.

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Tiny Thin Client Is Small But Compatible

We were impressed with [moononournation’s] tiny thin client project. It claims to use an Arduino, but as you might guess it is using the Arduino software along with a network-enabled microcontroller like an ESP32. The impressive part is that it is standards-compliant and implements VNC’s RFB protocol.

The original coding for RFB on Arduino is from [Links2004] and armed with that, the thin client is probably easier to create than you would guess. However, this project wanted to use a larger screen and found that it led to certain problems. In particular, the original code had a 320×240 display. This project was to use an 800×480 display, but with the limits on the ESP32, the frame rate possible would be under 7 frames per second. The answer was to combine a 16-bit parallel interface with better compression back to the VNC server.

The little keyboard is probably not very practical, but it is compact. That would be another easy thing to modify. Currently, the keyboard uses I2C, but it would be straightforward to change things up. This would be a worthy base to build a bigger project on top. A 3D printed enclosure would be nice, too.

We’ve seen a number of projects built around commercial thin clients. Some from defunct businesses are good sources for obscure parts, too.

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Hacking An Extra SATA Port Into A Thin Client

Thin clients were once thought by some to be the future of computing. These relatively low-power machines would rely on large server farms to handle the bulk of their processing and storage, serving only as a convenient local way for users to get access to the network. They never quite caught on, but [Jan Weber] found an old example and set about repurposing it as a NAS.

The Fujitsu Futro S900 was built up to 2013, and only had one SATA port from the factory. [Jan] wanted to add another as this would make the device more useful as a network attached storage server.

The motherboard design was intended primarily for industrial control or digital signage applications, and thus has plenty of interfaces onboard. [Jan]’s first target was some unpopulated footprints for SATA ports onboard, but after soldering on a connector, it was found that the BIOS wouldn’t recognise the extra ports anyway.

However, after reflashing the BIOS with one from an alternate model, the port worked! The system also seemed to then imagine it was connected to many additional LAN interfaces, but other than that glitch, the hack is functional. Now, with a pair of 2 TB SSDs inside, the S900 is a great low-power NAS device that can store [Jan]’s files.

It’s a tidy hack, and one that will likely appeal to those who prefer to run their own hardware rather than relying on the cloud. If you’re working on your own innovative NAS project, be sure to let us know!

Sun Ray Thin Client Becomes Raspberry Pi Workstation

One of the great predictions of desktop computing from the mid 1990s was that we would all move to so-called thin clients, stripped-out desktop computers containing only processor, display driver, and peripheral interfaces, that would call up their applications not from a local hard disk but from a remote server. It was one that was never fulfilled in quite the way its proponents envisaged, but a business thin client hardware market did emerge for the likes of Citrix sharing of Windows applications. In a sense we have reached the same point through cloud-based in-browser applications such as Google Apps or Office 365, though even with newer thin client hardware such as the Chromebook these are still largely used on more traditional machines.

Even though thin clients never took the world by storm, it is still not unusual to encounter the hardware once it has outlived its usefulness. A surplus Sun Ray 270 all-in-one thin client came [Evan Allen]’s way, and to make something useful from it he converted it into a Raspberry Pi workstation.

The Sun Ray 270 has a MIPS processor board integrated into a 17 inch monitor. [Evan] was fortunate enough to find a generic HDMI controller board for its LCD panel, so was able to dispense with the MIPS board entirely and couple the controller with an automatic HDMI switch. This allows him to use the device both as a Raspberry Pi and as a monitor.

This may not rank among the most epic hacks ever, but it has delivered [Evan] a useful computer and it’s reminding the rest of us that these thin clients can be repurposed. So if one lands on your bench, look at it with fresh eyes.

Of course, if you have a Pi in a thin client, you could always take it full circle and use it to run a thin client.

New Version Of Raspberry Pi Thin Client

It is funny how many times you use your full-blown PC as a terminal to another computer (which is quite often not as capable as the terminal computer). If all you need is a remote display and keyboard, a Raspberry PI would be enough. One of the newer Pi 2 boards would be even better.

You could roll your own set of remote access software, but you don’t have to. [Gibbio] has already created a thin client image called RPiTC and recently released version 1.4. The build supports diverse remote protocols including Microsoft Remote Desktop, Citrix, VMWare, and even X3270.

It supports WiFi and VPN. We were a little disappointed that it didn’t seem to have any serial communication programs (in case we wanted to build one into an old TeleType case). Of course, it is just a Linux system so you can install anything you want or need.

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Thin Client Hack

Hacking A Thin Client To Gain Root Access

[Roberto] recently discovered a clever way to gain root access to an HP t520 thin client computer. These computers run HP’s ThinPro operating system. The OS is based on Linux and is basically just a lightweight system designed to boot into a virtual desktop image loaded from a server. [Roberto’s] discovery works on systems that are running in “kiosk mode”.

The setup for the attack is incredibly simple. The attacker first stops the virtual desktop image from loading. Then, the connection settings are edited. The host field is filled with garbage, which will prevent the connection from actually working properly. The real trick is in the “command line arguments” field. The attacker simply needs to add the argument “&& xterm”. When the connection is launched, it will first fail and then launch the xterm program. This gives the attacker a command shell running under the context of whichever user the original software is running as.

The next step is to escalate privileges to root. [Roberto] discovered a special command that the default user can run as root using sudo. The “”hpobl” command launches the HP Easy Setup Wizard. Once the wizard is opened, the attacker clicks on the “Thank You” link, which will then load up the HP website in a version of Firefox. The final step is to edit Firefox’s default email program association to xterm. Now when the attacker visits an address like “mailto:test@test.com”, Firefox (running as root) launches xterm with full root privileges. These types of attacks are nothing new, but it’s interesting to see that they still persist even in newer software.