A running start

A project log for The Mighty Quill

I'm tired of not writing. I've been wanting a computer specifically for writing. Time to take care of both at once...

StarhawkStarhawk 06/14/2021 at 02:380 Comments

The one picture you can see is the prototype layout, done with a motherboard that is the right kind but doesn't work -- one, it has memory controller issues and beeps at startup about some sort of video error thing, and two, Wyse put some surface-mount components on the underside of the board very stupidly close to the mounting holes for the heatsink... of which not all are now present because I am clumsy ;)

Speaking of which, a better heatsink has been ordered, and I've also ordered the right bezel/holder for the LED that is sitting next to the "front panel" unit there... which I had long ago but don't any more. The dude who made me that front panel thingy plate did so back around the time I was in college, ten to twelve years ago (hey, jojo69, you still out there? -- no, I know him from somewhere else -- well, if you see this, I guess you'll be happy about it, I'm FINALLY using the dang thing!). It's actually made for the style of LED clip-holder that Radio Shack sold back in the day. A badly overpriced pack of ten is on its way from eBay because I didn't want to wait a month for a thousand to come in an awful ziploc from China.

The mobo is from an unusual sort of system called a "thin client", which is the modern evolution of the RS-232 serial terminals they had in the 1970s such as the Wyse 50, which were essentially video and keyboard controllers that worked over long RS-232 ( "COMport" for those too used to modern IBM PC nomenclature :P ) links with a central mainframe or minicomputer. The idea is to do as little actual computation on the system proper, offloading as much as possible to a server elsewhere via Microsoft's RDP protocol and a LAN connection.

This particular thin client is a Wyse Cx0 series model. This is a design that, externally, is about the size of a mass-market paperback, and contains a VIA Eden CPU running at all of 1.0GHz, generally either 512megs or 1gb of RAM, and an IDE-based compact SSD in the "Disk on Module" form factor, which in the particular subset of nerd vernacular peculiar to thin client manufacturers, marketeers, and salesmen, "Flash" -- for no discernible reason whatsoever because literally the entire rest of the PC industry would call that an SSD.

I am unusually familiar with the Wyse Cx0 series clients because of (warning, reads like a novel because length) -- they use a *highly* unusual chipset. This whole system reads like it was designed using a VIA reference schematic (quite possible, though I've no evidence for this except that it uses VIA **EVERYTHING** inside it except for a few spots where common industry names that usually pop up next to VIA parts appear -- Realtek network chips, SST for the BIOS ROM, etc. No Realtek *audio* here, though; that's done by VIA's internal chipset stuff -- as is video, annoyingly, which is one of the peculiar quirks of the VIA VX855 chipset it uses.

This chipset is *incredibly* unusual, to say the least. As far as I'm aware, there are exactly FOUR such clients which use that chipset -- the Clientron U720 (which is often rebadged, one particular notable example of which is the Dell Optiplex FX130... and a lesser notable example, the 10ZiG RBT-400 series and later (?) 5500 series -- 10ZiG is formerly known as BOSSaNOVA, BTW, and Clientron is formerly Bcom) is one, the Cisco VXC-2111/2112/2212 series is another, the IGEL D210 is the third, and the Netvoyager LX1014 is the fourth and final model. (These were listed out with the help of the "ParkyTowers" website, a sort of database of sorts of info on many common thin client models. The page there for the Wyse Cx0 series is if you want to give it a look.) Video support in Linux is through the X[dot]Org system driver called "openchrome" (after the fact that VIA named their graphics subsystems "Chrome" *long* before Google had the idea of making a browser of their own!) and was broken for a long time on Ubuntu. The story is in the bugthread link.

The CPUs that VIA has been churning out for freaking *years* also have an interesting story behind them. That's the next post.