Not as thick as some: 7 thin clients tested

Thin client reviews: HP Compaq t5700, Ipex ThinClient 3350, Maxspeed 3300B, Sun Ray 150, Wyse 1200LE, Wyse 3125SE, Wyse 9650XE.


Not as thick as some: 7 thin clients tested

 Thin Clients

 Thin client reviews:

   HP Compaq t5700
   Ipex ThinClient 3350
   Maxspeed 3300B
   Sun Sun Ray 150
   Wyse 1200LE
   Wyse 3125SE
   Wyse 9650XE
 
Specifications
Test bench
Look out for...
Sample scenarios
Editor's choice
Final words
About RMIT

Thin clients seem to be a perennial runner-up to full-featured desktops, but we think the time is right to stop thinking "what if?" and to get rid of those clunky desktop PCs.

Thin clients take the data processing power away from the desktop box and transfer it to the server. Provided you have a reliable switched 100Mbps network, the majority of light data tasks such as word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, Web browsing, point of sale (POS), CRM, accounting, and stock management/control can easily be handled by thin clients. Let's face it, the majority of business desktop use is with these or similar applications.

There are several main server-based applications currently used to deploy thin client environments. Sun Solaris, Microsoft Windows Terminal Services (based on the RDP protocol) and Citrix environments (based on the ICA protocol) on a Windows or Unix-based server or server farm.

"So what?" I hear you say, desktop PC hardware can now be bought cheaply enough that the thin client model of saving on cheaper hardware over desktop PC machines is virtually redundant. This is true; however, when you consider some of the benefits of this model, you may in fact find that some of the overall savings far outweigh some of the negative impressions this type of computing has hanging over it. It's not the be all and end all to desktop client computing, however it is potentially an area that many businesses--and in particular IT departments--are overlooking as a "too-foreign" technology to what they are traditionally comfortable with when going out to tender for new desktops.

With the advent of really powerful and relatively inexpensive servers (see last month's feature for more information on suitably powerful machines), thin client computing should be included as a possible path for your company to explore when looking at your next replacement or roll out.

Benefits of going thin
Software licensing is always the bane of large organisations, particularly auditing and keeping track of what is out there. This can be much more easily controlled via the use of a thin client environment. Say you deploy a server and publish several applications to use throughout the network. While you still need to buy a licence for each user of a particular application, you can limit the number of instances that the application can be launched. If you have 400 thin clients out there and only 250 licenses of a published application, you can set parameters to deny clients running the application after the 250th concurrent session has been run. Seeing as most enterprises don't have every employee always running the application simultaneously, savings can be made by not having to buy one licence for each employee--rather just enough concurrent licenses to create a pool large enough to create a workable ratio of users per licenses.

Another handy feature is the ability to control how many instances of a particular application can be launched by any particular user and, even one step further, create groups who have access to certain published applications but not others. For example, the sales department employees have access to Word, the Internet, CRM, and sales applications, whereas the warehouse only has access to the inventory system and the Internet.

The next time there is a version update of a particular application, all the administrator needs to do is install/publish it on the server and it is done. The benefit of this is that the standard operating environment can be virtually created on the server itself and is readily accessible by all the clients in a dynamic way. It certainly beats having to update 1500 desktops out in the field with 1500 new versions of an application to licence whenever the decision has been made to migrate.

Service and support
Support costs are the black hole of most companies' IT departments and the area the finger is pointed to when costs need cutting. Much emphasis is placed on streamlining support and service, and we've all heard horror stories about failed outsourcing contracts that blew out by 500 percent.

Thin clients, if deployed correctly, have the benefit of reducing these types of cost from the very basic premise that each and every one of the clients can all be managed remotely and indeed each of the clients is so light in configuration that not much can really go wrong on the desktop end, short of a physical device failure in which case one or more "spare" replacement thin clients can be kept by the IT departments for quick replacement.

Lower support costs
Another service saving is in desktop support. People being people will always attract computer viruses and worms and wreak any other amount of havoc on systems they are let loose on. However most thin client terminals are capable of being locked down. For a start, most don't have traditional optical or mechanical disk drive units instead relying on Ethernet or serial connections to get their start on working life and then relying on a very small device image stored on flash memory (one of the largest flash memory sizes available installed in a thin client is 256MB--a little larger than your average digital camera, with the normal thin client memory average around 32MB).

This memory can be locked down to read only, therefore any digital nasties trying to affect the operating system or I/O subsystem while they run in the RAM would have no way of writing to the ROM and therefore could easily be fixed by rebooting the unit. The very nature of the thin clients' operating environment means that a standard flash image could be created for the whole organisation or even department by department and then deployed via a push method, remotely sending the image to the client from the server without needing to have a technician physically at the machine. Saves a lot of technicians from wearing out their desert boots traipsing around the building.

Security concerns can be controlled and policies enhanced by locking down the systems' OS. However, removing the users' ability to write/store or copy data onto the local machine also has another benefit that comes in the form of physical data security. If all the data is stored on the storage array in the server room(s) then should a client machine or two "disappear", the thief would not have stolen any crucial information from your enterprise.

Last longer
The last obvious cost saving is breaking the upgrade cycle. As your applications and clients increase in size and utilisation, you will need to upgrade your servers. However your thin clients should never technicially need to change, providing you start off on the right foot. Thin clients can run in the field for substantially longer than two or three years, which is the normal duty cycle of a PC. With fewer moving parts, they should run for a lot longer before needing maintenance/servicing or replacement.

So while the physical thin client machines may be similarly priced to low-end PCs, the cost savings from their operation means that the total cost of ownership--if deployed correctly in the right environment--can be quite significant.

The thin client we received from Sun had a built-in smart card reader and Sun has gone to a lot of trouble to make the smart cards part of its thin client solution. We think this is a very important feature that will definitely attract many potential purchasers. It has several benefits such as:

  • Access control. Banks, POS apps, and some call centres (particularly those involved with billing systems) have been using smart cards for access control to systems. Each level of user has the access rights programmed into their cards, and when they need to approve something that is above their level of control, they require a supervisor to insert their card and type the command. This allows logging and reporting and is far better than simple typed codes.
  • Security. This is an obvious one. The card can also double as photographic employee identification, proximity card, and magnetic card. This card should not be taken as a replacement for passwords; it should be used in conjunction with them--cards can always be lost or stolen.
  • User Portability. This is one of the handiest features and the thin client environment is perfect for it. Imagine a public customer service department or a public loan department and a client who needs to be refered to a supervisor or manager for a problem resolution. Instead of having to get the manager and bringing them to the terminal and into the public space, you can simply remove the operator card and take the card and the clients to a private office with a terminal in which the card can be inserted and the exact same information can be immediately displayed (and also where the dispute can be then resolved behind closed doors).

HP Compaq t5700
HP Compaq t5700

The HP Compaq t5700 is a similar size and shape to the more recent breeds of IT appliances such as wireless access points.

There are no PS/2 ports so the keyboard and mouse take up two of the USB ports. There is also a Kensington-type physical security lock point on the rear.

There is a standard PCI slot on the mainboard, however in this particular chassis it would be impossible to plug in any type of expansion card at all. Under the small silver heatsink is a Transmeta Crusoe CPU. There are no fans or mechanical components at all in this box, therefore there is no noise at all and no bearings or moving parts that can wear out. The power comes from an external pack similar to those shipped with notebooks.

The HP Compaq t5700 ships with Microsoft Windows XP embedded. This has a very similar look and feel to the full-blown desktop OS, albeit with fewer icons. Users who may be reluctant to change their desktop environment will not really notice any major shift or change to the look and feel of the system.

 Thin Clients

 Thin client reviews:

   HP Compaq t5700
   Ipex ThinClient 3350
   Maxspeed 3300B
   Sun Sun Ray 150
   Wyse 1200LE
   Wyse 3125SE
   Wyse 9650XE
 
Specifications
Test bench
Look out for...
Sample scenarios
Editor's choice
Final words
About RMIT

ProductHP Compaq Thin Client t5700
Price$1000
VendorHP
Phone13 22 47
Webwww.hp.com.au
 
Interoperability
Supports all the common standards, but Java is a plugin.
Futureproofing
Runs Windows XP Embedded, a good set of ports, but limited room for expansion.
ROI
½
Good price for features.
Service
½
Three-year advanced replacement warranty is very good.
Rating
½

Ipex ThinOffice WBT300
Ipex ThinOffice WBT300

The Ipex thin client is very similar in physical dimensions to the HP however it is built into a sturdy rectangular metal chassis that is the traditional IT beige colour.

The case has some physical facilities for a smart card reader and a PCMCIA socket, but neither was installed in the unit we looked at. Perhaps they may be available as an option on other models. The CPU is a VIA C3 Eden ESP Ezra/Samuel 2 chip. There is also a IDE connector on the mainboard which had a M-Systems DiskOnChip 16MB flash memory module plugged into it which contains the Microsoft CE O/S and custom configurations.

The system boots into a Windows CE connection manager that allows you to set/configure and also connect to your thin client serving environment. The Microsoft Windows CE environment is something worthy of further consideration to ensure your users and applications will be comfortable operating on that platform especially when you consider the Linux/Solaris/Unix or Embedded XP alternatives.

 Thin Clients

 Thin client reviews:

   HP Compaq t5700
   Ipex ThinClient 3350
   Maxspeed 3300B
   Sun Sun Ray 150
   Wyse 1200LE
   Wyse 3125SE
   Wyse 9650XE
 
Specifications
Test bench
Look out for...
Sample scenarios
Editor's choice
Final words
About RMIT

ProductIpex ThinClient 3350
Price$551-$799
VendorIpex
Phone1800 222 479
Webwww.ipex.com.au
 
Interoperability
½
Supports all the common standards.
Futureproofing
½
Runs Windows CE; a good set of ports means adequate futureproofing.
ROI
Very good price.
Service
½
Its three-year warranty is the average and quite acceptable .
Rating
½

Maxspeed MaxTerm 8300B
Maxspeed MaxTerm 8300B

And we thought only IBM and Dell came out with ultra black IT equipment. Almost twice the dimensions of the Ipex and HP thin clients it is still considerably smaller than your average desktop PC--more like a Sony PS2 console.

There is a single PCI slot on the mainboard but no riser/convertor card to change the direction. Also there are two standard molex power connectors: one HDD/CD ROM type and one FDD type. So there is plenty of expansion room. The IDE port is connected to a Compact Flash memory card reader/writer that has a 64MB CF card in it to hold the operating system and other non-volatile data.

Once connected up and powered on the operator is confronted with a Linux desktop. We found the configuration menu very easy to follow and feature rich. In a matter of minutes we had manually configured the network although it also can detect and set itself via DHCP. This application is truly somewhere that Linux could finally find that leg into the corporate environment that it has been searching for. The fact that Linux is based on thin TCP/IP networking technology from the base up means that its communications and transactions with the servers can be very direct and fast with the minimum of overheads.

This system has plenty of room for expansion and also has the attraction of introducing users to running a Linux environment.

 Thin Clients

 Thin client reviews:

   HP Compaq t5700
   Ipex ThinClient 3350
   Maxspeed 3300B
   Sun Sun Ray 150
   Wyse 1200LE
   Wyse 3125SE
   Wyse 9650XE
 
Specifications
Test bench
Look out for...
Sample scenarios
Editor's choice
Final words
About RMIT

ProductMaxspeed 3300B
Price$907
VendorMaxspeed
Phone02 6884 5922
Webwww.maxspeed.com.au
 
Interoperability
Supports all the common standards.
Futureproofing
½
Runs Linux, plenty of ports and expansion room.
ROI
½
Good price for the features.
Service
Three-year warranty with immediate replacement is good.
Rating

Sun Sun Ray 150
T&B Editor's choice
Sun Sun Ray 150

The SunRay 150s are fully integrated units with a stylish 15in LCD panel display.

The Sun is primarily designed to operate with a Sun server running Solaris. Sun has obviously gone to great lengths to develop some unique applications to place an edge on its thin client products. Therefore this unit definitely deserves a closer look if you are looking at deploying or migrating to a thin client environment. The amazing thing about the Sun Ray 150 is its price at $1049--it is only $100-$200 more than the equivalent box-only thin clients and the Sun includes a 15in LCD display and a smart card reader. The Wyse 9000 with integrated LCD is twice this price. If you combine that with the fact that you can deploy a very entry-level Sun V100 server for around $2000, you could have a very neat small environment solution for very low dollars.

 Thin Clients

 Thin client reviews:

   HP Compaq t5700
   Ipex ThinClient 3350
   Maxspeed 3300B
   Sun Sun Ray 150
   Wyse 1200LE
   Wyse 3125SE
   Wyse 9650XE
 
Specifications
Test bench
Look out for...
Sample scenarios
Editor's choice
Final words
About RMIT

ProductSun Sun Ray 150
Price$1049
VendorSun Microsystems
Phone03 9869 6200
Webwww.sun.com/sunray
 
Interoperability
Supports all the common standards.
Futureproofing
½
Runs Sun’s proprietary OS, has all the expansion capabilities you could wish for.
ROI
Amazing price for the features. Remember it includes an LCD monitor.
Service
Five-year warranty is excellent.
Rating
½

Wyse WT1200LE, WT3125SE, and WT9650XE

 Thin Clients

 Thin client reviews:

   HP Compaq t5700
   Ipex ThinClient 3350
   Maxspeed 3300B
   Sun Sun Ray 150
   Wyse 1200LE
   Wyse 3125SE
   Wyse 9650XE
 
Specifications
Test bench
Look out for...
Sample scenarios
Editor's choice
Final words
About RMIT

Wyse sent us all three of its terminals, from the basic embedded Linux box through to the Windows CE box and up to the 15in LCD panel with embedded Windows XP.

The WT1200LE is the entry-level thin client for Wyse. It includes a basic Linux-type embedded OS and is physically very compact, being designed to basically Velcro onto the back of a user's monitor.

The booting time is phenomenal on the 1200 series, with less than seconds from when the button is pushed to when the unit has booted.

The configuration and administration is slightly trickier than the other two devices from Wyse, however it is nothing that an engineer with a little experience with these devices can handle.

The Wyse WT3125SE runs on Microsoft Windows CE. The configuration and administration of this device is similar to the 1200 series, however the basic desktop image is obviously more Windows-centric in look and feel.

The WT9650XE is the top end for Wyse and the terminal itself is embedded in the back of a 15in LCD monitor. This terminal runs Microsoft Windows XP Embedded, which looks very similar to a normal Windows XP desktop environment.

This machine has 256MB of Flash memory so it can take some time to push or pull an image to or from the machine. Multiply this by the number of machines deployed within an organisation and you are talking about some serious data transfer times. The Wyse 9000 series with its embedded XP and integrated LCD is most likely a popular choice for POS applications and environments where a single device is desirable. It's certainly beneficial in freeing up desk space and clutter.

Wyse 1200LE

ProductWyse 1200LE
Price$500
VendorWyse
Phone02 9319 3388
Webwww.wyse.com.au
 
Interoperability
Limited: doesn’t have a browser built in or Java support.
Futureproofing
½
Runs Linux, very limited ports available.
ROI
½
Excellent price providing the device suits the application.
Service
Three-year warranty is the average and quite acceptable.
Rating




Wyse 3125SE

ProductWyse 3125SE
Price$740
VendorWyse
Phone02 9319 3388
Webwww.wyse.com.au
 
Interoperability
½
Has a browser but no Java support.
Futureproofing
Runs Windows CE, has a good set of ports, but limited room for expansion.
ROI
Very good price.
Service
Three-year warranty is the average and quite acceptable.
Rating
½




Wyse 9650XE

ProductWyse 9650XE
Price$2100
VendorWyse
Phone02 9319 3388
Webwww.wyse.com.au
 
Interoperability
Supports all the common standards.
Futureproofing
½
Runs XP Embedded, plenty of ports and expansion room.
ROI
Fair price for the features considering it’s an all-in-one device.
Service
Three-year warranty is the average and quite acceptable.
Rating

 

Specifications

Product HP Compaq Thin Client t5700 Ipex ThinClient 3350 Maxspeed 3300B
Vendor HP Ipex Maxspeed
Phone 13 22 47 1800 222 479 02 6884 5922
Web www.hp.com.au www.ipex.com.au www.maxspeed.com.au
Price as tested (inc GST) $1000 $599 $907
Warranty 3 years (advanced exchange) 3 years (RTB) 3 years (hot-swap)
Memory std/max (MB) 256/512 64/256 256/512
Communication protocols      
Citrix ICA Yes Yes Yes
Microsoft RDP Yes Yes Yes
Citrix Nfuse Yes Yes Yes
Web browser Yes Yes Yes
Java Optional Scripts Yes
Networking      
TCP/IP, UDP Yes Yes Yes
Wireless support Yes Yes Yes
External modem support Yes Yes Yes
I/O Ports      
Serial 1 2 1
Parallel 1 1 1
PS/2 No 2 2
USB 4 2 2
VGA 1 1 1
PCMCIA No Optional 1 PCI
Other Optional PCI slot Optional built-in smart card reader  
Server OS Compatibilities      
MS Windows 2000 Server Yes Yes Yes
MS Windows 2003 Server Yes Yes Yes
Solaris No Yes Yes
Citrix WinFrame Yes Yes Yes
Citrix MetaFrame XP Yes Yes Yes
Citrix MetaFrame for UNIX No Yes Yes

Product Sun Sun Ray 150 Wyse 1200LE Wyse 3125SE
Vendor Sun Microsystems Wyse Wyse
Phone 03 9869 6200 02 9319 3388 02 9319 3388
Web www.sun.com/sunray www.wyse.com.au www.wyse.com.au
Price as tested (inc GST) $1049 $500 $740
Warranty 5 years 3 years 3 years
Memory std/max (MB) 0 32 64
Communication protocols      
Citrix ICA Yes Yes Yes
Microsoft RDP Yes Yes Yes
Citrix Nfuse Yes No Yes
Web browser Yes No Yes
Java Yes No No
Networking      
TCP/IP, UDP Yes Yes Yes
Wireless support No No Yes
External modem support No Yes Yes
I/O Ports      
Serial No No 2
Parallel No No 1
PS/2 No No 2
USB 4 2 3
VGA N/A 1 1
PCMCIA No No No
Other Built in smart card reader, NTSC/PAL, RCA connector
Server OS Compatibilities      
MS Windows 2000 Server No (unless using Citrix) Yes Yes
MS Windows 2003 Server No (unless using Citrix) Yes Yes
Solaris Yes No No
Citrix WinFrame Yes Yes Yes
Citrix MetaFrame XP Yes Yes Yes
Citrix MetaFrame for UNIX Yes Yes Yes

Product Wyse 9650XE
Vendor Wyse
Phone 02 9319 3388
Web www.wyse.com.au
Price as tested (inc GST) $2100
Warranty 3 years
Memory std/max (MB) 256
Communication protocols  
Citrix ICA Yes
Microsoft RDP Yes
Citrix Nfuse Yes
Web browser Yes
Java Yes
Networking  
TCP/IP, UDP Yes
Wireless support Yes
External modem support Yes
I/O Ports  
Serial 1
Parallel 1
PS/2 2
USB 2
VGA 1
PCMCIA No
Other PCI expansion slot
Server OS Compatibilities  
MS Windows 2000 Server Yes
MS Windows 2003 Server Yes
Solaris No
Citrix WinFrame Yes
Citrix MetaFrame XP Yes
Citrix MetaFrame for UNIX Yes

Test bench

 Thin Clients

 Thin client reviews:

   HP Compaq t5700
   Ipex ThinClient 3350
   Maxspeed 3300B
   Sun Sun Ray 150
   Wyse 1200LE
   Wyse 3125SE
   Wyse 9650XE
 
Specifications
Test bench
Look out for...
Sample scenarios
Editor's choice
Final words
About RMIT

Interoperability
Does the device support common thin client standards such as Citrix ICA, Microsoft RDP, and Java?

Futureproofing
What ports does the thin client have to connect to peripherals, and does it have room for future growth?

ROI
What do you get for your money?

Service
Does the warranty provide the expected level of service, or does the vendor go further?

Look out for . . .

  • Size and security. Many thin clients are a fair bit smaller and therefore portable than PCs and therefore could conceivably "walk" more easily. However we could not really envisage there is much of a ready market for "hot" thin clients. Opportunistic thieves are known to pick up anything that isn't screwed down, so check to ensure you can physically secure your thin clients. Some even attach to or integrate with the monitors.
  • Pre/post-sale support. If your company is taking its first tentative steps into the thin client market, ensure that the business you choose to supply/support your move can give you everything you are likely to require. In particular, training and support to your engineers while they handle the deployment and initial management tasks.
  • Administration methods. Each brand and even some models within the same brand can have very different management/administration software. As these applications are generally remotely based and provide your administrators with their eyes on the thin client pool, you need to ensure the vendors' applications can handle every task and requirement you are likely to need; from creating client backups to re-imaging both single and multiple clients.
  • Employee acceptance and policies. If you're migrating from traditional desktop PCs to a thin client environment, do your homework to ensure the needs of all employees will be catered for. Part of this may be holding regular information sessions for employees to ask questions, learn about the technology, and make points. From this, an employee thin client policy could be created and this then ensures that there is no misconceptions or miscommunication about what can be expected from the changeover.

Sample scenario

Company:Nev-R-Crash Airways. This large airline wants to upgrade all its point-of-sale and check-in terminals at a major airport using thin client architecture.

Approximate budget:$1000 per client.

Requires:150 thin clients, servers to run those clients, management software.

Concerns:The clients need to be able to access a variety of different content sources, such as the airline's internal systems, travel agent booking systems, and the airport's systems, so they should support a wide variety of protocols such as RDP, ICA, Java, X-Windows, and Telnet. The company also wants to be able to easily manage the clients centrally without having to visit each one, so the management software available is also an important consideration.

Best solution: A deployment using Sun Ray 150 clients and Sun servers would be without a doubt the most refined and integrated solution.

Editor's Choice

T&B Editor's choice
Sun Microsystems Sun Ray 150
Editor's Choice goes to the Sun Ray 150 the overall design, implementation, and refinement. The server products Sun can supply to support virtually any concievable back end is excellent. Honorable mentions must be given also to Maxspeed for the MaxTerm running the Linux environment and to Wyse for its 9000 series LCD screen integrated Windows XP embedded machine.

Final words

We were pleased to receive a wide range of thin clients in what is definitely looking to be a market that is strong. The range and variety of platforms and software that seem to all work seamlessly is also very impressive. Within 10 minutes we had unpacked and set up from scratch three different brands of hardware with three very different operating systems all connecting to the same servers and using the same applications. We certainly could not imagine doing that with three different desktop machines and three different operating systems. The servicing and deployment benefits are obvious too.

We can assure any reader who has been watching the thin client market and umming and ahhing over whether to start down the evaluation track, now is the time to start making the calls and looking at some of these machines.

About RMIT IT Test Labs

RMIT IT Test Labs

 Thin Clients

 Thin client reviews:

   HP Compaq t5700
   Ipex ThinClient 3350
   Maxspeed 3300B
   Sun Sun Ray 150
   Wyse 1200LE
   Wyse 3125SE
   Wyse 9650XE
 
Specifications
Test bench
Look out for...
Sample scenarios
Editor's choice
Final words
About RMIT

RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own — only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.

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