A thin client is somewhere in between a zero client and a standard desktop. Like a zero client, it allows you to access your workstation remotely, so you can house the unit somewhere more convenient. However, unlike a zero client which can only connect to your remote workstation, a thin client can also be used like a mini PC.
They’re often roughly the same size as a zero client: around 15cm high by 3cm wide, and weigh slightly more coming at between 500g and 1.5kg. It’s a solid-state device and will typically have more DVI, DisplayPort/HDMI, and USB ports than a zero client. Thin clients can also support single, dual, or quad monitor setups, and have optional VESA mounting, with the same space-saving, low-power benefits of the zero client.
So why choose a thin client?
You will need to add a remote workstation card into your machine. Then all a thin client needs to work is a network, a power source, and the workstation to connect to. Just turn it on, configure a few settings and it’s ready to use.
Whereas a zero client typically runs with only a couple of connection types, the thin client can work with multiple protocols including Citrix XenDesktop, VMware Horizon, and Microsoft RDP, making them an incredibly flexible option.
As thin clients have more features, they will usually have more software updates. The benefit of this is that your thin client will be more up-to-date than a zero client – plus you can schedule the updates for unobtrusive times (such as after business hours).
Unlike zero clients, a thin client does more than just connect to your remote workstation – it can be used like a mini PC. They have a small amount of storage so a user can install useful applications – like browsers – on the device, but data cannot be copied or saved to it. Software and data are retrieved from the network - no data processing is done on the thin client itself.
As mentioned above, data cannot be saved to a thin client. They have a simple, locked-down operating system that’s optimised to run on either Linux or Windows Embedded (WES7/WE8). And they’re very secure – the built-in write-protection of Windows Embedded will crush any threats by cycling the power and the filter stops anything being transferred to the storage.
In brief, thin clients – like zero clients – are easy to set up, quiet, are low power, low cost to run, are space-saving, and very secure, with the added benefit over zero clients of connectivity flexibility, and the ability to act as a mini PC. If your projects don’t require high-resolution 4K, or high FPS environments, then perhaps consider a zero client.