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Where Are the Cheap Thin Clients? 349

Posted by kdawson
from the can't-be-too-rich-either dept.
Darren Ginter writes "I find many aspects of desktop virtualization compelling, with one exception: the cost of the thin clients, which typically exceeds that of a traditional box. I understand all of the benefits of desktop virtualization (and the downsides, thanks) but I'm very hung up on spending more for less. While there are some sub-$200 products out there, they all seem to cut corners (give me non-vaporware that will drive a 22" LCD at full resolution). I can PXE boot a homebrew Atom-based thin client for $130, but I'd prefer to be able to buy something assembled. Am I missing something here?"
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Where Are the Cheap Thin Clients?

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  • Yes (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @05:06AM (#30502996)

    Am I missing something here?

    A cheap thin client?

    *ducks*

  • by Eric Smith (4379) <eric@brouhaha. c o m> on Sunday December 20, 2009 @05:07AM (#30502998) Homepage Journal
    The more you pay, the less you get.

    Though not for the same reason. You get a complete PC for less than a thin client because complete PCs are made in insanely high volumes compared to thin clients, which are a niche item.

    • by geekmux (1040042) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @05:29AM (#30503044)

      The more you pay, the less you get.

      Though not for the same reason. You get a complete PC for less than a thin client because complete PCs are made in insanely high volumes compared to thin clients, which are a niche item.

      Er, sorry. I consider dual-socket desktops with 64GB of RAM and 8 cores attached to a 30" monitor running 3D CAD programs a "niche" item. Thin-client hardware has been around now for at least 10 years. I'm struggling to find the connection there, especially when those that truly find the value in deploying this hardware usually do so with an order for hardware in the hundreds or thousands.

      They charge what they want to charge more likely because companies like WYSE know that when you buy their hardware, the functional lifespan is likely 2 to 3 times that of a traditional desktop, and it's gonna be a while before you're knocking on their door for a purchase again.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bigsteve@dstc (140392)

        I'm struggling to find the connection there ...

        The comparison is not with massively over-spec'ed gaming machines or CAD monsters. It is with the bottom end desktop boxes, etcetera that millions of office workers use.

        Two of the factors that drive price in the PC marketplace are competition and scale. On the one hand, if WYSE (or whoever) are the only people selling thin client machines, then they don't need to worry about competitors undercutting them. On the other hand is WYSE is only selling low volumes of thin client machines (because most custo

        • by Znork (31774) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:03AM (#30503258)

          It is with the bottom end desktop boxes

          Which usually contain COTS hardware. Which a thin client can also use today. Like the submitter said, slapping together a thin client is easy.

          they have to sell them at a higher price to recoup development costs

          There are basically no development costs in this case, nor are the components high margin enough that production volume can make a significant difference in purchasing price. We're not talking special hardware here, we're talking miniITX/laptop MB's which are produced in the bazillions range whether or not a thin client producer uses them.

          Personally I'd say the higher price is because the target market is almost fully corporate and corporate purchasers usually have difficulty comparing prices with anything that's not explicitly listed as equivalent. Which gets you the old triple-the-list-price and then let them negotiate a 50% discount and the customer will feel good about his leet bargaining skillz.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jonbryce (703250)

          Chip PC [chippc.com] also sell thin client machines. I don't know how the price compares to Wyse. They don't sell direct, so you need to contact one of their resellers.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Daengbo (523424)

          People are looking in the wrong place. Move outside Intel and AMD.

          $99 for a computer in a keyboard [linuxfordevices.com] from Norhtec [norhtec.com]. (In fact, the prototype is still linked in my sig, but I have no connection to the company.) Video is available at Linux For Devices, but the Gecko Surfboard doesn't appear to be listed on tNorhtec's site yet.

          • by kFiddle (1383267) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:41AM (#30503818)

            This basically just reaffirms the submitter's point. The PC-in-a-keyboard is not a thin client--it's a full, although lightweight, computer in a keyboard. It's $100. Want to buy an actual thin client? Expect to pay $300-$1000. Throw in a keyboard and monitor, and that ups the price quite a bit.

            Also, the argument that thin clients are "specialty" items that drives up production costs doesn't hold up, since one would assume the $99 computer-in-a-keyboard is also a specialty item. It contains, at a minimum, a hard drive and a keyboard, which is already much more than a thin client has (not incl thin client laptops).

            So why are thin clients so expensive? I've had the same question for a while now, since I've been looking around for a thin client laptop that's cheaper than a traditional laptop/netbook. So far I haven't succeeded, with most thin client laptops being much more expensive.

            My guess is that the marketers hear phrases like "high security," "low energy consumption," "remotely managed," "longer longevity," "virtualization," "cloud computing," etc and think they have features that can drive the price up. The geeks, though, understand that they could build their own "thin client" by just subtracting physical parts from their existing computer and doing a little configuration.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Toonol (1057698)
              So why are thin clients so expensive?

              My gut feeling is because the people shopping for them are demonstrably suckers. If you have a customer that's willing to spend money based on ridiculous fashion trends, why not convince them that an expensive specialty thin client is magically better than a cheaper, more useful, low-end pc?
      • by gbjbaanb (229885)

        Er, sorry. I consider dual-socket desktops with 64GB of RAM and 8 cores attached to a 30" monitor ... a "niche" item.

        Sorry, but I don't. there again, I am running Office 2007 and I need Outlook, 2 Word documents and an Excel document open *at the same time* on a daily basis. :)

      • by dimeglio (456244) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:36AM (#30503796)

        I think the savings in deployment and long term maintenance of these terminal units are just an illusion. 1. it simply switches the cost of the workstation maintenance to the back office as you need an immensely powerful data centre to drive thousands/tens of thousands of these terminals; 2. you still need a service desk as most requests we get are for new employee accounts and handling typical release incident; 3. people want to stay competitive and having a one size fits all typically prohibits one-offs, even if there is an obvious advantage; 4. problems affecting a cluster will affect everyone so you still need backup PCs for critical service delivery. It was a great idea when all you needed was amber on black text and typically only ran 3-4 applications but now people expect full multi-media experiences, web 2.0, and although terminals are able to a certain degree to deliver these, it is often awkward and demands more than a cheap disk-less unit.

        • by Sikmaz (686372) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @01:47PM (#30505548)

          Let me answer your points directly as someone who has been doing some POC's of thin clients in a large (40k+ environment)

          1. it simply switches the cost of the workstation maintenance to the back office as you need an immensely powerful data centre to drive thousands/tens of thousands of these terminals;
          True except it is always cheaper to manage and maintain those systems than desktops. We know per unit how much each desktop costs us to manage and maintain and we also know the same information for our big-iron boxes and Citrix farm and it came out that if we could serve 20 users per server it was a large cost savings and it helped with support. We even got savings at 10 per

          2. you still need a service desk as most requests we get are for new employee accounts and handling typical release incident;
          You need this now anyway in a large enterprise environment and you now need less deskside people and remote support is easier.

          3. people want to stay competitive and having a one size fits all typically prohibits one-offs, even if there is an obvious advantage;
          Not if you do VDI which means you deliver a full desktop to the users

          4. problems affecting a cluster will affect everyone so you still need backup PCs for critical service delivery.
          No you just have a multiple deployments and redundancy. In most large corporations most apps are client server (Regardless of if that is a fat client or web client) so there is experience in making systems redundant.

          Does it work for every user? No but it does for most, the challenges are:
          1) The initial cost of deployment
          2) User and business acceptance

          If you can solve those issues you will experience year to year cost reductions.

        • by Colin Smith (2679) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @01:53PM (#30505610)

          I think the savings in deployment and long term maintenance of these terminal units are just an illusion.

          1: Unix/Linux systems[10] use copy on write. You load an application or library once and use it for the many users who are running the same application. The application runs significantly faster because the CPU cache and even more significantly, disk I/O cache hit rates are far higher than on a desktop system which is running half a dozen unrelated apps. This means you don't need 1000 servers to handle the load of 1000 desktops, or even 100. Your system utilisation goes from ~3% to ~90%.

          Desktops. No maintenance. No 3 year upgrade cycle. The money can be spent adding business value instead.

          Your desktop support problems switch from a linearly increasing management headache to the logarithmically increasing infrastructure management headache which you already have anyway.

          2: You need a service desk anyway. You don't however need a desktop support guy for every floor, or local mail and file servers with the additional storage and management cost that implies. With a centralised infrastructure, distributed filesystems like AFS actually make sense, and can reduce or eliminate data duplication and duplication of business processes.

          3: In what way is a remote desktop one size fits all? 95% of business users barely need more than email. Those who do need more can be provided workstations/whatever if the advantage is obvious enough.

          4: You run a redundant distributed compute cluster. See Condor, GridEngine etc. The nodes are independent. Killing one, or even some of them just means others get used. You lose the network or network services? Exactly how useful is a standalone PC anyway?

          although terminals are able to a certain degree to deliver these, it is often awkward and demands more than a cheap disk-less unit.

          The cheap diskless units are bog standard PCs without disks. If you can stream it to a PC, you can stream it to a PC running as an X-term. ESD just isn't that difficult to set up

          [10] Windows terminal servers are another matter.

    • The more you pay for a bicycle the less you get? What on Earth are you talking about?

      The only way that makes sense is if you are only referring to weight, but that is an undesired quality, and something the engineers try to reduce.

      It is like saying that the more you spend on a computer, the less slowness you get.

  • Nettops? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sznupi (719324) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @05:09AM (#30503006) Homepage

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nettop [wikipedia.org]

    Comes assembled, quite cheap, can drive usual resolutions, often Atom/x86 compatibility...typically has few redundant things though, like HDD; but that might be useful, together with x86, in case you change your mind.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2009 @05:10AM (#30503010)

    To me the compelling aspect of virtualisation for the desktop is to be able to use a standard computer to access specialised systems, such as CAD (check out RHEV with SPICE), legacy software or test environments. At work our conference room PC's are actually normal PC's that connect to a 'conference' room virtual machine, it allows instant display of said specialised systems without effort.

    AB

    • I found out recently a reseller here in Italy distributing the Ncomputing client, [ncomputing.com] which strictly speaking is not a computer, rather a screen repeater; I've had the occasion to try it , and it worked fine for a small office, especially if there are security considerations involved, since there's an actual box that does not have an USB port; there' s no way to take data out except via email.
      The price is quite reasonable, [kernelsoftware.com] and for the vast majority of office work it's vastly simpler than virtualization via
  • ...waiting for a skinny latte and no-meat salad?
  • 1996 called, (Score:4, Insightful)

    by type40 (310531) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @05:20AM (#30503024)

    they want their "future of desktop computing" back.
    Seriously, I remember talking with some IBM engineers back in high-school and they were so certain that thin clients were the hot new thing that would change the face of computing.

    You want to know where to buy thin clients? Goto www.dell.com and buy the cheapest POS they have with a fast network card. Thin clients will always be a more expensive niche player to the PC. After all what is a thin client? A PC with no local storage that can only work if it has a network connection.

    • Re:1996 called, (Score:5, Insightful)

      by timmarhy (659436) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @05:32AM (#30503056)
      err no they aren't. you can buy an entry level thin client for $99.

      thin clients never caught on because not enough MCSE's get taught about them and the CIO doesn't like all the restrictions it puts on his playing of porn.

      in environment's where things like CAD are used thin clients aren't a viable option (yet), but for a lot of businesses it's by far the best way to go.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        Fine but why does the secretary, accounting, and the boss need full blown computers? When all they use is MS office, and a web browser?

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Accounting needs different machines for legal reasons; unfortunately they're usually windows, which throws any theories about it being for security out of the window. The boss should have his own machine for the same reason; it shouldn't run windows either, and for the same reason. Bosses often play with other software when they should be doing real work, e.g. MS Project.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by greenreaper (205818)
          You forgot the world's most popular office application [wikipedia.org].
      • Re:1996 called, (Score:5, Informative)

        by Keruo (771880) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:39AM (#30503344)
        The problem with thin clients isn't the lack of knowledge. It's the break-even point.
        In order for thin clients to become more affordable than deploying standalone workstations, you need to deploy atleast 200 of them, and 200 workstations rules out a lot of businesses.
        Cost of licensing and server infrastructure is really the problem, not the cost of thin clients themselves.
    • Re:1996 called, (Score:4, Informative)

      by gedhrel (241953) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:39AM (#30503810)

      The organisation I work at (it's a university) spends about a million quid a year because people fail to turn off PCs overnight. The running costs of your cheap Dell POS are much higher; the power consumption too.

      For clerical and administrative staff, we can put 7-14 virtualised desktops onto a single box/blade - more with non-whole-stack virtualisation or terminal services. We put our heat generation in a few places, we do get better utilisation. We also export pictures of our data to users, not the data itself, which is quite a bonus.

      The downsides are what you'd expect: mostly, we have fewer spindles to deliver storage to the desktops (this is the biggest issue we face, I think); multimedia is okay-ish; for heavy computational users there aren't really gains to be had.

      It's certainly got its place. Anyone selling you a "one size fits all" for your organisation probably doesn't understand your organisation, but this isn't not a completely incredible approach.

  • economies of scale (Score:3, Informative)

    by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @05:20AM (#30503026)
    development costs, tooling, bespoke firmware, safety testing, promotion and the cost of supporting another range of kit.

    All these costs are largely independent of the number of units produced, yet must be recouped from their sales. By buying a dedicated thin client, you have to bear your share of the product development. Since thin clients sell far fewer units than PCs these costs are higher.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RAMMS+EIN (578166)

      I don't think that argument holds water. After all, the parts that go in thin clients are the same parts that go in PCs, so that can't be the difference. Then there are some custom things, such as the case, but if you consider the countless PC cases, motherboards, etc. etc. already out there, I think that, even though total volume for PCs may be higher than total volume for thin clients, the volume for a given combination of parts that make up a PC isn't necessarily higher than the volume for a given combin

      • I don't think that argument holds water. After all, the parts that go in thin clients are the same parts that go in PCs, so that can't be the difference.

        I don't see where the parent poster even mentioned the cost of the parts as being part of the cost difference.

  • I find many aspects of smart phones compelling, with one exception: the cost of the phones [google.com], which typically exceeds that of a traditional box [system76.com]. I understand all of the benefits of smart phones (and the downsides, thanks) but I'm very hung up on spending more for less.

    You have to pay more to fit all that technology into a smaller package! If you don't care about space, just run a virtualized desktop on traditional desktop hardware.

    BTW I would recommend diskless workstations [disklessworkstations.com] for thin clients. They may
    • Bah...meant to title it smaller != cheaper...o well.

    • by itsdapead (734413)

      I find many aspects of smart phones compelling, with one exception: the cost of the phones [google.com], which typically exceeds that of a traditional box [system76.com].

      ...perhaps you should look at media players that do nearly everything except phone and GPS for 1/3 the price. (e.g. c.f. the price of an iPhone vs. an iPod Touch - or the HTC Hero vs. the non-Apple media player of your choice).

      One does wonder whether the prices of phones are kept artificially high to encourage people to get them on contract...

  • Slow news day? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <.bassbeast1968. .at. .gmail.com.> on Sunday December 20, 2009 @05:34AM (#30503058) Journal

    Well here you go [surpluscomputers.com] a 1.7GHz off lease Compaq desktop for a whole $75 with shipping. That is pretty much the only choice if you don't want to DIY, because thin clients are a niche that will cost you $$$ that it doesn't sound like you are willing to spend. This is small, can fit under a monitor, and has 20Gb of local storage. Perfect for a thin client.

    The simple fact is that is as cheap as you're gonna get, because PCs have economies of scale and thin clients don't. If you just have to have an OEM thin client be prepared to shell out the $$$ buddy.

    • Comes with 1 "monitor" output, which I assume means D-BUS. Not a very good solution. Not to mention driving more than one display, or running Linux. It is cheap though, I'll give you that.

      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        So you add a cheap PCI card [newegg.com], in this case an 8400GS for a whole $42. You could go even cheaper, but if you want to drive multiple monitors and have decent resolution this would be the best bet. This is the best one for Linux as well, due to the fact Nvidia drivers are better ATM. If you would prefer something with open drivers (I heard the older Radeons are well supported now) you can save a couple of bucks by going with a Radeon 9250 [newegg.com] instead at $40.

        Adding the $42 to the $75 for the machine you come out at

  • What are the benefits of desktop virtualization? As they apply to you, that is. Every user of this technology that I know of is a big company or school that needs to deploy hundreds (sometimes thousands!) of desktop systems, and often can't afford to have an IT guy at every site. That's why they're willing to pay a premium price for the thin clients — it's more than offset by lower "cost of ownership".

    Even if do have a use for DV that isn't obvious to me, you might as well do it with PCs. The only cat

    • by i.r.id10t (595143)

      Also groups like this have an overall budget, but it is split into portions- purchase of physical goods, purchases of services, and payroll money. Which is why a local university is fighting with the budget guys to stop paying $300k a year for licenensing their learning management system/course delivery system, adopt a F/OSS solution, and spend an extra $200k per year on a couple of developers to make customizations, etc. Sure it looks like an overall savings of $100k per year, but the $200k people money

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      What are the benefits of desktop virtualization? As they apply to you, that is.

      No desktops to screw up

      Hardware failure? Replace the hardware from a spare, which takes less time and effort because the hardware is small and has few attached cables.

      No data on the user's desktop which must be managed and backed up, ever

      One big PC is actually cheaper than a lot of small PCs, though not very much cheaper. Still, a difference is a difference; I have yet to see a PC under $600 actually worth buying for corporate use, every attempt I've made in that direction has been disappointing if not dis

    • Re:I'm Confused (Score:5, Informative)

      by larien (5608) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @08:45AM (#30503554) Homepage Journal
      There are varied benefits, but some highlights:
      • Desktop breaks? Ship out a new box, they plug it in and away they go. You don't need to worry about what software they need as it's all on the server.
      • Security - no hard drives on desktop which can be stolen.
      • Patching/maintenance. Would you rather maintain patches on 1000 desktops or 10 big boxes in the data centre?
      • Power/cooling/noise at sites. A "real" thin client (as opposed to a PC masquerading as a thin client) will have minimal power requirements which leads to less cooling and noise (no fans or crunching hard drives)
      • Portability. I don't care which desk I sit at, my virtual desktop will automatically have all my apps. If you have a solution like Sun's Sunray, you can even log out of your Sunray half way through writing a document, move to another desk (possibly in another city) and pick up the doc where you left off.
      • High bandwidth apps run in the same data centre as the database server/whatever and you only get the screen updates down the wire which can be more efficient.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by obarthelemy (160321)

        Most of that can be achieved with a well-designed "fat client" network:
        - standard PCs, swap if broken
        - no local data storage via user policies/right
        - patching: frankly, i don't care, 1000 identical desktops can be automated
        - power/noise: i'll grant you that one, hsouldn't be much of an issue though
        - portability: can be done on fat clients too
        - bandwidth: i'll grant you that one too

        On the flip side, fat clients give you more responsive UI, less network load/dependency, less peak-time cpu cycles starvation...

  • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @06:03AM (#30503122) Homepage Journal

    I think the explanation may be market segmentation. Thin clients are aimed at large organizations, where a few hundred dollars for a machine is chump change. They will happily buy greatly overpriced thin clients, because even the cost of an overpriced thin client on a desk is still dwarfed by the cost of the employee at the desk.

    For home users, the picture is different, because they tend to see the computer in isolation. But the vast majority of home users wouldn't want to buy a thin client at any price, because they wouldn't know what to do with it.

    If you want a cheap thin client, I would recommend to either buy one second hand (you can get them for under 100 dollars), or to just get whatever box you can and pretend it's a thin client.

  • Dave Richards is well known in the Gnome community for working with thin clients, specifically for the city of largo, florida. if you wanted some input on the subject you might want to ask him. he's on gnome's planet, or http://davelargo.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]
  • by therus121 (536202) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @06:07AM (#30503128)
    Have a look at the 'Sun Rays' from Sun - they've been around for years; they are cheap and very reliable: http://www.sun.com/software/index.jsp?cat=Desktop&subcat=Sun%20Ray%20Clients [sun.com] The prices shown on the Sun site are list-price - we get a Very healthy discount off of this, which brings the prices down even further.
    • by up4fun (602118) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @06:28AM (#30503184)

      I agree with this, too. The sunrays are excellent.

      But I think the OP is still missing something here. The transition to VDI is not just about replacing one box with another doing the same old same old. It is also an opportunity to start to transition away from local storage, login, screen savers, etc. While there are many many advantages at the back end, there are also some significant gains at the front-end, too.

      As an example, the sun rays have card readers that allow you to authenticate to the back-end very quickly. Using this feature you can roll out always-on desktops that let your users sit down at a desk, any desk, pop their card in and get their desktop, just as they left it, anywhere. As they get up, their card goes with them. No need for screen savers and the whole thing is very very fast. This kind of facility is a big win for our users. No more logins! No more password resets!

      So perhaps consider VDI as a way to seriously improve the end-user experience of computing.

      D

      • by Skapare (16644)

        With the right hardware present, the rest of this is all software. A fast-boot thin Linux on an SD card can run in 1GB ... 4GB might be nice to help X do more caching. That should be doable right inside the monitor case these days (use COTS keyboard/mouse).

  • 32x32 (Score:2, Troll)

    by WGFCrafty (1062506)

    (give me non-vaporware that will drive a 22" LCD at full resolution)

    K.

    Will 32x32 (1024) pixels be enough? We can use a TI-83, not even silver, to accomplish this!

    Oh, you mean you wanted a non-stupid resolution. As far as I'm concerned "full resolution" means the maximum native resolution a monitor can output.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Jerry Smith (806480)

      (give me non-vaporware that will drive a 22" LCD at full resolution)

      K. Will 32x32 (1024) pixels be enough? We can use a TI-83, not even silver, to accomplish this! Oh, you mean you wanted a non-stupid resolution. As far as I'm concerned "full resolution" means the maximum native resolution a monitor can output.

      Erm, yeah, I guess he expected non-stupid reactions, from people who'd automatically assume a 1920 × 1080 resolution.

      • Erm, yeah, I guess he expected non-stupid reactions, from people who'd automatically assume a 1920 × 1080 resolution.

        Really? My 22" LCD monitor has a native resolution of 1680x1050. It just shows how stupid it is to talk about screen size when you really mean resolution. That was the point that grandparent post was making.

        I have to buy another LCD monitor soon, and it will run at 1920x1200 and not 1920x1080. This is why I won't just ask for a size in inches.

  • The "thin client" meme goes back to well before 1993 (when the phrase was coined), and has never caught on. All the reasons why it did not catch on still apply. Mostly, the saving on hardware cost gets lost in the overall cost of the project, plus, the flexibility of conventional PCs (tuning the client installation to the needs of the specific department, and retuning every time the business need changes) has a value that massively outweighs the saving in hardware cost. Those who do not understand history
    • In 1993 there weren't several virtualisation solutions that the thin client can use. We use thin clients at work connecting to VMWare servers and they're just as good for the average employee as a desktop without all the aggravation that goes with having several hundred corporate PCs to maintain.

  • by SharpFang (651121) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @06:45AM (#30503202) Homepage Journal

    A minor computer firm is subcontracted to assemble cheapest PCs. They build normal self-contained PCs running the cheapest OEM Windows available. These are $80(+OS) machines running on parts that are a storage surplus after they went out of sale. Then they install the "thin client" software which is some kind of Telnet or VNC or a web browser with intranet connection, pointed at a PHP web app.

    So basically the employee boots up the computer normally, starts the app fullscreen and does most of the work remotely.

    This has several advantages. The workstations can be troubleshooted locally. They can back up your work if network connection goes down. They allow for custom PC hardware (card readers, barcode scanners, webcams for teleconferencing and so on). They can be upgraded if the need arises, and fixed using off-the-shelf hardware (unless it went so obsolete it's unobtainable). And due to economy of scale, they are cheaper than dedicated thin clients despite being way overpowered.

    I've seen quite a few markets and institutions running a system like this.

    • And they take up way more space and use way more energy than is necessary.

      • by SharpFang (651121)

        If space taken up by the PC is of concern to you, your employees are cramped in way too little space anyway.
        As for power, downclocked CPU, the hdd set to spin down pretty fast and such mitigate most of the problem. In my climate, over most of the year power-hungry appliances mean just that much savings on heating anyway.

        • by aix tom (902140)

          That is true for traditional "office" settings.

          It is however very nice that we now can use the space that was take up by the standard size pc for additional storage space in the information points on the sales floor where we deploy them. They are also much easier to move around when we re-decorate since they are fixed to the back of the monitor.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      They allow for custom PC hardware (card readers, barcode scanners, webcams for teleconferencing and so on).

      Card readers and barcode scanners are keyboard devices. You can get them with USB these days. In fact, I've got a USB CueCat.

      Webcams are a bit tricky, but they should be highly doable with the new FUSE character device support. That is a good point, though.

  • by gedw99 (1597337)

    I agree fully.

    With the KVM & the new spice drives, you can virtualise even your HTPC !!
    It does HD quality video over my network with no problem.
    This is in the basement.

    So all i need on All dekstops is a very simple thin client.
    100 mbit nic
    hdmi.

  • CapEx vs OpEx (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Krokant (956646) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @06:59AM (#30503240)
    Don't forget that the biggest cost in a client is not necessarily the purchasing of the hardware (which is obviously the most visibile cost). Various studies (Gartner, IDC, ...) indicate that a PC that is purchased for $500 (one-time cost) in fact costs somewhere between $1500 and $4500 per year (!) to manage. These hidden costs are mainly into the backend infrastructure supporting these PC's in corporate environments, people managing them, deploying software on them, ... Google for desktop TCO and you'll find plenty of information. Sure, you might disagree with the exact numbers provided by a Gartner /IDC /Forrester but at least it gives an indication.

    For thin clients (and desktop virtualization for that matter), this is also where the cost savings are. No serious VDI vendor will tell you that the CapEx (investment in hardware, licenses,...) is cheaper with thin clients and virtual desktops: you need to buy additional licenses, you're going to run desktops on server hardware (ok, 100 at a time on the same box) and then I still didn't start about the licensing galore (Microsoft VECD, Citrix XenDesktop or VMware View or...). The real cost savings are in the fact that it's much easier to manage, and being able to let your very expensive system administators do something else than troubleshooting a desktop (which costs you twice for the end-user downtime and the sysadmin troubleshooting it).

    The same goes for thin clients: the up-front investment is larger, but they are very easy to manage (plug into the network and the thing autoconfigures itself, pointing you to your virtual desktop -- which means fewer expensive sysadmin interventions on-site for replacing hardware!), they live longer compared to traditional desktops (these used to have three-year lifecycles whereas thin clients typically have a five-year lifecycle -- roughly speaking you'll need to buy two traditional desktops for one thin client in a 5-year desktop lifespan; I'll concur to the fact that with the economic situation, you'll see prolongued lifetimes for both thin clients & desktops but the idea remains the same, numbers might differ today).

    So is the thin client cheaper? In most situations and looking at the total picture, sure it is. Even despite a higher up-front investment. The real problem is not really the price of a thin client but whether your applications and IT environment support thin clients/server based computing (TS/Citrix/VDI).

    Sidenote: I work for a consulting firm where I work a lot with VDI & Server Based Computing in general; we strive to be independent as possible (trying to nuance the vendor claims as much as possible for our clients) but that might mean I am a bit biased towards using SBC if it works ;)
  • by itsdapead (734413) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @07:10AM (#30503284)

    "I find many aspects of desktop virtualization compelling, with one exception: the cost of the thin clients, which typically exceeds that of a traditional box.

    Thing is, if you're using office productivity apps or database front ends (the usual applications for desktop virtualization) then the most computationally intensive part of the job is probably rendering the user interface - so your thin client needs to have pretty much the same CPU and GPU clout as the desktop it is replacing. The Flash RAM costs as much as 10x the amount of HD storage and (since most people expect Thin Clients to be Thin) you're probably paying a premium for laptop-class components. The only real saving is DRAM - which is dirt cheap.

    Also, since the main market for these is corporate, any retail prices you see will be inflated so that corporate clients can be offered a nice "discount".

  • Could do what we are planning and use existing workstations with VDI (http://www.vmware.com/products/view/features.html). Depending on your seat requirements, you may want to try pricing out a homegrown box of your own.

  • The very people who think the cloud is the future, think everything will be written in .NET or JIT'ed javascript. Last few times the thin client idea failed it was because of control, but it seams like each time it comes back there is more over head (more than you might expect from Moore's law). This time I'm not convinced a thin client will cut it. What you need is native apps from a database, one safe place to find apps, and everything kept up to date......Wait that's a repository! Compare the two side by
  • But remember that retail price below 100 USD is extremely difficult becouse of shipping cost from Chine, retail space, etc.

    I bought an ASUS Eee PC 900A refurbished for 149 USD from Ebay, so add a VNC client (or the Goole remote desktop software they have just opensourced) and you have a pretty decent solution.

    The thin client idea is not about low price, is about beeing stateless. Here in Argentina I work with an ensurance company that has 100% of its apps web based, so they dont need and remote desktop solu

  • You already included a link to $249 PC in your blurb, for example. $249 is dirt cheap when you look at how far prices have fallen over the past several years, and not far at all from the sub-$200 price point that you speak of. If the cost of a full-blown PC is already dirt-cheap, there will naturally be little economic incentive for a separate genre of thin client PC's.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rdebath (884132)

      That's exactly his point, he wants that PC without the hard disk, CDROM or OS.

      What do you think that should cost? Maybe $150 ? Why aren't there any tickboxs to do it ?

      Why is there a separate genre of thin client PC's that cost so much more?

      Who is being conned here?

  • I think this has been missed, but Android, and Chrome OS are really thin clients to Google's cloud with minor local functionality.

    The true NX type thin client, though good, is going the way of the Neanderthal.

  • by _LORAX_ (4790) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @08:40AM (#30503528) Homepage

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16883103228 [newegg.com]

    $200 and should drive a 22" monitor no problems, can't confirm PXE bootable, but with 160GB HD it should be easy enough to load up a netboot stack.

  • As others have pointed out, the volume, among other factors have conspired to make the whole thin client network terminal a dead horse in the race for the last, what? 20 years? More like 30 probably. Not that there aren't applications for them, or that they don't have their own virtues. Just that since they remain a niche product for whatever reason, they remain more expensive in terms of bang for buck, than a traditional PC, which helps keep them a niche product. Rinse Repeat.
  • We build ours (Score:5, Interesting)

    by markdavis (642305) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:09AM (#30503694)

    We use over 150 "thin clients" on our network, all Linux based and all controlled by a single (large) Linux [xdm] server. We used to use "real" thin clients (Xterminals) by Tektronix, but as their prices rose and the price of cheap, fanless, low power, small, VIA boards dropped 8-9 years ago, we decided to start making our own.

    We have not regretted the decision. Now we have complete control over the hardware and software. We have the ability to run real local clients when necessary.

    Right now, we are in the process of upgrading to fanless Atom 270 based motherboards from Jetway. Total cost- about $250/ea.

  • About your hangup... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Eric S. Smith (162) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:34AM (#30503786) Homepage

    I'm very hung up on spending more for less.

    Stay away from "enterprise solutions," then — or, rather, make very careful comparisons between the cost of buying a ready-made thing and a DIY effort.

    Am I missing something here?

    That the thin clients you've been looking at are priced for fat organizations (with, possibly, thick decision-makers).

  • HP Thinclients (Score:4, Informative)

    by nukem996 (624036) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:37AM (#30503800)
    HP has their own Debian Linux based client client OS called ThinPro. If you want to add more packages all you have to do is add the standard Debian repo's to /etc/apt/sources.list and your good to go. They're pretty flexible if you know some basic Linux. The best part is they have a much fuller Linux base then many other Linux thin clients. They support even more advanced features such as multimedia redirection(video and USB) as well as the basic XDM, ICA, RDP connections. All of them can drive almost any monitor from a standard 17" LCD to dual 30" LCDs. The cheapest model is ARM based. Its basically a Marvell OpenRD or Netplug with a video card and smaller disk space. All the others are x86 based and vary in speed and price.
  • Options (Score:5, Informative)

    by rwa2 (4391) * on Sunday December 20, 2009 @09:53AM (#30503890) Homepage Journal

    They're getting there, just be patient!

    I'm about the evaluate the Fit-PC2 for work, which can be had in diskless forms for under $250. http://www.fit-pc.com/ [fit-pc.com]

    And I'm currently posting from an EeePC 901 running eeebuntu, which is actually quite a bit better and can be had for under $200. Plug in an external monitor, and rig up the built-in LCD and peripherals as a fancy KVM switching interface for your various VNC, RDP, VMware, NX, etc. backends. I'm really impressed by the Compiz desktop performance, so you can still get pretty slick transitions between various sessions on different virtual desktops.

    And I'm really looking forward to the explosion of new nVidia ION netbooks and nettops, which will actually give a real nVidia 9400 GPU and dual-core Atom processors to these "thin clients", which means they can actually be used more or less like a real box in terms of running web-based interfaces and things without stuttering and pausing occasionally.

    So with a dirt-cheap nettop, unfortunately you'll pay a little bit more than your target, but at least you get extra features (like a small SSD, built-in speakers, keyboard/mouse/multitouchpad, and maybe even a webcam, etc. that you could probably put to good use with a bit of creativity.

  • by mrslacker (1122161) on Sunday December 20, 2009 @10:13AM (#30503992)

    HP's offering: http://h10010.www1.hp.com/wwpc/us/en/sm/WF05a/12454-12454-321959-338927-3640405-4063703.html [hp.com] - $199
    This is ARM-based mind.

    From Dell:
    http://www.dell.com/us/en/home/desktops/inspiron-zino-hd/pd.aspx?refid=inspiron-zino-hd&s=dhs&cs=19 [dell.com]
    $250 right now, but was about $200 during black friday

    From Acer:
    http://www.frys.com/product/6054148 [frys.com]

    $200, has been $180.
    To be fair, all these products are very recent, and I wouldn't expect anyone to be aware of them.
    There are others too, but they tend to cost more.

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