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Hosting my site from home on a Wyse Thin Client

Wyse Winterm S30 thin client, turned web server

Wyse Winterm S30 thin client, turned web server

A while ago, I bought a Wyse Winterm S30 thin client on eBay. Unimpressive in specs (366MHz Geode, 128MB DDR333, 64MB IDE flash), but impressive in form factor, and certainly usable.

I bought it with the sole intent of running some kind of Linux on it to host my website (kishy.ca). It started to look like a lost cause when I realized this device lacks a configurable BIOS setup menu, and that the boot sequence puts the internal flash module first (optionally, network PXE can go first, configured by software). I figured there was no way to USB boot it and so largely gave up.

Edit January 2011: guess what, it DOES have a setup menu…but you have to repeatedly hammer on Del until it comes up, instead of either holding solid or a single press. The default password is Fireport. Although very simplistic, it offers more than enough flexibility:

Wyse S30 Setup Menu

Wyse S30 Setup Menu

Fast forward a bit to yesterday…I was kinda bored. I pulled the thin client out of the drawer, plugged in a USB floppy drive (containing a Win98 boot disk), and tried to boot it. I noticed the drive made a brief seeking sound before going to WinCE, which suggested to me that maybe the BIOS *is* USB bootable…so I removed the flash module and tried again. Success! I repeated the test with my USB/IDE bridge and a CD-ROM drive and found it successfully booted several items. The logical conclusion is that it could also boot from a flash drive…so who’s to stop me installing an OS on a flash drive and booting from that?

The ISOLINUX bootloader hangs up on the thin client, so I plugged the flash drive into a more conventional machine and did the install there (the minimal install of Debian). Re-acquainted myself with the Linux CLI for a bit (had a college course on it, but have never used it outside of that), figured out an irritating network issue (the minimal install doesn’t include a DHCP client, and the Realtek ethernet chip oddly shows up as eth1 instead of eth0). Fixed those, installed my needed packages for SSH/SFTP access and a basic web server…good to go.

A caveat, of sorts: the thin client does not retain the date/time at poweroff (not much of a problem for a server, but with no UPS it’s conceivable that it will go down). For this, I’m using ntp and ntpdate (grabs the time from an internet server shortly after startup).

The hardware is fairly slow, and since it’s running off a flash drive, I opted for no disk swap (the write cycles would murder the drive quickly), so performance is not the best for anything that involves “thinking”, plus my connection is kinda slow, but it seems to be quicker than the free host. Not to mention the electricity savings over running a “real” server…Wyse rates these for an average of 6.6W. I’ve confirmed it indeed only draws about 6W at idle.

These devices can be found at very reasonable prices from time to time, so it’s definitely a project worth looking into if you’ve wanted to do something similar. If nothing else, I can stop depending on Imageshack to randomly delete my images…and a free host who may go down at any time…and I get further Linux CLI experience in the process.

Update: I am no longer using the thin client for this purpose, nor do I use this blog anymore, however I’m leaving it online because it remains a popular hit for related search terms and fills in several blanks in the information that others have made available previously. Hopefully it is helpful to you. To see my new website, go to kishy.ca

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  1. Luis Cruz
    2016/12/28 at 4:18 PM

    Hi kishy, I hope you’re still around, I also have not 1 but 2 of this S30 units one with 32/64 flash/ram and the other one being a 64/128.
    Anyway I’m very much interested in your slitaz image since I don’t know enough to make one myself. by the way did you get sound to work on this? I’m trying to make them into squeezelite players so sound support is absolutely a must.
    Thank you very much for this blog

    • 2017/01/19 at 10:39 PM

      Hi Luis
      I do still exist, thought not on this blog…kishy.ca is my new home.
      I still have the S30 however it has been effectively retired for a couple years now. My goals for my online presence gradually exceeded both the capabilities of the machine and my own so I’ve been doing the paid hosting thing for a while.

      I did not actually use Slitaz at any point, that was another user who posted a comment.

      I used only command line Debian on this, so sound was never really applicable.

      Neat to see this still brings in visitors after having been abandoned long ago.

  2. Allen
    2012/12/13 at 11:35 AM

    You may wish to look into using TinyCore LINUX as it has a very light footprint, runs as RAM resident (12 MB or so in RAM the rest is yours), extensive and expanding Apps libraries. PDQ.

    • James Nelson
      2012/12/15 at 2:30 PM

      About two years ago I similarly bought and played with an S30, installing many of the Linux versions as above using USB boot. It is a rock solid and very low power (6W) little box. I ended up preferring Puppy 5.2.5 as a clean and complete desktop system. But as anything more than server, it was a bit too messy. I sold the thing on Amazon for more than 3 times what it cost ($25), so it was a fun, free hobby project.

      Anyway, reason for this post –, then I got a Diskless Workstations LTSP Client (model number is J-225). Similar to the S10/S30, but 500MHz VIA Samuel processor, 256MB RAM and no flash (though it does have 44pin internal IDE connector so you can add a DOM and boot from that if you want). Key feature — these are ridiculously cheap, which I assume is because of no USB boot, only PXEBoot or IDE boot. It HAS four USB ports, just a BIOS which can’t boot them. I have nine J-225s, average cost $5. Once you get used to building PXEBoot images, it is way better than the S30 to use as a server. Mainly you need to install dnsmasq on your boot host and learn a few simple incantations.

      Tiny core runs like a rocket, with a complete LAMP stack, X, Samba, and VNC service, GlassFish and Drupal, remaining headroom, AND all the configuration is managed on your (presumably richer) host computer – not the J-225. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. james

      • Allen
        2012/12/15 at 2:47 PM

        I love low power (as in electrical power) and relatively high performance thin clients as light weight servers and even desktops. I fell for the Neoware CA22. 16-18 watts power disipation but you get 1 GHz VIA processor, up to 1 GB RAM, 4 USB ports (bootable), and a 40 pin IDE interface. TinyCore rips on this box.

      • James Nelson
        2012/12/15 at 9:23 PM

        Ditto re: “I love..” but, in addition, thin clients offer not just quietness, but total silence! an attribute I love. Thx for the CA22 recommendation, maybe I’ll snag one…. j

      • Allen
        2012/12/16 at 9:34 AM

        There was a seller in Florida who was selling off these CA22’s lots of 5, pretty good prices (about $13 ea). They were units used in Kreogers supermarkets, I think. I am not seeing him with these offers. However there is a pallet of 440 of this kind for $4000, if you want to go extra-wild eyed (yer manic side wants those pallets, I know). I picked up 20 or so, a while back. Make sure you get the power supply with it.

        http://www.ebay.com/itm/Neoware-CA22-Thin-Client-Terminal-AC-Adaptor-/221166499088?pt=US_Thin_Clients&hash=item337e8cf510

        Seems to have a good price ($12) not sure if the PS comes with it. These seem to come with a WiFi adapter as well as ethernet(?) You want to ask what the model # is as this will give you a code to look up the OEM installed stuff. The WinXPe load is installed on a Flash board connected to the 40 pin IDE connector. Its pretty easy to fab a cable to use a notebook HD, or you can go the PXe boot route, too. Or just boot it from USB but need to add some delay in the BIOS setting due to lag between when the BIOS queries the USB device and when the device starts feeding data back to the BIOS.

      • Allen
        2012/12/16 at 9:46 AM

        When I was looking for a thin client to invest my time into I wanted something that was X86, and basicly a PC architecture. These CA22’s use a P640 board which is a PC architecture and I believe an AMI or AWARD BIOS. Very standard architecture. 1 PCI slot. 2 external USB ports and 2 on the MB that are easily wired with standard cable/connector kit. IDE interface if ya want to add a spinning media drive. BIOS has full set of boot options, boot order, etc. And inexpensive … and yes, very quite. The low power requirement you could easily make this solar powered and never have to pay a cent for power after that.

  3. James Nelson
    2012/02/01 at 10:10 PM

    Just an update to my prior post (June 15, 2011) about S30 and Linux versions. I had noted that Puppy 5.2.5 on S30 lacked browser capability and Browser Linux401 on S30 had poor browsing performance. In October I tried and was very impressed by DSL 4.4.10. The built-in FireFox browser was way fast (compared to the others) and didn’t run out of memory even with “heavy” browsing. I also was able to install and use JDK 6.0. Basically, DSL uses so little memory that it’s better matched to the S30 than the others. And it’s reasonably complete for a small distro. Jim

  4. 2011/11/15 at 1:53 PM

    Did you measure the power consumption at the wall or at the power adapter?

  5. James
    2011/06/15 at 11:08 PM

    I also have an S30 I got to with the intention of using it for USB connectivity to my prehistoric Silicon Graphics O2. (No one has ever successfully wriiten USB drivers for O2). My S30 has 64K flash, 128K ram. It came with CE 5. I had no problem installing Puppy Linux 5.2.5 and BrowserLinux401 from a USB key — just followed online instructions. The former worked great but didn’t have much spare room to add the latest Firefox, the latter has Firefox already but ran pretty slow, (maybe the swap issue referred to above.) I now put it back to WinCE 6.0 which is a real step above WinCE 5.0 for the two things I want — modern browser and USB connectivity to the O2. Anyway, I thought I’d post about the Puppy Linux 5.2.5 installing easy and working good for anyone thinking of putting one on. Jim

  6. 2011/05/01 at 6:53 AM

    I’ve been playing with an S30 as well. Although mine, only seems to have 32M flash and 64M RAM.

    I’ve managed to get DOS, various BSD’s, Debian, and various homebrew thin-term linux builds installed on it. So far my favourite distro has been Slitaz. It was pretty easy to install following their instructions: http://doc.slitaz.org/en:handbook:installation. I used the ‘base’ iso to boot the system and installed that.

    If you are hellbent on Debian, they have a custom disk img, builder somewhere buried on debian.org where you can roll your own minimal drive image and dd that onto either a usb drive, or the internal flash (if you have enough room).

    Cheers, Andrew

    • 2011/05/01 at 7:19 PM

      Hi Andrew, thanks for your comments

      Have you actually installed on the internal flash module or any other IDE device on that port? Through my testing (guided by those who know Linux better than I – this is one reason why I use Debian, because I can get help for Debian easily) I have found that there is no support for the controller and so the bootloader will start up and start Linux on its way, but this fails when Linux finds itself unable to view the drive from which it is booting…

      My end goal is an iPod-style 1.8″ hard drive via the internal IDE, as I don’t want to deal with the lifespan and performance concerns of flash media (and the extra capacity would be nice).

      Thanks

      • 2011/05/01 at 7:41 PM

        Hi Kishy,

        Slitaz is now installed wholly on the internal flash (with room to spare). The problem with Debian is that it is simply too big to fit a minimal install in 32M (and too slow to boot). I did get it installed on external flash drives, or a combination of /boot partition on the internal flash and an the root partition on an external (usb) drive. Right now I’m using Grub bootloader and it’s working fine.

        Overall I think SliTaz is the best choice, it’s simply more imbeddable than most other distros (dropbear and busybox installed by default), has a nice init customization so you can turn off everything you don’t need like udev, extra ttys etc. Oh and it boots in about 5 seconds or less. :)

        The controller isn’t anything fancy, so you shouldn’t have any trouble booting it. It’s just an emulated IDE:

        00:0f.2 IDE interface: National Semiconductor Corporation CS5535 IDE
        

        If you like I can email you a flash image and you can dd it straight onto the flash.

        How were you planing on connecting the 1.8″ HDD? If I recall there aren’t any IDE header pins. Sounds like a hard-hack.

      • 2011/05/01 at 8:58 PM

        There most certainly are IDE header pins…at least in mine. Perhaps there have been a few revisions of the S30…

        I have a 256MB flash module hanging around somewhere…might be able to do something with that…but I still don’t want to deal with the lifespan issue of flash. I burnt my 32MB module to a crisp, so it’s not even an option (and wouldn’t be due to size issues even if it did still work).

        Definitely going to look into SliTaz. If there’s even a slight learning curve it’s off the table, though…I do not happen to like Linux, I’m only using it because I can’t run Windows with Apache or even IIS…things I am decently capable of managing. As it stands, I only get very occasional problems (which I blame on the USB stick it currently runs off…spectacular filesystem errors that sprout up out of nowhere), so Debian is doing its job (even if it takes closer to 2 minutes to boot…I’m not booting/rebooting often though, since it is a web server)

      • 2011/11/12 at 4:16 PM

        I’m surprised that you guys managed to get Grub running properly on this hardware. After a good day wasted on trying to get either grub2 or grub-legacy not to hang I went with LILO.

      • 2011/11/14 at 10:26 AM

        Heh, yes, grub2 absolutely will not work…via the internal IDE or otherwise. I don’t know why and I’m not too concerned about it either, honestly.

    • Ansar
      2011/06/11 at 1:11 AM

      Hello All,
      I have an S10 model which is basically the same as yours except I have no flash and my BIOS is 2M and runs Wyse ThinOS.
      There are a few versions of this device. If your product number ends in an “L” then you have the newer ones that can be upgraded with more RAM and a Laptop IDe hard drive.
      I have installed Debian 6.0, FreeBSD and Windows and itwill work but there are a few caveats.

      1. DMA does not work, so if you are booting off the internal IDE you need to disable it
      2. If you are booting Debian 6.x of a USB, note that Debian creates your partitions on a 1MB offset and you wont be able to boot after the install. Also Debian 6.x ships with Grub2 that wont work either. To get around this, create your partitions with Debian 5.x, install Debian 6.x and then replace grubw with grub-legacy. it works great and its pretty fast.

      3. I havent been able to get FreeBSD to boot off the USB drive, Well, it does technically boot off the USB drive, but there must be something plugged into the IDE slot. Also, FreeBSD and OpenBSD intermittenly hangs.If anyone can figure out why its intermittently hanging I would be super happy..

      Here are some more links:
      http://parkytowers.me.uk/thin/WyseS10/index.shtml
      http://forums.freebsd.org/showthread.php?t=24210

  7. 2011/04/13 at 9:09 AM

    Hi, great blog post. I also have a Wyse Winterm S30, could you tell me which version of Debian you used; I found it tricky finding one off Debian’s website because of all the different Architectures.

    Regards, Ryan.

    • 2011/04/13 at 9:22 AM

      Hi Ryan

      As the S30 has an AMD Geode GX processor, you want to use software for the x86 platform. In this case, that would be ‘i386’, but despite being labeled that way, Debian i386 is actually i686 (a small distinction, but apparently the Debian people don’t think it’s important to distinguish one x86 from another – basically, you can’t run this on a Pentium I, even though you otherwise should be able to). I’m running “Lenny” which is 5.x.

      Anyway…yes, “i386” is what I used. I used the “small” type of net install image (just checked the current one, it’s 188MB) because I only wanted a very basic system with no GUI or extra fluff. Do note that you’ll probably want to do the install on another physical machine; I wasn’t actually able to convince it to work on the Winterm itself. All relevant points are probably in the original post but if you need clarification please let me know.

      Following your homepage link you included, I see you’re into web development…cool. Chances are you weren’t too impressed if you found mine, lol…there’s a reason for that. I’m not too sure how the rather sluggish Winterm would handle lots of scripting and dishing out lots of images at the same time. At the very least you’ll want to upgrade the RAM (it’s a laptop DDR SODIMM. I went from the original 128MB to 256MB as a precautionary measure, and in hopes of playing with PHP stuff in the future).

      Hope this helps

      • 2011/04/13 at 9:29 AM

        great :)

        Thanks for your quick reply too.

        – Ryan

      • 2011/04/13 at 10:04 AM

        Yeah, I did see your website. I think it looks fine for a personal website.

        I am wanting to run PHP on this and maybe have a MySQL database. I’ll see how that goes; but I do think I will have to upgrade the ram; I might have a spare 128mmb ddr module somewhere.

        Do you know the limit of how much RAM can be put in? I’m thinking that 256mb maybe the limit on these little machines.

      • 2011/04/13 at 11:30 AM

        My S30 came with 128MB installed. There is one slot.

        It’s hard to say what the limit might be without just trying stuff to see if it works. Anything that fits is unlikely to cause any harm; it’s just a question of if it will work or not. I can confirm that it will take 256MB…logically it should be able to go to 512, but I have no evidence to back that up. 1GB is unlikely though.

        Keep in mind that if, like me, you’ll be running from USB, your access times for a database might be unacceptably slow. I’ve been working on trying to hang a hard drive off the internal IDE connector but I might have blown something up in the process…woohoo (it is possible to do, but I might have pulled a bit too much power from it, as it only is capable of supplying enough for the original flash module).

  8. 2010/12/29 at 1:57 PM

    I am going to subscribe to your blog via Google Reader, mmmm i wonder how that will impact your bandwidth?

    • 2010/12/29 at 4:19 PM

      No problem there, the website is hosted from home but the blog is on WordPress. Didn’t feel like dealing with PHP and a database at home.

  1. 2011/04/22 at 7:47 AM

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