Top options for buying thin client hardware

There are a lot of options out there for thin client hardware, so get to know a few popular choices that might suit your VDI environment.

Thin clients have evolved considerably over the last decade, with a multitude of selections now available when buyers must make the decision to purchase a client for virtual desktop infrastructure.

Some virtualization vendors have more than 400 thin clients on their compatibility lists. With so many options out there, it's best to focus on the top choices from the leaders in the thin client hardware space. Each of these options is certified to work with Citrix, Microsoft and VMware desktop virtualization technologies. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the available thin clients or their features; I picked the vendors from an IDC report and my own professional experiences. Different thin clients will work differently for you depending on your situation, and you should check for their availability before diving into a vendor.

Aside from the options in this list -- HP, IGEL, Wyse (now Dell Wyse) and 10Zig -- others to consider are Asus, Centerm (not available in the U.S.), ChipPC, DevonIT (Acer), Raytheon, Samsung, and VXL, to name a few.

Hewlett-Packard t620 Flexible Thin Client

This model from HP's Flexible Thin Client line has some impressive features such as the ability to have quad displays and a PCIe x16 riser slot. The t620 model runs Embedded Windows 7 -- the only OS model in this line that is fully certified on all platforms as of this writing. It features an AMD GX-217GA dual-core processor and an AMD Radeon HD 8280E graphics chip as standard, with options to move to a quad-core processor and an 8400E graphics card with the PLUS model. It comes with 4 GB of RAM standard and can be expanded up to 16 GB, also supporting solid-state storage up to 64 GB. Its ports include a 10/100/1000 Ethernet, 6 USB (2 x USB 3.0), DisplayPort, headphone and microphone. Optionally, you can get Wi-Fi and even a 100 Mbs mini PCIe Fiber network interface card (NIC).

I really like the direction that HP has gone with its thin client hardware. It makes a quality product better by adding the "flexibility" (thus the name) that allows for the most complex and bleeding-edge environments; for instance, the Fiber NIC means you can use it for more demanding applications. I also prefer the interoperability of the HP hardware with its implementation of Remote Graphics Software that allows teams to work together on graphics-intensive applications.

The warranty is a standard three-year limited, and pricing starts at around $500. You can contact HP directly to find out if the company offers evaluation products.

Wyse Z90D7 (Dell)

The Wyse Z Class thin client is a very popular one that has six different models. The newer D8 (based on the Windows 8 OS) models have not yet been fully certified by all the virtualization vendors, so let's look at the D7.

This model uses the AMD-G756N dual-core processor at 1.65 GHz. One of the strong features of the Z Class is the ability to upgrade the RAM, with this model allowing up to 32 GB from the standard 2 GB. Also on the plus side, it supports solid-state storage and has an AMD Radeon graphics chip for a full 1900x1200 resolution via DVI, or 2560x1600 via the DisplayPort. Besides the graphics ports, it has 6 USB ports (2 x USB 3.0) to connect all your devices and an Ethernet 10/100/1000 port. Two serial ports, 1 parallel port, and 1 PS/2 port are optional for legacy connections.

This thin client is a workhorse and a solid one at that. One of the best things about this unit is its scalability when it comes to RAM. It won't make much of an impact increasing its RAM for the average task worker, but when heavy graphics and pure memory power is needed, this unit shines. The Wyse name is really synonymous with thin clients, and even with it moving to Dell, it still maintains that level of quality.

The warranty is a standard three-year limited with on-site options available. Evaluation units are available for the D7 model only and pricing is very broad depending on options and models, but it's right around $500 to start.

IGEL UD3-430 LX

This device from IGEL Technology America LLC is a compact midrange platform using the VIA Eden X1 processor at 1 GHz. It comes in two flavors, one with Linux (1 GB RAM) and the other with Embedded Windows 7 (2 GB RAM). It has a nice DualView feature allowing multiple monitors with 2 DVI ports (DVI to VGA adapter available on request) with a 1920x1200 resolution. It also has three USB ports, two of which are USB 3.0. You can also add an optional "Connectivity Foot," which gives you Wi-Fi and two more USB 2.0 ports or an anti-theft USB port. To round out the ports, it has a PS/2, Ethernet (10/100/1000), Line out, Mic In and an optional smartcard reader.

More on thin client hardware

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What to look for in a thin client

Why zero clients are better than thin clients

I have not yet implemented an IGEL thin client, but trusted sources have told me they are simple to manage, easy to configure and they just plain work. They also have one of the longest running warranties that I have seen in the thin client area. Just note that its support is entirely based overseas (it is headquartered in Germany) and its only U.S. office is in Cincinnati, Ohio. Its warranty starts as a two-year, but if you register online, it extends to five years. Pricing is around $450 depending on options and model. Evaluation units are available through IGEL.

10Zig 6818v

This 10Zig device uses an AMD dual-core 165 GHz processor (whereas its sister, 5818v, uses an Intel Atom 1.86 GHz dual-core) with 2 GB of RAM standard; but it only allows for a maximum of 4 GB, which is quite low compared to other new models form other manufactures. It has quad video capability of up to 2560x1600 resolution, six USB ports (including two USB 3.0 ports), audio in and out, PCI expansion slot, and a USB or internal smartcard option. It also has optional Wi-Fi and a serial port or parallel port for those really old legacy environments. This unit runs Windows 8 Embedded and is fully certified on all the platforms.

I've used 10Zig hardware mainly in industrial manufacturing, both on the shop floor as well as offices. The hardware worked almost flawlessly, but my one gripe is the earlier releases of its management software. I used the management software versioned a few years back and found it was difficult to manage several devices with configurations and updates. I am confident that has all been worked out by now. The advanced exchange option is a critical one for anyone having to replace a unit fast.

The warranty is a standard three-year limited with an advanced exchange option, which is unique and very helpful in those critical replacement situations. Pricing starts at around $400, and 10Zig will pretty much offer up any model it makes for evaluation to a qualified customer.

This was first published in April 2014
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