The desktop is dead, long live the thin client desktop. Following the trend of migrating applications into the datacentre, thin clients have become increasingly popular. We found HP's first mobile thin client to be a reliable system at a reasonable price.
We timed the battery life while the machine is idling — this provides us with a maximum battery life score. While logged onto a server we assess battery life again while running applications — Battery Eater 2.7 is used for this purpose.
We also look for apparent delays in screen update as a result of the remote processing when dealing with complex graphics (delays are affected by network bandwidth rather than local processing power).
The machine was judged subjectively in terms of design quality and craftsmanship.
Design and Features
The HP 2533t is a very compact unit well suited to life on the desk or on the move. Styling is simple with large surfaces finished with brushed aluminium. There is a bit of flex in the screen, but it seems sturdy enough for most purposes. The 12.1-inch screen has a resolution of 1,280x800 and the whole machine only weighed 1.5kg including cell battery (add another 430g for the power pack and cord).
The unit came with 1GB RAM, upgradeable to 2GB and there is only a single memory slot. The function keys are very small, but otherwise keys are of the standard size and have very clear labels. Both touchpad and point-stick are present.
The operating system is Embedded Windows XP — a cut down version of Windows for thin clients. Application platforms pre-installed on the system were Citrix and Java. Altiris software allows IT staff to remotely manage each unit. Built in software is stored on a 1GB PATA flash module.
Both wired (gigabit) and wireless networking are supported by the 2533t. Other ports include VGA, 3x USB, modem jack, docking port and microphone/headset jacks. There are also slots for SD and PCMCIA cards. As an option, the PC card slot can be replaced with a smart card reader. Another option is battery capacity, with three-, six- and nine-cell versions being available. The unit tested was supplied with a six-cell pack.
These devices are intended to keep on running without causing you any headaches. It isn't just about secure, up-to-date software. The hardware is also very reliable. Not only are there no internal drives (besides the RAM drive) — there are also no fans and moving parts, which means it can't wear out.
A fanless machine requires low power consumption to avoid overheating. The 2533t uses an ultra low voltage VIA C7 1GHz processor. While it's not powerful by modern standards it is more than adequate for most office applications — particularly given that often times serious processing is occurring on a remote server.
The power drain while idling is around 15W with usage rising to 17W when active. A single processor can draw this kind of current while a full size desktop could use much more given the power needs of drives and monitors.
Idling, the battery lasted for almost seven hours. We kept the CPU running with iterative calculations in a Java application that also kept the screen active, this only reduced battery life down to five hours 10 minutes. As expected screen frame rates were less than ideal when using remote desktop, but running applications loaded from a server or Web-based applications (eg, Java applets and Web Start applications) will operate well.
Citrix and Java Web Start and Microsoft Internet Explorer each provide you with options for accessing applications without the need for local storage of data or applications. This means simple system administration.
When you need a new workstation there is no need to install new software — just log into the server and away you go. Scaling your IT infrastructure is made very easy provided your core servers can handle the required users.
At AU$999 it is no cheaper than an ordinary laptop but the savings from high reliability and low set-up could be worth it. The three-year warranty (one year on battery) is good, but probably understates the true reliability. Extended service contracts are also available. The HP website offers diverse information on the 2533t including forums and information on recycling unwanted machines.