Diskless Terminal

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Diskless terminals are one of the kinds of system Free Geek produces.

what is it

Diskless terminals are PCs that will NOT FUNCTION on their own, but require a server to boot from.

A specialized network interface card (NIC) is used to boot the system over a local area network (LAN). The diskless terminal looks for a server on the LAN to provide an operating system.

why use them

Diskless terminals, on a fast computer network and with a reasonably powerful server, offer excellent performance for most common tasks: browsing the web, composing office documents, printing, etc. They do this without the need for a hard drive (that's the "diskless" part) or a fast processor (since most processing is done by the server.)

This offers several advantages:

  • some cost savings, from not needing to install a hard drive, or a fast processor.
  • the hard drive is a component that fails more often than others; so diskless terminals are more reliable, at least in that respect.
  • Disk drives consume more power than other components, so there is some energy savings as well.
  • Because all files, programs, and even the operating system is stored on a centralized server, administration of a small office incorporating several diskless terminals is easier.

who gets em

Diskless terminals are heavily used in Free Geek's Infrastructure. They are also commonly given out as hardware grants to other nonprofit organizations.


Lessdisks is Free Geek's homegrown software that makes diskless terminals possible. (Thanks, Vagrant!)

LTSP is a similar piece of software, which is part of the Debian distribution. Vagrant has turned his attention to merging his ideas into LTSP, rather than maintain a separate project. Ah, the beauty of free software.