Subject: Experiences setting up multi-headed machines??
To: None <>
From: Todd Whitesel <>
List: tech-kern
Date: 07/30/1999 02:59:44
Originally I was going to post a proposal, but after reading the recent
wsmux thread I realized I should just braindump and RFC:

Has anyone set up a system with multiple video boards and multiple keyboards,
(I'm thinking VGA & USB), and successfully gotten it to imitate the
functionality of a row of vt100's on a many-port serial controller?

Either way, I'll be attempting this sometime in the next couple months, using
NetBSD/i386 and three "heads":
	Venus i740 AGP / typical PC keyboard
	Diamond Stealth 3D 2000 2meg / USB keyboard
	Diamond Stealth 3D 2000 4meg / USB keyboard

Why am I interested in this?? (help promote NetBSD in the real world!)

Anime Expo ( just happened a couple weeks ago.
If you have ever been to a Trek convention or San Diego Comic Con,
you will have a pretty good idea of what it is like; just think
"Akira" or "Ghost in the Shell" instead of "The Undiscovered Country".

I am now head of registration, and I am looking for cost-effective,
_reliable_ and _easy_to_manage_ ways of getting lots of data entry
stations for the main registration area next year. I want to add about
10-20 stations to the current 10. I see three viable options so far:

    1. Rows of cheap swap meet PC's running FreeBSD. We probably need to
	keep at least a dozen of these because roughly half of our stations
	need to have label printers on each station (takes one serial port),
	and next year we will be adding "keyboard wedge" barcode readers.
    2. Rows of vt100's or equivalent terminals connected via many serial
	ports to a beefy server machine. If I could find a place to rent
	vt100's cheap, this would be my favorite because it means we store
	almost nothing during the year. (The server would go home with me
	and be used for spare cycles to keep it in good working condition :)
    3. "Clusters" which are really just multi-headed machines. I can buy a
	motherboard at Fry's for $99 that will let me plug in a maximum of 7
	video cards (1 ISA, 5 PCI, 1 AGP) and has SuperIO+USB+sound onboard.
	Add a good case, memory, disk, and a Celery-400, and it's about $500
	for the headless unit. Average "per-head" cost is $60: $20 each for
	USB keyboard, video card, and surplus VGA monitor.

Previously we have only used option #1, with a couple different revs of
FreeBSD, and it's worked out quite well for us in spite of the occasional
hardware flake-out. However, the raw numbers of components and cables has
become a real problem, such that we are seriously considering hiring
professional security (not cheap) in order to avoid moving the equipment
inside a locked room every night and bringing it back out every morning.

For many years we have talked about option #2, but when I actually go
looking for sources of vt100's, it just convinces me that cheap PC's with
ethernet are actually much easier to deal with, and more cost effective.

The more I think about option #3, however, the more I prefer it in cases
where I can use it. If I could get a USB barcode reader for less than a
$50 premium (see  and, and the wsmux changes go into NetBSD-1.5,
then I would really want to use option #3 for all of my stations, and give
the existing swap meet hardware back to our IT department for use by other
departments (con ops, security, press, industry liason, etc).

Todd Whitesel
toddpw @