A gutted MacBook Air Thin Client: Is it feasible?

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by CUsurfer, Mar 7, 2012.

  1. CUsurfer macrumors member

    Aug 29, 2010

    I was curious if anyone else would be in the market for something like this. My primary computing use is Music Production and media consumption. I would like to have an iMac or MacPro sitting in one room of the house doing all of my heavy lifting. What I'm envisioning is then a gutted MacBook Air, that acts purely as a thin client over my Wireless-N network. In other words, it would have just enough circuitry to display the thin client screen and process the incoming display data from the remote connection to my iMac via AirPlay. This would allow me to work in other room and still be around my wife and kids, perhaps in the living room or the bed room instead of being confined to my studio. I know that the iPad can do this currently but I do not own one, so I don't know how well it works. Also, having the form-factor of a laptop would be necessity. I need to be able to use a mouse and keyboard and I would like to have a big enough screen to accommodate music production software which is notoriously tough to use with small screen real estate. I realize this may be a niche type need and thus not enough of an incentive for Apple to look into something like this but I was curious if anyone else had thought of this or had a similar desire. Is it even feasible?

    I thought that there were certain limitations with displaying rendered video data (movies, gaming, YouTube, etc) but watching the iPad stream video data via AirPlay it would seem like this has been dealt with, at least to some extent?
  2. PinkyMacGodess macrumors 601


    Mar 7, 2007
    Midwest America.
    Wouldn't terminal emulation programs do that for you? Why gut an already skimpy machine? I've done software updates and other stuff using screen sharing. You are doing what you want, just not voiding the MBA warranty.
  3. AdrianK macrumors 68020

    Feb 19, 2011
    I almost suggested VNC over gigabit ethernet... then I remembered :(

    Maybe if you could get the MBA to appear as an AirPlay device, AirPlay in Mountain Lion could send video data to the MBA. Then have an app on the MBA send the cursor and keystrokes to the server.

    Though people seem to be reporting ~100ms of latency which sounds like enough to be annoying imo.
  4. CUsurfer thread starter macrumors member

    Aug 29, 2010
    I'm not sure I understand the bit about utilizing terminal emulation--I desire full GUI interaction. Forgive me, I am far from an expert. With regards to screen sharing, I've never used it because I don't own multiple macs. Are there any limitations? For example, can it easily stream complex video data? If so, then I that would suffice, but I digress...my point wasn't actually the way to accomplish the remote desktop functionality, but rather that you don't actually need a MacBook Air to utilize such an application. Although you refer to the Air as "skimpy", I would say vastly inferior technology could be utilized if all the device needed to do was act as a thin client. The gutted, shell, thin client MacBook Air that I'm envisioning would only cost a couple hundred dollars at most, significantly cheaper than the current Air.
  5. doktordoris macrumors 6502a


    Mar 14, 2009
    I am not sure I understand your needs. I often use my MBA as a thin client, with my iMac doing the computing work and using my Mba as a terminal to operate the iMac. What is it you need that such a solution would fail to provide?
  6. CUsurfer thread starter macrumors member

    Aug 29, 2010
    That solution is fine, only then I would have to shell out $1300 for an Air. What I'm saying is basically take the Air, gut it of only the essentials and load a special OS that is strictly the VNC client/web browswer functionality. Basically, the Apple version of a Chromebook. This type of configuration would be significantly cheaper than an Air. It's main purpose would be to be used as a thin client for another Mac or for cloud-based computing.
  7. PinkyMacGodess macrumors 601


    Mar 7, 2007
    Midwest America.
    So you don't have an Air?

    Forgive me for being direct here but then what are you asking? For Apple to develop a 'gutted' Air for you? What you suggest is, according to the way I read it, is using an Air to control and interact with a remote machine. Terminal emulation/remote access...

    If you are asking for a special version of the Air then good luck to you... It'll be a long wait...

    I don't know if there is terminal emulation/remote access software for a Windows system to access/control a Mac but that might be your best bet.


    I would like to have an iMac or MacPro sitting in one room of the house doing all of my heavy lifting. What I'm envisioning is then a gutted MacBook Air, that acts purely as a thin client over my Wireless-N network.​

    You aren't going to get a 'gutted Air' to act as a thin client. What you can get is screen sharing or remote access to login to the Pro from anywhere in your local net, and even outside your local net if you configure it properly.

    There is emulation software for the iPad that would allow you to login to a remote system too but that's probably too thin of a client.

    You could buy an Air, strip it, sell the parts for money and use it for a thin client but the warranty would be gone, and the usability for it other than a door stop if this doesn't work would be slim. Maybe buy a cheap used one on eBay and gut that one?
  8. LordVic macrumors 601

    Sep 7, 2011
    Haven't seen much in the way of remote terminal settups like this for OSx and Mac's. it's just not something they've put much effort into.

    The architecture isn't anything new. It's a common practice with windows terminal server and thin clients that can load them.

    For example, our training room with 20 "terminals" uses extremely light thin clients. We're talking 1gb ram, 1ghz machines with a rudementary linux kernel built into the firmware.

    they can upon boot launch directly into the windows terminal server and run invisibly so that you'd never know you were actually running a session on a server over the network. It works great for our training room and provided us a really cheap alternative to getting full blown computers for each user. There are other bonuses to this such as security, and 'sandboxing' the training.

    However as I said before, I do not believe OSx has capabilities of doing such. They have screen sharing and thats about it.

    Not to mention the cost of Apple machines. Even the cheapest mac, the mini, is fully capable desktop on it's own and still costs $599.

    however, if you're just lookign to leverage the horsepower of your desktop while using your MBA around the house, just use remote desktop sharing.
  9. CUsurfer thread starter macrumors member

    Aug 29, 2010
    No, I don't have an Air...yet.

    Well, not for just me of course :). Actually, I got the idea from a co-worker. I probably should have worded my title and OP differently. I was kind of focused/fantasizing on my specific need, but thinking about it more, the way computing is going, I believe there could be a market for something like what I was describing. Like I alluded to in my previous post, I think there are two distinct uses for such a device. First, you have the capability of using it as a thin client machine in conjunction with another Mac. Second, it could be used as a cloud-computing device similar to Google's Chromebook. In other words, if Apple provided some type of cloud based service in the future, this could be the ultra-lightweight device used to access the services and applications.

    To expound on the second point and cloud-computing in general: In the future, there may not be a need for local machines. Everything could be in the cloud. You could potentially pay a monthly fee to apple and rent a virtual machine that lives in a server farm somewhere. Want to upgrade your RAM? Simply up your monthly fee. Same for processor, storage, etc. Apple would handle data backup and redundancy.
  10. PinkyMacGodess macrumors 601


    Mar 7, 2007
    Midwest America.
    We got into selling thin client machines for the Windows world and as a matter of fact, still have two sitting around somewhere that we haven't been able to sell.

    It *sounds* like a great idea but in practice ends up being a headache if you don't do it right. We even went through all the who-ha to carry Wyse and *plop*, there they sit. We are going to set one up as a display to see if we can move them and doubt that we will carry them in the future.

    I have a hard time thinking that with Apple's blind eye on anything heavy enterprise, that they would even have an idea of getting into the thin client business at some point in the future. I can't say that I blame them...

    Remote access or terminal emulation is the best way IMO, unless something changes.
  11. Bear macrumors G3

    Jul 23, 2002
    Sol III - Terra
    So, what exactly would you gut from the Air? It's not like there is much to gut to start with.

    Another monthly fee? And another fee? And some usage charges that try to creep in like with cell phones?

    And then you're subject to the whims of your isp for data speeds and such. It will be a long while at the rate some countries (like the US) are going before cloud computing will work for everyone. And even then some things don't work well remotely. Imagine trying to load in game textures on the fly as your playing and your bandwidth to your cloud provider gets reduced for some reason. Nice dream. WIll take a long time if ever to happen.

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