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Using an old Dell PC as browser only thin client

Posted on 2010-09-21
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Last Modified: 2012-05-10
I would like to setup an old Dell Optiplex GX100 (from 1999) as a browser only client. Any suggestions for OS? I am thinking of using Linux, but haven't used a unix like OS in over a decade.
It would be used on a Windows home office intranet. No need for local file storage, printing, email, etc.

Thx
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Question by:espod17
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12 Comments
 
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Expert Comment

by:JimyLee
ID: 33728627
Not really a "right or wrong" answer to this... just opinions.  If it were me, I would use WinXP depending on the RAM you have available.
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Expert Comment

by:jimmyray7
ID: 33728701
You can try out linux and see if how it will work with a liveCD like Knoppix.  Just pop the CD in and boot it up to test it out.  If it works well (it will probably be faster than a full blown windows install), you can install the linux distro of your choice.  A lot of them will let you strip down the install just to include the software you want.  If it's been a while, I'd recommend Ubuntu or Linux Mint for ease of use.
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Author Comment

by:espod17
ID: 33728741
Good suggestions - is there anyone out there who has actually done this with a vintage PC?
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Expert Comment

by:rindi
ID: 33728760
Linux is ideal for this. You probably don't even need an HD, as many Linux distro's come as LiveCD's. If they recognize your hardware properly you should have no issues at all, Check the distrowatch site for the different distro's.

http://distrowatch.com

Depending on how old your PC is, and what hardware it sports, there are different distro's I would reccomend, so if you could provide us with that info (RAM, CPU speed)...?
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Expert Comment

by:compaqus
ID: 33728858
If you want a thin client, you also need a server as thin clients run their programs elsewhere.

If you want to use it as a stand alone PC to browse the web I wouldn't use Windows.
If you have XP, for example, you need to update the machine with the latest SP, then you need an AV, then maybe a firewall.  All are resource hogs.

As JimmyRay, said Ubuntu works just great, download, burn it and boot from the CD. You do not have to install it, works out of the box and you can make up your mind without installing.

If you find it too slow, remember you are running it form a CD not your HDD. Also if the computer is really outdated try an older version from the LTS branch - LongTimeSupport.
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Expert Comment

by:compaqus
ID: 33728902
yes I have installed Ubuntu many times on old hardware with no issue whatsoever.

Almost on all machines (desktops and laptops) I have tested it worked faster than an updated XP.
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Expert Comment

by:rindi
ID: 33729059
A 1999 PC is rather old, and with the current version of Ubuntu I don't really think you'll be too happy. There are many other distro's, some which are really lean, which would probably be the better option here. But a lot depends on the available RAM.
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Author Comment

by:espod17
ID: 33729107
The PC has at least 128 mb, can easily be updated to 256 mb.
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Accepted Solution

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rindi earned 63 total points
ID: 33729282
That's not too much, even for Linux. PuppyLinux would run nicely on this hardware, or Tiny Core. Elive is also a very nice distro that brings some eye-candy as well. If you want to install this and not run it from LiveMedia, you will have to make a donation or write an article on it on the internet, so it isn't completely free, but it is good value.

I've used Puppy and Linux, and had no problems with low-end hardware, so either should be fine. I suggest you try them from the liveCD, and then install the one you prefer. If you load them from live media you have to answer too many questions during bootup that don't occur with the installed versions. You can find both via the link I posted earlier.
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Assisted Solution

by:compaqus
compaqus earned 62 total points
ID: 33729283
yup... as Rindi said, 256 won;t run the latest version, but there is a lightweight version, XUbuntu.

Minimum system requirements

You need 192 MB RAM to run the Live CD or 192 MB RAM to install. The Alternate Install CD only requires you to have 64 MB RAM at install time.

To install Xubuntu, you need 2.0 GB of free space on your hard disk.

Once installed, Xubuntu can run with starting from 192 (or even just 128) MB RAM, but it is strongly recommended to have at least 256 MB RAM.

http://www.xubuntu.org/get

Here is a screencast:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z39n5Tleo0A
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Author Closing Comment

by:espod17
ID: 33745613
Based on these suggestions I successfully installed Xubuntu. Now I have a subsequent question regarding the installation, but that will be a new question.
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Author Comment

by:espod17
ID: 33745714
As suggested I burned live CD and tried it on a 192 mb RAM Dell Optiplex GX100. While it ran slow, I liked what I saw so I did the install. It took FOREVER - I had to leave it run overnight. I had high hopes that once installed it would speed up, but this was not the case. The hard drive just kept grinding (paging?) and the  mouse response was so sluggish as to be useless.

So I took a newer PC (from 2006, a Dell Optiplex GX520 with 1 gig ram) which I hadn't wanted to use, and added Ubuntu to the XP Pro installation.  This went very smoothly except for a few quirky instances which a restart resolved. I thought I was all done when after a final restart Xubuntu reported that the network was offline. I checked all my connections, rebooted several times and got the same message. I rebooted in XP and the network was fine. Subsequent reboot in Xubuntu gave same problem. Don't know how to diagnose/repair this problem but will post this in a new issue.
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