Converting a Thinclient Into a Desktop Computer





Introduction: Converting a Thinclient Into a Desktop Computer

About: I love to hack things or make new ones.

Ok, I've got really a lot of computers standing around here but from time to time I just miss another machine. As I don't want to spend money for an energy wasting high end machine, just to do some minor jobs, surf the web or read my mails I thought of an alternative. So I was very happy when I got a box with a bunch of thinclients from a liquidation.

First I wanted to run them with a terminal server, but as I had no free machine (....) I thought it would be great just to convert some of them to normal desktop machines.

Step 1: Materials, Tools and Software


- Thinclient, in my case an Igel (with a pretty lame Windows CE on it...)

- Screwdriver
- Sony Alpha 300 DSLR camera
- Card reader
- Linux PC (a Windows PC will be fine too...)

- a copy of DamnSmallLinux (DSL), which you can get here for free:
- Unetbootin, a great utility! You can get it here for free:

Step 2: How a Thinclient Works

A thinclient is a normal computer, ok without a high end graphic card, it's got no DVD-/CD-ROM drive, but it's still a common computer.

And a  common computer has to boot an operating system to work, maybe via harddisk, maybe via floppy disk, cd drive, usb drive or whatever.

Ok, as we see, there's no DVD/CD-ROM and I don't want to buy or use an external DVD/CD drive. No floppy disk drive (even if there would be one, it'd be hard to boot a complete operating system with a gui, browser, mail client, text processing software and other stuff from it. But it's got 4 USB ports... No, I don't want to boot from an external HDD or an USB pen drive.

But this device has to boot from something, so it's able to connect to a terminal server. There must be something inside...

Step 3: Let's Look Inside

According to one of my t-shirts with the slogan "I void warranties", I've got no problem to open cases and devices. I did this as a kid and it was funny almost every time ;-)

So just grab a screw driver that fits and remove the screws. A few seconds later you can see the guts of the thinclient. No unknown parts inside if you ever opened a regular computer. Just a plain mainbord, some cables, a RAM module, a CPU (passive cooled, great, no noise!!!) and .... a flash memory card with amazing 128 MB.

As we can't find a harddrive this thing seems to boot from the compact flash card. So we just have to get our operating system on this.

Step 4: How to Get a New Operating System on It

The lazy ones can buy a module from the manufacturer of these machines. But spending 40 bucks for a pretty lame linux with almost no features? No way! We are hackers, if a manufacturer can do this, we can do this even better.

All we've got to do is to erase the 128 MB card in our card reader and get a new operating system on it.

So remove the card (turn off the thinclient, if it's still running...) and put it into your card reader in your Linux or Windows PC. If your're lucky you can format it without any problems. In my case Murphy's law hit me once again and my computer didn't let me format the card. Give up and buy the manufacturer's card? Don't even think about this "option". Try to get a digital camera which uses the same type of memory cards. In my case this was my Sony Alpha DSLR. I put the card in, used the "Format card" option from the menu and there was no longer a problem.

Put the card back again in your PC card reader, start Unetbootin (if not done before, download it from here: ), select the Damn Small Linux image (get it from here: and select the target device. This is  the compact flash card in your reader, which can be shown as a drive letter (Windows) or a device (Linux). After a short time you'll get a message that the copy process is completed. Quit the tool, remove the card from your reader and put it back again in your thinclient.

Step 5: Test Run

Before we close the case with the screws we'll run a test first. Connect a keyboard, a mouse, an ethernet cable (for the internet test), a monitor and the power cable and turn it on.

If everything worked fine (and I don't think there will be any problems) you should see the boot message and after a few seconds DSL starts and you see the desktop. Congratulation you're done. You can now try to connect to the internet (ethernet cable!). There shouln't be any problems.

Now you can shut down, close the case with the screws, boot again and play/customize your new desktop computer. As 128 MB is not much memory I suggest that you save your text files or whatever you create on this machine on a thumbdrive. Or you get a bigger compact flash card and do all the steps again. Have a lot of fun!

Step 6: What You Can Do With Your "new" Computer

As it's tiny, energy saving, quiet and still powerful there a lot of new uses for your modded thinclient.

You can use it as it is at the moment or you can do a lot of funny things with it!

A few ideas (I'll add instructables for them in the next days)

- RSS reading alarm clock
- Kitchen PC
- Web/Mail Server
- TOR Gateway
- Media Player
- Automated home controller
- etc.

If you got new ideas just feel free to post them here!



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    28 Discussions

    I have an Fujitsu Futro S550:
    1Ghz AMD Sempron, Radeon X1200, 1GB CF, 1GB Ram.
    I upgraded everything!
    !,2 Ghz Athlon 64X2 CPU, 2GB Ram and a 32GB Sandisk high speed CF (as fast as an modern notebook HDD) and the last upgrade will arrive me tomorrow.
    A Zotac Geforce GT 610 low profile card (with standard PCI).
    I installed windows 7 on it (Using WinToUSB since the CF card is mounted as removable drive but after first boot I installed an unoffical driver wich let windows think it´s a normal HDD)

    I´m planning to build a little retro console but the internal gpu isn´t compatible with retroarch so I can´t use EmulationStation (Controller optimized UI)
    I hope my new graphics card will fit in the very small case.
    This is the ultimate thinclient i guess...

    Hi, I'm trying to use a boxtv based on the rockchip chipset RK3229 as a thin client, do you think it can work?

    Thanks for any comments,

    Thank you.

    How can i get powerpoint on this system?

    I hv hcl winbee thinclient huts 8000. I starts it run for 30 minutes then stops. Though green led lit. I switch off main power supply n then again starts thinclient it run for 10 minutes n stops. Pls guide me.

    why not replace that smal cf card with some thing bigger to some thing a 250 or a 500 mb.

    Does this work for arm too or only for x86?

    I used a bigger CF card and this thing can even run Xubuntu.

    I've got two Centerm GI945 thin clients that came to me stripped (no flash disk on module installed). I'm trying to find a compatible flash drive to work in it. I know they have a SATA connector on them, and they have what appears to possibly be a 44 pin laptop style ide connector, but I'm not sure. they also have a mini PCI-E type connector for the optional WLAN module, but I know from testing that this doesn't recognize a M-SATA SSD drive so it's pretty much useless unless I put a wireless card into it. Can anyone advise on what would be the best compatible flash disk module for it? I've got the Windows XPe image from centerm's website to put on it, and I am hoping to be able to modify the image to add the drivers for my USB asicminers along with the bfgminer software to autostart on them when they are powered on. I'd like to be able to delegate these out to my workshop area along with the usb hubs I have them plugged into so I don't have to worry about my cats messing with them and potentially screwing something up.

    3 replies

    I did some looking around and found this

    Looks like it has enough power to handle Windows 7, and various flavors of linux. (being an intel atom at 1.6 GHz, and up to a maximum of 2 GB of RAM.) Do some looking around on Ebay, Amazon, and Newegg and you might find some more RAM and a Large CF card (Last time I looked they were expensive) and you will be good to go! (I know your question wasn't for me, but I like to help out)

    Unfortunately it doesn't have a Compact Flash card reader installed in it. I found a 44pin 2GB disk on module that should work with it, however the connector on the motherboard is backwards in orientation to how the module I purchased would need to work. I did determine that I could use a Male to Female 44 pin laptop ide cable on it, so I ordered one. I am still waiting on it to come in. the XPe image that centerm has available to download should work fine for my purposes if I can add the drivers for the USB asicminer devices and copy of ther bfgminer program and set it to auto start when the terminal is turned on.

    Also forgot to say that WinPE would be a good choice. And for linux, try for find a distro that will boot into the live session at bootup, or if you can boot from a USB stick on the Centerm, do that and install it to your CF card.

    You could install an embedded version of Windows if you are motivated enough to download an image for another thin client then use imagex to write it to flash, but I wouldn't bother on such an underpowered machine. WinPE variants could also work. See my previous post. There is no reason to want Windows on it, since each OS is merely a tool and you should make the effort to get comfortable with multiple operating systems for your own (considerable!) benefit. DSL is light and fast. Puppy Linux uses more RAM but is outstanding and very popular for thin client conversions. BTW there are much more powerful thin clients available cheap via Ebay since this article was posted. Happy hunting.

    How about buying another CF card like an 8GB or 16GB one. create 2 partitions(one for install files and one for actual OS), and installing some version of Windows?

    i also forgoten, a on-the-go pc, like in the car, hotel, for example

    can anyone tell me if i can do this, then stream video from the net like html5, flash, ie Netflix, YouTube or not i not there are thumb stick that run Google TV but the site or starting to become unusable thx a i'm thinking about build a itx system but would love to drop the watts i can drop a cf 2 gb+ in it no problem but will this work?

    cool stuff.. i wonder if we can convert this now a "thin PC" to a video encode/decoder,
    as they are too expensive to buy??

    I know, a network sharing gateway and media center.

    Bunch of links. You can treat a CF card in a USB adapter as a USB stick for loading purposes for BOTH WinPE and Linux:

    Lighter than Ubuntu, nice distro:

    THE thin client spec reference. Great for checking possible deals:

    Awesome idea! I actually scored 8 Neoware Thinclients recently and have been tinkering myself. Check this page out for some great ideas
    The bottom of the page shows what I just did with 2 of mine and David posted it to his page! I'm famous! That row of header pins just above the CF slot is a 2.5" laptop hard drive header. Oh the possibilities. And yes, I Void Warranties too. Love that shirt.
    As to the problems with reformatting the installed CF cards, I had the same thing happen. Oddly, if I unmounted them in my disk editor, I was then able to format them without problem.

    1 reply

    I love that shirt too. I was immediately thinking of ways to put that phrase on bumper stickers, hats, and t-shirts. Can you say nerd litmus test?

    Similarly, I always say this is how you know you're a nerd. You can be sure you're a nerd when you have a favorite screw driver you carry with you. Even worse when that screw driver is double sided and has a pocket clip. You may be approaching 'live with your mother'/'still a virgin' territory if your screw driver was sent to you as swag from a PCB fabricating company and their logo is printed upon it.

    I am wondering how you scored 8 Neowares much like the author got a box with a bunch of them? My Wyse 3125se with Wyse's Windows CE cost me about $25 dollars including shipping. I love the little guy for being a little miniature computer, but I it is obviously pretty dated technology.

    32mb flash, 64mb ram. The RAM is not upgradeable. But there is a 40 pin header for an IDE HDD. Off the top of my head, I don't know if it wants 2.5" or 3.5" HDD. It's little geode is a 266 MHz processor. I have it RDP'ing to a P3 450mhz 384mb Compaq desktop off in my closet without a monitor.

    The Winterm is plugged into a VGA to analog converter and it is plugged into my TV. I use an Apple keyboard with an extended usb cord and 2 built in usb ports for plugging in a mouse. I can browse the web or play old video games from my couch. Definitely pretty neat, but I want to find out how to get some higher quality ones on the cheap before I do further experimenting with upgrading.

    Nice soldering job on the CF card header. My hands are not steady enough for that. I want to be famous and get my stuff on that website too. I've been checking it out thinking about upgrades and its so cool to see that I'm not the only one.