Last week, I reviewed the Devon IT Safebook. I continue to use it in class and will have a wrap-up on it tomorrow. At the same time, Devon IT sent me one of their more traditional thin clients, the NTA 6030, for review. This is comparable to many of the low-end thin clients on the market today. I don't use the term low-end in a negative sense, by the way. The idea behind thin clients is to save money, both on acquisition costs as well as management costs. Spending $5-600 on a thin client (with the possible exception of the Safebook since it bring portability and an integrated package to the table) is just silly.
So low-end is a good thing in this market. Pricing for these models is negotiated on a case-by-case basis, but Devon IT assured me that pricing is competitive; this particular terminal is popular with schools for its cost and manageability.
The actual terminal itself is larger and heavier than comparable machines from HP (think larger than a Mac Mini, smaller than a small-form factor Dell). However, it does not require a separate AC adapter like many thin clients; rather it uses a standard desktop power cord. The fanless model, like most thin clients, has no moving parts and no disk drive for long-term reliability and low power consumption. The thin client uses a Via 1GHz processor and has all of the usual ports (serial, parallel, USB, and VGA). It supports resolutions up to 1280x1024 and looked great on both a new 17" flat panel and an old 15" CRT.
While I reviewed the 6030A, which comes with only connectivity software, the 6030B includes Firefox for standalone Web browsing, so-called "kiosk mode", and browser-based access to server applications. Both are based on DetOS, a custom Linux distribution focused on connection to a variety of server-based computing resources. Interestingly, in addition to support for the standard RDP (Windows Terminal Services) and ICA (Citrix) connections, DetOS natively supports X sessions connecting to Linux boxes and NoMachine sessions for connecting to NX servers, among others. It also includes software for cloning a terminal setup and replicating that setup on many identical terminals (see HP ThinState a reason to actually buy thin clients. It also supports PXE boot, so Edubuntu connections are no problem.
Connections to Windows Terminal servers and Edubuntu were quick and the setup utility built into the DetOS is intuitive and straight-forward. I had the machine out of the box and connected to one of our terminal servers within 5 minutes; no manual was included with the test machine I received, so that's a pretty good sign.
So is the 6030 a buy? That depends. As the desktop OS continues to become less relevant and server/web-centric computing takes off, ed tech decision makers have a lot of good choices. In many ways, price can drive your decision. However, if you anticipate less common connection needs (like NX, for example), know that you will be connecting to *nix boxes, or aren't sure exactly how your backend platforms may be changing in the next couple of years, then the Devon IT 6030 series is especially worth a look.