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World’s lowest cost Linux thin client?

Oct 18, 2007 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 63 views

Bangkok-based Norhtec has unveiled a sub-$85 mini-PC claimed to be the most affordable Linux thin client system to date. The “ultra-low-power” MicroClient JrSX is based on a 300MHz x86-compatible SoC (system-on-chip) and includes both CompactFlash and 2.5-inch hard drive storage options, along with 10/100Mbps Ethernet… networking.

(Click for larger view of the MicroClient JrSX)

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Like all of Norhtec's MicroClients, the JrSX is passively cooled and designed to handle high temperatures and humidity. Intended as a low-cost 32-bit embedded x86 platform for linking peripherals to the Internet, the system is ideal, according to Norhtec, for integrating security, access control, and other sensor systems. It can run any Linux distribution compiled to support floating point emulation, the company claims.

Norhtec's sub-$85 Linux box targets embedded and thin client applications

The JrSX ships with 128MB of DDR RAM, three USB 2.0 slots, one Type I/II CompactFlash slot, and a 10/100Mbps Ethernet LAN port. Options include dual RS232 ports, mini-PCI, WiFi, 24-bit GPIO (general purpose I/O lines), a 2.5-inch hard drive, and battery backup.

Measuring just 4.5 x 4.5 x 1.4 inches (115 x 115 x 35 mm), the JrSX weighs in at a light 18 ounces (505 gm). For convenience in pairing it up with a flat-panel monitor, the system provides VESA-compliant mounting holes, enabling it to be attached directly to the rear of VESA flat panels.

Under the hood

The MicroClient JrSX is based on a Vortex86SX SoC (system-on-chip) from Taiwan-based DMP Electronics (a member of the DM&P Group). With its 0.13 micron process, the Vortex86SX is said to consume only 0.9W at 300MHz and 0.2W at 66MHz.

The SoC packs numerous functions into its tight 27x27mm package, including a 32-bit, x86-compatible CPU, plus extensive northbridge and southbridge functions. On-chip controllers include serial, parallel, USB, GPIO lines, watchdog timer, counter, and a 10/100Mbps Ethernet controller (NE2000 compatible) — see block diagram, below.

Vortex86 SoC block diagram
(Click to enlarge)

The MicroClient JrSX also appears to use DMP's evaluation board, which is incorporated in DMP's own similar eBox systems. DMP most likely is also the supplier of the JrSX's enclosure.

Norhtec's original MicroClient Jr., introduced over a year ago, was based on the 166MHz SIS50 SoC from Silicon Integrated Systems (SiS).

Other new MicroClients

Other new MicroClient-family mini-PCs are said to include the faster MicroClientSr, plus two hard drive-based models: the UltraClient and the Flamingo.

MicroClient Sr.
(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

(Click to enlarge)

The MicroClient Sr. promises similar low-power operation to that of the JrSX, but uses a more powerful Via Eden ULV 500MHz processor and 512MB RAM. It offers extras including MPEG2 hardware decoding and an MPEG4/WMV9 decoding accelerator. Its Via CX700M core logic chipset is supported by X.ORG 7.2 and above, says Norhtec, which claims the system makes an optimum platform for running the PCLinuxOS desktop Linux distribution. The device is said to provide PXE boot and wake-on-LAN functions.

The UltraClient is said to be designed for multimedia-intensive applications such as advertising or VoIP. Based on Via's 1.2GHz Eden processor and CX700M chipset, it comes with a 160GB hard drive, 512MB RAM, MPEG 2 and MPEG 4 hardware decoding, an MPEG4/WMV9 decoding accelerator, a keyboard, and numerous options, including WiFi and DVD.

Finally, you can't miss the Flamingo (it's shocking pink, alright). It's essentially the same as the UltraClient, but aimed at the general desktop market, according to the company.


All of these products appear to be available now. Beyond the sub-$85 price target for the MicroClient JrSX, prices for the other systems were not disclosed. The company says it has been selling fanless thin clients for more than five years, and touts McDonalds of Canada as one of its key customers.

A very similar if not identical product make by Icop appears to be available at similar pricing in the U.S. through distributor WDL. WDL's product page for the Icop eBox-2300SX-H can be found here.

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