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Thread: Making A Easy-To-Setup $50 Linux Multi-Seat Computer

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  1. #1
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    Default Making A Easy-To-Setup $50 Linux Multi-Seat Computer

    Phoronix: Making A Easy-To-Setup $50 Linux Multi-Seat Computer

    While it's improved a lot recently, in the past setting up a multi-seat computer has been a pain in the ass with a lot of manual configurations needed and other peculiar steps to get the hardware/software combination working right. What if the process were a lot simpler? What if new seats could be added to a computer at a very low cost and the setup was effectively "out of the box" to the point that it's truly plug-and-play? Well, we are now effectively at that point on the Linux desktop and there is a new Kickstarter effort to help in that initiative.

    http://www.phoronix.com/vr.php?view=17306

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    In the video, he refers it to as "lowering cost of computing", but it doesn't lower the cost of computing.

    He also refers to it as a computer even though it isn't a computer.

    The standard model has a resolution of 1440 x 900 or 1280 x 1024. Haven't we been able to have higher resolution with 15-year-old graphics card?

    He says it reduces the cost of computing to $50 per user, but it doesn't, because it needs a computer, mouse and the screen so the real TCO is significiantly higher.

    It only have USB 2.0 instead of the newer USB 3.0.

    On the flip side, I think it is really great that it is open hardware!

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by uid313 View Post
    In the video, he refers it to as "lowering cost of computing", but it doesn't lower the cost of computing.
    He probably meant computing as in using a computer.

    He also refers to it as a computer even though it isn't a computer.
    When? I don't remember that - I remember him explicitly saying at least twice that it isn't a computer.

    The standard model has a resolution of 1440 x 900 or 1280 x 1024. Haven't we been able to have higher resolution with 15-year-old graphics card?
    Perhaps that's just the recommended resolution? Besides, I'm not exactly sure how this is set up but if its 1 DisplayPort being used for every other attached device, then a resolution like those may not be great but they're acceptable. For something like library or school computers, you don't need resolutions higher than that anyway. Besides, higher resolutions would likely encourage more multitasking, which a multiseat computer doesn't need more of.

    He says it reduces the cost of computing to $50 per user, but it doesn't, because it needs a computer, mouse and the screen so the real TCO is significiantly higher.
    I noticed he isn't the best at getting his point across, but what I'm sure he meant to say was $50 per additional user. And your argument about the mouse, screen, and keyboard is invalid because you'd need those things for a complete separate computer anyway, so those technically aren't an additional cost.

    It only have USB 2.0 instead of the newer USB 3.0.
    So? Its sharing keyboards and mice, you don't need USB 3 to do that. If those USB ports also control things like flash drives (where if you plug in a flash drive, its only accessible to that particular user) then yes, USB 3.0 would probably be better. I'm not sure if USB 3.0 has a larger limit than 127 devices, but even if it does, its unlikely a single computer is able to handle such a vast amount of users, unless you've got like a quad-socketed motherboard with an SLi/Crossfire setup.

    On the flip side, I think it is really great that it is open hardware!
    As do I - although it has that monitor limitation, the fact that you just plug it in and get a new seat is pretty amazing to me. I've done multiseat with linux before and it is a pain in the ass to set up. $50 is a VERY reasonable price to not have to do all that work.

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    The resolution is limited to that because that's all the DisplayLink hardware can probably handle. I have two DL devices (EVGA branded) that can only go max at 1680x1050. I might add that they are slow for anything other than largely static content, since they're only USB 2.0. They also can tax the CPU while trying to view dynamic or moving content because the CPU is compressing the images down to minimize the amount of data sent across USB. Also, the performance decreases for each device you add since USB 2 is a shared bus and the bandwidth is split across all devices on that bus.

    For $150 you can have an E-350 AIO system that would run circles around this, and wouldn't be tied to another computer. You could probably find used Atom 330 AIO systems used on eBay for even cheaper.

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    Quote Originally Posted by locovaca View Post
    For $150 you can have an E-350 AIO system that would run circles around this
    For $30, you can have another gfx card, and then you can have fully accelerated multi-seat with 3d and desktop effects on each seat. That's what I'm running at home right now, and other than modifying a kdmrc and xorg.conf I found on the internet, it was quite painless to set up.

    It's only when you get past 4 seats that this approach starts having problems, because you need a better motherboard, better cooling, etc.

    The plug and play aspect of this is nice and appealing, but seriously, multi-seat is relatively easy for a moderately experienced Linux user, and all you need is an extra gfx card (the weakest one will do). Hopefully, in the future, you'll be able to run multiple seats off one card, with that patchset agdf had floating around...

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    Hey i want to play open source source engine games on 5 terminals with open source drivers and wayland!
    Just kidding... It looks like interesting stuff.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by uid313 View Post
    In the video, he refers it to as "lowering cost of computing", but it doesn't lower the cost of computing.

    He also refers to it as a computer even though it isn't a computer.

    He says it reduces the cost of computing to $50 per user, but it doesn't, because it needs a computer, mouse and the screen so the real TCO is significiantly higher.
    This should be better directed at the article title... Now it feels like it's a full computer capable of multi-seat for $50, while it's actually an USB hub on steroids for $50.

    Regardless, it's definitely interesting. One thing's for certain, very often there is unneeded power in PCs that could be used by someone else. This could be very useful in libraries, schools and workplaces, where the environment is rather strictly managed yet needs to cut the cots as much as possible while having it easy to maintain. Overall this centralised computing model is very useful when there is some extra expenditure involved in the software side, as for one license, the whole workplace is able to access the software, therefore further cutting costs. Not that it's all that relevant to OSS, though, usually you don't need to pay any extra for that at all.

    The kickstarter options are pretty nice, too. I'm not a fan of options like "give $25 and receive a T-shirt!!", whereas these ones are actually meaningful.

  8. #8
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    I would like to see if USB 3 would improve this. I can see it being really useful, even for just families.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by fuzz View Post
    I would like to see if USB 3 would improve this. I can see it being really useful, even for just families.
    I talked about it with Bernie when at their office. DisplayLink does have a USB3 chip now, except there's currently no Linux support.

  10. #10

    Default For now, USB 2 will give better results anyway

    Quote Originally Posted by fuzz View Post
    I would like to see if USB 3 would improve this. I can see it being really useful, even for just families.
    We do think families will like this kind of solution (assuming the kids are happy in Linux or the browser). I've run (an older USB multiseat solution) my own house for months at a time, and it's great to have only one computer to maintain. The only tension is all the old Windows game CDs we have laying around that Wine wouldn't run.

    In terms of USB, Michael mentions the key problem -- but even on top of that, there are practical issues that mean USB 2.0 is a better overall solution in almost all cases today. USB 3.0 devices and infrastructure cost more. But the biggest issues are USB 3.0 cable length and stability. USB 2.0 is great in that there are cheap cable available providing long runs with no errors (we sell a 10 meter active cable like this). Whereas USB 3.0 is dodgy even beyond 1 meter. Also, it's great plugging lots of thin clients into a single 7 or 10 port USB hub. With USB 3.0, only 4 port hubs are out now (and the quality of them varies greatly). You want a setup like this to be rock solid (and with USB 2.0, it can be with good hardware).

    So we expect USB 3.0 solutions to make their way onto the market, but actually USB 2.0 has a whole bunch of benefits (even given the constrained throughput). Remember that only the pixels that are changing are going over the bus (and compressed, at that). So it's actually surprising how performant the USB 2.0 solutions are.

    Hopefully Michael will have the chance to do some more benchmarks and videos in his own lab, showing the full performance story. It's not for gaming or 1080p motion video, but it's great for information work and good enough for Youtube-quality video. That's not for everyone, but it meets many needs, especially at schools and non-profits.

    I hope we get a few people here interested enough, to give it a try and see it in action. Thanks for posting!

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