Thin Clients vs. Cheap PCs

We have, for a long time, been fans of thin client devices. However, if you run the numbers, it turns out that thin clients may not necessarily be the most cost-effective client devices for a VDI deployment.

Just before writing this post, I went to the Dell Web site and priced out a low-end Vostro Mini Tower system: 3.2 GHz Intel E5800 dual-core processor, 3 Gb RAM, 320 Gb disk drive, integrated Intel graphics, Windows 7 Professional 64-bit OS, 1 year next-business-day on-site service. Total price: $349.00.

When you buy a new PC with an OEM license of Windows on it, you have 90 days to add Microsoft Software Assurance to that PC. That will cost you $109.00 for two years of coverage. You’re now out of pocket $458.00. However, one of the benefits of Software Assurance is that you don’t need any other Microsoft license component to access a virtual desktop OS. You also have the rights, under SA, to install Windows Thin PC (WinTPC) on the system, which strips out a lot of non-essential stuff and allows you to administratively lock it down – think of WinTPC as Microsoft’s own tool kit for turning a PC into a thin client device.

Now consider the thin client option. A new Wyse Winterm built on Embedded Windows 7 carries an MSRP of $499. There are less expensive thin clients, but this one would be the closest to a Windows 7 PC in terms of the user experience (media redirection to a local Windows Media Player, Windows 7 user interface, etc.). However, having bought the thin client, you must now purchase a Microsoft Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) license to legally access your VDI environment. The VDA license is only available through the Open Value Subscription model, and will cost you roughly $100/year forever. So your total cost over two years is $699 for the Wyse device vs. $458 for the Dell Vostro.

After the initial two year term, you’ll have to renew Software Assurance on the PC for another two years. That will continue to cost you roughly $54.50/year vs. $100/year to keep paying for that VDA license.

Arguably, the Wyse thin client is a better choice for some use cases. It will work better in a hostile environment – like a factory floor – because it has no fan to pull dust and debris into the case. In fact, it has no moving parts at all, and will likely last longer as a result…although PC hardware is pretty darned reliable these days, and at that price point, the low-end PC becomes every bit as disposable as a thin client device.

So, as much as we love our friends at Wyse, the bottom line is…well, it’s the bottom line. And if you’re looking at a significant VDI deployment, it might be worth running the numbers both ways before you decide for sure which way you’re going to go.

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