Ceptor Technology or How to Build a Small Thin Client

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Ian Geiser, Devon CTO writes about technology choices for Devon IT’s new Ceptor(tm) HDMI thin client.

We chose the Freescale processor for a number of reasons for Ceptor, but they all come back to software support. You can have the best SoC on the market, but if your board support is poor, then you may as well have the worst one.

Thin clients are unique because they have functionality that is a little more than a tablet , but not as much as a desktop PC. These are requirements that not all SoC’s can provide. We needed the tightly integrated SoC but we still require rich peripheral support such as multiple video ports, multiple USB ports, Wireless, and Gigabit Ethernet. The iMX6 has all of these by default directly on the SoC so we can get the best performance in a small footprint. Freescale’s iMX6q has its own unique IP blocks for things like USB, Ethernet, Crypto and GPU, but their board support leverages common Linux kernel interfaces. The net result is once the core pinmux/gpio/etc are set up for the board things “just work”. This gave us quick software ramp up time, and easier integration with the fast moving Linux kernel.

Unlike the tablet and mobility market, thin clients are seen as devices that last for 3-5+ years. In that time new client access software for VDI is released with more features and new system software requirements. This forces us to have an up to date BSP to work with so we can be competitive. Freescale has provided a long term roadmap of SW support but historically they have provided not only updates, but entire new kernels for 5+ years even without community support. For a SoC vendor they do have a very active community around the Linux kernel development and projects like Open Embedded. This gives us less risk on our investment in the SoC because we know we can get a longer life for our designs. We know we can use new software packages without having to spin a new board around a new SoC. In our case this is important because the desktop-like apps that are provided from Citrix and VMWare tend to need the most recent Linux multimedia and display drivers. We know we can have a design that will remain competitive longer.

Lastly, Freescale uses a GPU made by Vivante. Vivante has been used by many thin clients vendors for a few years. It is not only good hardware but the software drivers for Xorg offer good 2D acceleration. This is important for remote thin client applications because we rely on updates of 2D pixmaps from the server in a way that 3D only GPUs are not always good performers. The Xorg is key to us because currently many of the remote access clients for Linux require support for that.

In our experience the iMX6Q is a solid performer for our use, and Freescale has a good track record of software support. That made them a perfect choice for Devon IT’s Ceptor.

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