Thin Clients vs. Cheap PCs

We have, for a long time, been fans of thin client devices. However, if you run the numbers, it turns out that thin-clients may not necessarily be the most cost-effective client devices for a VDI deployment.

Just before writing this post, I went to the Dell Web site and priced out a low-end Vostro Mini Tower system: 3.2 GHz Intel E5800 dual-core processor, 3 Gb RAM, 320 Gb disk drive, integrated Intel graphics, Windows 7 Professional 64-bit OS, 1 year next-business-day on-site service. Total price: $349.00.

When you buy a new PC with an OEM license of Windows on it, you have 90 days to add Microsoft Software Assurance to that PC. That will cost you $109.00 for two years of coverage. You’re now out of pocket $458.00. However, one of the benefits of Software Assurance is that you don’t need any other Microsoft license component to access a virtual desktop OS. You also have the rights, under SA, to install Windows Thin PC (WinTPC) on the system, which strips out a lot of non-essential stuff and allows you to administratively lock it down – think of WinTPC as Microsoft’s own tool kit for turning a PC into a thin client device.

Now consider the thin client option. A new Wyse Winterm built on Embedded Windows 7 carries an MSRP of $499. There are less expensive thin clients, but this one would be the closest to a Windows 7 PC in terms of the user experience (media redirection to a local Windows Media Player, Windows 7 user interface, etc.). However, having bought the thin client, you must now purchase a Microsoft Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license to legally access your VDI environment. The VDA license is only available through the Open Value Subscription model, and will cost you $100/year forever. So your total cost over two years is $699 for the Wyse device vs. $458 for the Dell Vostro.

After the initial two year term, you’ll have to renew Software Assurance on the PC for another two years. That will continue to cost you roughly $54.50/year vs. $100/year to keep paying for that VDA license.

Arguably, the Wyse thin client is a better choice for some use cases. It will work better in a hostile environment – like a factory floor – because it has no fan to pull dust and debris into the case. In fact, it has no moving parts at all, and will likely last longer as a result…although PC hardware is pretty darned reliable these days, and at that price point, the low-end PC becomes every bit as disposable as a thin client device.

So, as much as we love our friends at Wyse, the bottom line is…well, it’s the bottom line. And if you’re looking at a significant VDI deployment, it might be worth running the numbers both ways before you decide for sure which way you’re going to go.

5 replies
  1. Al
    Al says:

    I am constantly amazed at the responses given on a article.
    First – You can’t use Amazon as a reliable source of “Thin clients”. One’s and two’s maybe, but not in a production environment. 2nd the person mentioning the Linux based unit must have missed the VDA mentioned by the author. The energy use is a good point, but you would need a cost analysis between PC versus Thin Client. We buy energy efficient pc’s and monitors, so you would have to see the energy cost difference.
    The one thing I would say about all of this is one thing going for the thin clients is no development and update of the image. I realize thin clients need updated and sometimes patched, but they don’t have the development of an image upfront and maintaining a way to deploy additional drivers etc. , to them.

  2. click here
    click here says:

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  3. shalabh tayal
    shalabh tayal says:

    First of all, WYSE and other branded thin clients can be avoided and it you look up the Amazon, 80$ seems to be sufficient for a thin client.

    Also, Windows is always costly in either way, I think FEDORA LINUX 18 with built in support for thin clients is the way to go forward.

  4. ven
    ven says:

    with thin clients energy bills are very lower than the cheap clients per annum, and also refresh device cost cheap PC will replace every 4 to 5 years but thi client 7 years.

  5. Mick
    Mick says:

    Check out Igel’s UDC It can convert old PCs to thin manageable thin clients. You don’t get the power savings, but you do get the central management.


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