Thin terminals for FreeBSD

Erik Norgaard norgaard at
Tue Aug 8 07:28:14 UTC 2006

Nagy László wrote:
>  Hello,
> I need to setup an environment where some users (10 to 20 employees) 
> will use terminals to run programs. They need to run a few popular 
> programs: thunderbird, firefox, adobe acrobat, openoffice and gaim. This 
> site will be a customer service. We decided to reduce the costs by using 
> Open Source software and cheap terminal computers. This is a good 
> solution because most of the users will read messages and images on the 
> screen and they can share the same processor and memory easily. I know 
> that I can setup cheap computers and use its X server as a terminal for 
> another central computer. This solution still requires new (or used) 
> computers. I would like to reduce the costs to the minimum. Here are 
> some key questions that I could not answer:
> - Is there a more cost-effective solution? (Something that I did not 
> think of)
> - How much RAM will I need? Will FireFox Thunderbird and OpenOffice load 
> shared objects and reduce the overall memory usage? Or should I reserve 
> 256MB of memory for each client?
> - Do I need to use gigabit ethernet? Or is it enough to use a normal 100 
> Mbps wired network? I heard that there can be bandwidth problems when 
> using many terminals, but I do not have experience.
> - Are there any pitfalls that I need to be aware of?
> It would be perfect to provide links to some articles or manuals - I do 
> not need anyone to write detailed instuctions and do my job. I'm asking 
> for help because the handbook was not very useful in this case. I only 
> found this:
> It does not help too much, and there is no know-how. I really need to 
> know what hardware I need to buy.

Remember that the main cost is maintenance, not the hardware.

I think that the way to do it is not dumb terminals in the old sense, 
but rather sharing disks, while each terminal runs processes separately 
and have lot's of RAM - 1GB.

100Mbps network should be ok, just make sure it's switched (which all 
are nowadays), it's only loading the applications that is slow - once 
up, there is not much on the network when applications run on the client 
and there is plenty of RAM. I would think that more RAM gives better 
user experience than faster network.

Some recommends booting off a flashrom, but the disadvantage is 
upgrading the base system has to be done on each client.

For example: Buy some mini-itx MB's with 1GB ram. For desktop use, 
processor is not important, RAM is. So get some fanless MB's. I have 
found that VIA MB's are easy to work with, support pxeboot, see this 

Then you need one file server to allow NFS mount of everything. I sat 
down and wrote about it, but I never got through to have a working 
diskless with all the bells and whistles, see this article:

Other sources are the pxe and diskless articles in

Cheers, Erik
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