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where to buy cheap, low power, small, diskless systems for thin clients and network appliances?

Discussion in 'Embedded' started by Tim Wilfong, Oct 19, 2004.

  1. Tim Wilfong

    Tim Wilfong Guest

    (long post warning: only read if you are a vendor that sells low power,
    small footprint, mini PC or thin client systems or are like me and are
    searching for good places to buy them at decent prices)

    I am looking for sources to buy low-power (as in watts consumed)
    small-footprint systems based on processors like the Geode GX1, Via C3,
    SiS55x LV, Transmeta Crusoe, and STPC. I would like to find a single vendor
    or at least a small number of vendors that I can either 1) buy whole systems
    from, or 2) buy the parts to assemble my own systems, preferably #1. My
    goal is to standardize on a single system or small set of systems that can
    be very flexible in their applications and used for various thin client and
    other low-power network applications. Vendors, please feel free to reply to
    the post or email me, but only if you can meet all of the requirements
    outlined below.

    All systems should use less than 20 watts of power and be under $250 per
    unit (purchased one unit at a time,) including shipping and everything the
    system needs to work other than a monitor, keyboard and mouse -- no hidden
    costs. If they are cheap enough then they can consume a bit more power,
    maybe as much as 25W, but they ought to be fanless (if possible) and very
    quiet. Quantity discounts would be nice but I won't be buying more than
    10-20 at a time. They should be small -- no more than about 1/3 cubic foot
    (9 liters) and hopefully much smaller. Need to have connections for at
    least: keyboard, mouse (except system 3), ethernet (10/100bT), VGA monitor,
    and at least one printer, serial, or USB port. They should all be capable of
    booting via PXE or have a bootable flash drive with at least 32MB that
    emulates an IDE hard drive, or both, and in all ways emulate the PC
    architecture so that x86 Linux distributions and other x86 OSes will run
    with little or no modification (except system #3.)

    Price is a big factor in deciding which systems and/or parts I go with, and
    no system over $250 will be considered. But, so long as the system is under
    that price point, then factors such as small size, low power consumption,
    low noise, extra features (more RAM, more connectors, external audio
    connectors, etc.) will matter as much as price.

    Requirements for 3 different systems I'm looking for:

    System 1:
    under $250
    128MB RAM
    32MB Flash drive (bootable, emulates IDE hard drive)
    10/100 Ethernet port (PXE bootable)
    VGA port with accelerated 2D/3D engine
    Audio output
    PS/2 or USB Keyboard and Mouse ports
    at least 1 each of USB, RS232 serial, and parallel or extra USB
    fanless or very low power fan and some extra features to make up for it

    System 2: same as system #1, but under $200 and with no flash drive and no
    need to be fanless.

    System 3: is a color text ethernet terminal supporting at least one printer
    that it makes available to a unix host via lpd protocol.
    under $150 (hopefully much less, at least in large quantities)
    supports color text and at least 25x80/132 and 43x80/132 resolutions
    VGA port that supports color CRT and LCD monitors
    emulates at least vt100/102, ANSI, and PC TERM
    supports telnet/ssh via 10bT ethernet port
    at least one parallel, serial, or USB port for a printer and LPD (RFC 1179)

    Complete system solutions I have found so far, for those that are looking
    for the same:


    Seems to support all requirements for either #1 or #2, depending on
    configuration, but I don't know about power requirements or size.


    Again, seems to support all requirements for either #1 or #2, depending on
    config. I haven't verified pricing yet, but website suggests system
    configured for #2 would be $195.


    looks really slick (very small and low power,) but is priced at least $30
    more than their other product above (so might not meet my price
    requirements,) doesn't have external RS232 and parallel, and may have less
    computational power (as little as half, but that might not matter.)


    their SB150 looks like it might meet all the requirements for system #2, but
    I can't tell for sure, and haven't had a response to my emails.


    The NTAVO 6010A looks like it might meet all requirements for system #3 and
    only lacks RAM to meet reqs for #2, but it looks like it might be a
    proprietary solution that only works with their server hardware and not with
    open standards. Anyone know?


    has iBox slim and deck mini-PCs. I think an iBox Slim PC could meet the
    requirements for system #1 (at $209 plus shipping,) coupled with an IDE
    flash drive (around $30-$40, I think) or bootable USB drive ($20 or so, but
    the bios might not support booting from USB even if the pen drive does.) It
    might run a tiny bit over the $250 limit, I don't know how much power it
    consumes, and it has fans. The iBox Deck PC has no fans but is $10 more.

    Build my own:

    I've searched around and found a couple places where I could buy VIA
    EPIA/Eden motherboards and mini-itx cases at decent prices. It's just
    amazing how many places there are that have outrageous pricing -- like more
    than double the lowest dealers. The best price I've found so far is at
    http://directron.com/. I can put a mini-itx system together with case,
    motherboard, and 128MB RAM for $186 (including UPS ground shipping) that
    looks like it will meet system #2 requirements, and I could use a USB or IDE
    flash drive to make into a system #1. But, looks like I'd have to assemble
    this myself as I don't see an option for them to assemble and test. If
    anyone knows other places to buy VIA EPIA motherboards, cases, etc, at
    prices less than or equal to directron.com, especially places that will
    assemble the system, please let me know. Keep in mind I have looked at about
    40 sites so far (including mini-itx.com) and while there are lots of places
    to buy mini-itx hardware, directron.com was the only one I found where I
    could build a complete system for under $200 including shipping -- most were
    over $300.

    -Tim Wilfong
    Tim Wilfong, Oct 19, 2004
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  2. Tim Wilfong wrote:


    Try these links


    Just a couple I found lookingf for small form factor systems.

    Paul E. Bennett ....................<email://[email protected]>
    Forth based HIDECS Consultancy .....<http://www.amleth.demon.co.uk/>
    Mob: +44 (0)7811-639972 .........NOW AVAILABLE:- HIDECS COURSE......
    Tel: +44 (0)1235-811095 .... see http://www.feabhas.com for details.
    Going Forth Safely ..... EBA. www.electric-boat-association.org.uk..
    Paul E. Bennett, Oct 19, 2004
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  3. Tim Wilfong

    ray Guest

    Have you looked at idotpc.com ?
    ray, Oct 20, 2004
  4. Tim Wilfong

    Tim Wilfong Guest

    If you look at the part where I list the solutions I've found so far that
    come close to my requirements, the sixth URL that I list is idotpc.com. So
    yes, I have looked at it. I didn't mention that iboxpc.com also lists the
    same iBox systems at the same price as idotpc.com. I didn't mention the
    falcon PC (their cheapest mini itx solution,) which is under $200, but is a
    bit too big, and has a larger power supply with an extra fan -- not worth
    saving the $10 since I don't need the space or the power for my app and
    would prefer smaller, more energy-efficient systems.

    Tim Wilfong, Oct 20, 2004
  5. Tim Wilfong

    Richard Ames Guest

    Hi Tim,

    I've recently received such a system from idotpc. If you order the
    model with the fanless 533MHz processor, you can disconnect the included
    case fan, it's not needed, or at least that is the general consensus
    that I have read and also my experience. A neat, solid system!

    - Richard
    Richard Ames, Oct 20, 2004
  6. Tim Wilfong

    Tim Wilfong Guest

    I've recently received such a system from idotpc. If you order the
    Thanks for the feedback, Richard. Did you get the Falcon or the Slim PC?
    Tim Wilfong, Oct 21, 2004
  7. Tim Wilfong

    ray Guest

    OK, I haven't waded through all the specs, but how about an X-box game
    ray, Oct 21, 2004
  8. Tim Wilfong

    Tim Wilfong Guest

    Short form of spec #2: Must be under $200 not including
    monitor/keyboard/mouse. 128MB RAM (64MB is acceptable if well under $200,)
    pentium-2 or better processing power, ethernet/video/sound/serial ports,
    either comes with bootable flash/USB drive or is capable of PXE boot, and
    uses (hopefully way) less than 25W of power (not including monitor.)

    X-box unit probably meets all of these except the power requirement, but
    would need to be modded. Might be a way to go for a development platform,
    but since this is for deployment in the office, probably not acceptable.

    Tim Wilfong, Oct 22, 2004
  9. Tim Wilfong

    ray Guest

    FYI at www.xbox-linux.org I find the following specs for the xbox:

    The Xbox is essentially a PC sold by Microsoft as a gaming console,
    because they intend the user only run games on it. Xbox prices in
    most countries are less than 1/2 the price of a low-end PC, and
    refurbished or used models are widely available for even less.
    As proof that the Xbox is essentially a PC, here's a short list
    of the internal components:

    * Intel Celeron 733 MHz CPU
    * 64 MB of RAM (enough for most Linux applications - if you need more,
    it can be upgraded, but extensive soldering is involved)
    * nVidia GeForce 3 graphics card (on most versions)
    * Dolby Digital AC97 sound card
    * 8 or 10 GB hard disk
    * DVD drive
    * 10/100 EtherNet port
    * 4 USB ports (cleverly disguised as custom joystick ports)

    The Xbox comes in a nice, portable form-factor, is smaller and lighter
    than most PCs,
    and is quieter. The best feature is that any television can serve as a
    and VGA and HDTV are possible with an appropriate adapter.
    ray, Oct 22, 2004
  10. Short form of spec #2: Must be under $200 not including

    The X-Box hardware is sponsered by the manufacturer, as they request
    royalties from all the game producers and thus get their profit from the
    selling of games and so nearly give away the hardware. Here you see that
    your price idea is quite impossible.

    Michael Schnell, Oct 22, 2004
  11. Tim Wilfong

    Richard Ames Guest

    Hi Tim,

    That was the Slim PC, which is just their name for a built up Cubid 2677
    case, Mini-ITX board and a stick of RAM. All of these parts are
    available elsewhere, as presented here...


    I've seen the Falcon case at Fry's, and it isn't nearly as solid as the
    Cubid case, which is mostly steel.

    Also, this web based forum used to have a sticky post that tracked
    prices from various Mini-ITX vendors, but I don't see it there now...


    Still, it's probably a good place to ask your question.

    - Richard
    Richard Ames, Oct 22, 2004
  12. Tim Wilfong

    RusH Guest

    This sponsoring thing doesnt mean you cant buy them, strip from HDD
    and enclosure, put in racks and use for whatever you like. At least
    not in a normal country (apparently USA was a normal country some
    time ago, but lost it recently for allmighty dollar).

    RusH, Oct 22, 2004
  13. Tim Wilfong

    RusH Guest

    ~25-30W if you remove the HDD/DVD and wont use any 3D/CPU intensive

    RusH, Oct 22, 2004
  14. Tim Wilfong

    Tim Wilfong Guest

    You are absolutely right on that. BTW, mini-itx.com lists www.caseoutlet.com
    as a source for the Cubid 2677, and if you configure a barebones system from
    them with a 2677R case, VIA EPIA 533Mhz, and 128MB RAM, looks like the same
    system as the base config for the iBox Slim PC, and is exactly the same
    price (to the penny -- $212) before shipping and taxes. Haven't checked out
    who has lower shipping or wether either sells tax-fee to WA state.

    I also ran accross computergate.com, which I looked at before and
    discounted, because they are slightly higher priced than directron.com, but
    I looked again and the difference is only a couple dollars more for most
    items and is less for some. From either, I can get the same components as
    the iBox slim PC (without assembly) for around $30 less. Unless the system
    is just for my home use, or I'm only dealing with one or two, I'd usually
    rather buy from a vendor that will assemble and test, and pay a little more.
    Still can't see an option with either computergate or directron to to do
    that with a mini-itx system.
    I think I'll post there as well. Thanks again.
    Tim Wilfong, Oct 23, 2004
  15. Tim Wilfong

    Tim Wilfong Guest

    On the contrary, my price-point is attainable. I listed the URLs to 2
    systems in my original post that are both under $200, and meet all my
    specs (even using as little as 12W power,) but the vendors didn't list their
    shipping, so they will probably be slightly more than $200 after shipping. I
    can also buy all the parts to assemble my own at directron.com for $186,
    including shipping, but it's worth something close to $20 per system to me
    to have the systems shipped already assembled and tested, so I'm probably
    not going to buy them there. I was hoping for more choices than I initially
    listed, and some people have sent me links to alternate vendors (thanks)
    which are just a little over $200, but so far the only pre-built systems
    come under $200 are from channel.com.tw, and maybe from norhtec.com
    and solarpc.com. Maybe they are the only vendors out there with these
    products at that price...
    Great point! In fact, if you re-use the HD and DVD drive for some other
    application, the re-purposed XBox ends up being cheaper than a low-end
    mini-itx system. But, in my case, the extra work to do that (ignoring for
    the higher power requirements of the XBox, even without DVD and HD)
    make this a poor choice. I need somewhere that I can buy 2-3 or sometimes
    10 of these at a time, and have them shipped to me ready to be deployed.

    Tim Wilfong, Oct 23, 2004
  16. Tim Wilfong

    Juhan Leemet Guest

    What are you going to use for firmware? ISTR there is a complicated
    interlock between firmware and hardware and software load, designed to
    prevent the unit from running "not approved" software. There was some
    discussion about Linux on XBox or Sony PS/2 (Sony's Linux H/W kit was
    $100s and is no longer available, I believe?). You have to get handy at
    hardware and software hacking to use them. I suspect you would also be in
    violation of some kind of EULA from M$ or Sony. ISTR the M$ software EULA
    forbids you from running their software on another O/S (i.e. not Windoze).
    Juhan Leemet, Oct 24, 2004
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