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

Michael Larabel

Published on 1 May 2012
Written by Michael Larabel
Page 2 of 3 - 33 Comments

As far as the Kickstarter project goes, all of the hardware is designed and ready to go. The point of doing this Kickstarter project is effectively to do a "group buy" as they need to order around 2,000 units in order to hit the $50 price-point on the hardware. The project hopes to raise $125,000 to make this possible. For anyone that pledges more than $60, they will receive one of these $50 units -- the price difference comes in due to Kickstarter receiving a portion of the funds, credit card processing fees, shipping, etc. Plugable will also be continuing to work on the open-source DisplayLink stack and other open-source bits used by this multi-seat implementation. Those paying $75 or more will get the higher-end model (the UD-160-M). As the amount increases, so does the number of units you receive. If you pledge $275 or more, for example, you will get five of these USB devices.

The standard model they hope to ultimately be producing at the $50 price point is the DC-125, which is USB 2.0-based and has a DisplayLink DL-125 graphics chipset, a VGA output capable of driving up to a 1440 x 900 or 1280 x 1024 display, two USB 2.0 ports, and a stereo headphone/microphone jack for per-seat individual audio output. The higher-end model, the UD-160-A, uses the DisplayLink DL-165 graphics chipset, DVI and VGA outputs that can output up to 1920 x 1080 or 1600 x 1200, four USB 2.0 ports, headphone/microphone jacks, and has a 2.5 Amp external AC power supply. The hardware for this Kickstarter project is all set to go, but they just need to go for a large purchase order to lower the cost. Plugable is already selling the DC-125 on Amazon for $65 and the DL-125 on Amazon for $79. Right now they are basically marketing it as a universal laptop docking station, which the product can also be used as rather than a multi-seat terminal -- it works the same way regardless.

Plugable is trying to target this multi-seat terminal product at enthusiasts, families who may want to share a computer amongst kids or visitors, small offices, and schools where many students could be sharing a single computer. Alternatively, yes, if you are just looking for a laptop / mobile device docking station, that works fine too. Last week I was able to try out both of the Plugable devices at their office. The products do meet their claims that it's basically a "plug and play" experience when using Fedora 17 and that there isn't any annoying configuration steps or other issues to deal with, but plug it in and go. It's really that easy!

For eight seats from a single Core i5 system with a limited amount of RAM, the performance of the Fedora 17 desktop was stunning. The only partially sluggish experience was the graphics. The DisplayLink kernel frame-buffer driver is used and xf86-video-fbdev is used as the DDX driver. So there is not any hardware graphics acceleration at this point, but with the DisplayLink KMS driver the performance may end up improving. When the work with DMA-BUF and PRIME and other areas are complete upstream in Linux, including the X.Org hot-plugging work, there might also be hardware-based GPU acceleration possible by leveraging the host's GPU. The LLVMpipe driver is used by default right now for software graphics acceleration with the GNOME Shell.

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