Wyse X90

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Wyse have been well known for the manufacture of high quality thin-clients for many years now. A thin client means no critical data is stored on the local machine and so loss of, or damage to the client machine does not result in loss of valuable information. Significant savings can also be achieved from an administration and management perspective by centralising the enterprise's data.

Test procedure
We timed the battery life while the machine is idling -- this provides us with a maximum battery life score. While logged on to 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 available network bandwidth rather than local processing power).

The machine was also judged subjectively in terms of design quality and overall craftmanship.

Design and features
The Wyse X90 is a very neat looking portable thin-client device with a black exterior and charcoal-grey interior casing.

The X90 is quite a small laptop with a 12.1-inch screen. The keys are thankfully full-size (for those of us with sausage fingers), and they also include very clearly labelled secondary functions. Six status LEDs are present at the front of the machine that clearly indicate power, wireless, hard-drive, key-locks and battery.

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Local functionality is driven by an embedded version of Windows XP with the ability to support a range of remote clients: Windows Terminal Services, Citrix and VMware -- alternatively users can access Internet and Web application interfaces via a standard Web browser.

The touchpad and associated buttons have a finish matching the remainder of the palm rest. The touchpad includes scroll regions and we were quite impressed with this as it functions very smoothly. Above the function keys, and beside the power button, there is a shortcut key that launches Windows Media Player which is sure to be a bonus for those mobile workers seeking a little R&R after work.

The most difficult task a thin client machine will have to cope with is receiving and displaying video information. In a sense a thin client is a collection of I/O devices wired to a graphics chip. The machine does not even contain a hard drive let alone an optical drive -- the Wyse X90 uses a small Random Access Memory (RAM) drive. Ports include Network Interface Card (NIC), three USB, D-sub VGA, audio in/out and a PCMCIA express card slot.

Purely electronic devices have many advantages over mechanical. Apart from the fact that they are much smaller and inclined to use less energy, they also tend to be more reliable and quieter due to the fact that there are no moving components. Typical computers still rely on some moving parts; in particular the disk drives and cooling fans -- their bearings being a significant point of failure.

In order to maximize reliability the Wyse X90 has abandoned the use of all moving parts. We mentioned above that the Wyse X90 has no hard drive, nor is there a cooling/extraction fan. This in turn necessitates the use of a relatively slow, but energy efficient processor.

The data accessed by this machine is almost as secure as the server it is linked to. No data is stored permanently on the notebook itself. Data in the RAM drive technically erases when the computer is turned off. Secure server login will prevent a stolen device being used to access sensitive data and a Kensington lock can reduce the theft of machines.

Even if a user plugs in a USB memory key there is no way of transferring data between this and the remote desktop where the critical data resides. Obviously such security limits the usefulness of this product in some situations -- security has its trade off. A wily user might attempt to transfer data out via the net; one would however assume that this equipment is used in conjunction with closed (or carefully limited) networks.

The connectivity of this machine is also augmented by Bluetooth, and Wyse can customise the embedded OS to support individual client needs -- for example hardware drivers for different network connectivity and other applications. The OS is hard-coded and thus the end-user cannot change it themselves.

While idling, the battery lasted two hours and 45 minutes (165 minutes). Heavier usage may further reduce the battery life.

A wired connection has some value; for example users can still move from room to room or take the machine home if they have a wired connection there. Mobility is restricted time-wise as the battery is likely run out after two hours, however the benefits of small notebook thin-clients also mean that stationary units can be set-up very quickly and do not take up too much valuable space.

Screen updating was relatively poor when we were accessing a remote server via Windows Terminal Services via a measured 4Mbps-5Mbps DSL network. For example, when using Internet Explorer to search for and scroll through a Web page, scrolling was much smoother when accessing the internet directly from the Wyse X90. This kind of problem could be due to slow networks speed (however this is unlikely in this case), a busy server or delays caused by the remote desktop application.

The X90 provides high levels of user mobility and data security. Such units could be used in warehouses, by mobile-staff or (if physically locked down) as public information kiosks in libraries and hotels. Situations where silence is precious would be well served by this machine -- eg: hospitals.

There is a 12-month return to base (RTB) warranty, but we suspect few users will need this. Since the machine has no moving parts this means a long Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF).

While it's true that security is dependant on the remote server which services the client, the price is very reasonable at AU$1,082.40 including GST. The OS can be customised to meet individual needs.