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X Window System Terminals

A new use for old and outdated PCs

by Rich Kaszeta

Originally featured in the April 1998 Linux Gazette.

This page has moved, and should automatically redirect you to my new page at


This page describes how to convert low-end 386/486 PC's into standalone X Window Systems terminals which can serve as graphical terminals to your existing Linux/Unix workstations.


Here at the Mechanical Engineering Dept. at the University of Minnesota, we inherited a number of old IBM PS/Valuepoint 486 machines (16 Meg memory, 200 Meg HD) with keyboards and monitors, and were trying to find a way to get some good use out of them.

Originally, we discussed placing Linux on them (our department already has dozens of Pentium-class Linux machines which are quite popular), but decided that with their low disk space and memory they wouldn't run fast enough to suit our current users' needs, and that it wasn't economical to upgrade them.

Our solution was to install a minimal Debian Linux system on them (base install plus basic networking, X, and a few utilities), and configure them to act as X terminals, allowing us to provide extremely cheap fully-graphical terminals, which are used in graduate student offices and as X interfaces to our headless Unix servers.

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