back to article Dell flogs its 'zero client'

Dell has unveiled its first "zero client" device for enterprise customers who think traditional thin clients are fatty, fatty 2x4s. The FX100 Zero Client has no x86 CPU, no hard disk drive, and no image to manage. Instead, it simply acts as a terminal to a virtual environment running on a remote server. The system was …


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  1. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Term Server, Citrix, LTSP


    a) Traditionally, this is what a thin client is. Some PC running a full set of apps, but without a hard disk, is not a thin client even though many people call it one. X Terminals, the old Wyse things you could get to access Windows Terminal Server or Citrix servers, those were thin clients.

    b) This is what kills thin clients. When a thin client costs more than a cheap desktop, people are going to buy cheap desk tops. Even if they are just running them as a thin client. I mean a $500 thin client? F that.


    If done right, there's BIG BIG savings to be had here. Engineers, developers, etc., if they are taxing the resources of a desktop, it's not sensible at all to give them thin clients, they will just all be KILLING a shared server instead and hating every minute of it. Most users? They don't run the desktop all that hard, and the administrative savings of centralizing are HUGE. HOWEVER, if thin clients cost way more than just some desktop, it makes more sense to find low power desktops (there's some Atom desktops, 1ghz Cyrixes, etc. that are like 5-10W desktops.)

    Windows Terminal Server or Citrix? Licensing costs eat into the savings A LOT. And inefficiencies in Windows' design increase the RAM and CPU power needed on the server somewhat. But still something to look into.

    LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project?) Very slick, no costs for the server environment; if the user is given permissions for USB, etc., it's just like they have a local desktop except the home directory is centralized, and apps can either run centrally or on the desktop as the admin desires. Since executables are only in RAM once, RAM requirements are much lower than you'd suspect. Setup is SO easy, I installed LTSP on an Ubuntu box, and it was like "install this package, and wait about 10 minutes while it sets up." You have one ethernet device for outside world, and one where it hands out the dhcp addresses and arranges netbooting of LTSP software to PCs. Set PCs to PXE boot, set X terminals to point to the LTSP server. There is no step 4, it just goes to a ubuntu desktop style login prompt. Probably it could be set so given machines auto-logged in to given desktops too.

  2. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    Hang on

    doesnt that thing draw more power than an Atom Nettop? How/why? Sounds like the new fangled PC./IP has replaced a CPU with a meaty IP processor to compress all that video down to managable bandwidh. The point being??/?

  3. barth

    plug computer

    also, plug computers running full Linux are beginning to become available. 124 euros, 512 Megs, single HDMI (up to 1920x1200), LAN, 3xUSB, Ubuntu/Debian/whatever...

  4. Brian Miller Silver badge

    Old hat

    I saw a few years ago a system that was doing this with Windows. A main server with hot-swap blades and VMs accessed by smart terminals would give a 100% uptime user experience. The reason for considering this was because the company didn't feel that it could trust the people overseas who were doing the outsourced work. The company could trust the overseas people to use the software, but not enough to actually let the software outside the US.

  5. Joshua Goodall

    PCoIP: not as good as I'd hoped

    Looks like a rebadged/OEM'd Teradici device. Which given the PCoIP support would hardly be a suprise. The IBM PCoIP device is very similar again in form factor and specification. They're very likely all based off the same Teradici reference design.

    We studied VMware View as a wide-area VDI solution.

    A pity that PCoIP seems so bandwidth hungry, because I was greatly looking forward to VMware View supplying a better protocol than RDP. In lab tests, PCoIP was only slicker than RDP or ICA over high latency links where bandwidth was not an issue, but borderline unusable even for web browsing over commonly encountered lower-bandwidth connections e.g. 512/512 DSL. Visible tearing, painfully slow scrolling & updates etc.

    Even after tuning in conjunction with a VMware consultant it required at least a megabit to provide satisfactory performance for just one remote Windows XP desktop doing browsing & word processing on a typical business DSL circuit.

    Trying to stuff a call center or entire retail site's traffic down affordable business-grade connectivity looked infeasible as a result. Especially since we then have to pay for new thin clients, virtual desktop backend servers & licensing, and of course a DR site for same. It worked out cheaper to stay with the conventional desktop model.

    It was suggested that we could/would be able to deploy accelerators, but I'm primarily interested in protocol innovations that eliminate this additional cost and significant complexity - otherwise what's the point? I could just deploy RDP with WAN acceleration.

    Our conclusion was that the much lower-impact ICA is still the leading national-scale desktop protocol for those who can't justify the cost of reliable very-high-bandwidth connectivity. I think most enterprises will fall into that category.

    PCoIP only starts to look interesting for high latency global-scale remote access e.g. offshore developers, remote trading desks.

    1. Tagware

      Strange you have bandwidth issues

      Well, we set-up a VMware system with AutoCAD running on 64-bit XP platform on cheap HP server hardware and the performance across real live DSL circuits was fine both in the UK and abroad. Even when we were streaming video from Google.

      The bandwidth used wasn't anything near what a RDP connection was. Were you using View 4.0?

  6. Tron

    Computing goes full circle.

    Back to the future eh? IBM will have to dust off its old patents and check them. Surely all of that can be built into the monitor. As for the ludicrous price... $500 without a CPU and HDD. Do they do a $750 version that lacks a more powerful CPU and a bigger HDD?

    Netbook zero clients might be interesting, as long as you are connected. It boils down to trust. Do you trust your connection and the folks at the other end who own the cloud slice you are using? In other words, do you trust in the reliability and integrity of technology and technology companies? Well? Come on? I know you're out there, I can hear you breathing. Anyone? At all?

    Pity nobody took the disk drive out of their netbook, inset a space for a memory stick into the body and sold it to work with PuppyLinux on a USB stick. Less battery usage, lighter, cheaper than the Dell and sooner than Google's netbook.

  7. Joe Greer
    Thumb Up

    We have the eVGA Portal model in the lab

    I believe these Dell units are the same as the eVGA portal, still a Teradici product. It appears to run Linux with the 32bit MIPS chip and does have a 3 meg compressed firmware image. It is quite fast and draws 13 watts of power.

    I used the unit plugged into a Dell Optiplex 755 PC and it was as fast as using the local keyboard and mouse. These will allow corporate america to use Virtual Desktops for 64 bit 3D engineering applications. Each engineering user gets 64 gig of ram, the physical box has 128 and you have 16 simultaneous users running similar and related ProE models. via the memory ballooning and page sharing they think they have 64 gigs of ram but really are sharing ram and not using all the ram. Even if we only get 8 users that is still 8 users on a $10k server as compared to 8 users on $15k workstations.

    If we need more resources with VMware VDI we just add more hosts to the cluster and the users are distributed to the most available machine.

    The days of uber expensive workstations may be ending soon...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What it IS good for

    This type of setup is one of the best for a secure environment, if that environment is not GFX intense. While I have not seen the PC/IP in action, if it works to display the OS, then that is great. But here is my big question: "Why in the hell is it $500?" I just don't get that part. I also would think that you COULD at least put volatile DRAM or something to keep the current data local.

    But I am with the rest of the crew here on the outrageous price for a box with no surprise inside.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Can't beat a conventional PC

    Buy a 'fat' PC for less that the cost of a thin client, and get vastly superior performance. And then save money on the server, save money on the licences (of VMWare or Citrix, the management tools, or whatever), save money on the power needed in the Data centre.

    Oh, and you get offline use too. You can even run the same 'image' on laptops and get some mobility as well.

    The plain old PC became popular because, well, it's a very good solution.

  10. Christian Berger

    Big problem: Open standard?

    If the boxes have an open standard you can use with any software it'll be a success. If it's yet another proprietary solution which can only be used with it's own software.

    If it's an open standard you can suddenly use it for application servers which makes way more sense than having virtual desktops on a server.

  11. Anton Ivanov

    30W? 800£ ???

    30W on the desktop and 10W+ on the server for processing power in idle. 40W+.

    That is roughly on par with a decent desktop in idle. So there is no real power savings here.

    The cost is pretty steep too, but not far off from other thin clients. They all cost 300+ once the relevant software has been accounted for.

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    What the FK

    I fancy a few of these things to use instead of Xterminals. But HOW MUCH??

    I could buy fair spec PCs and install Hummingbird Exceed on them for less. For even less than that, they could run a small Linux off a flashcard. I could even get one of those horrible ones that runs WINCE from a read-only image.

    It might be an excellent product, but the pricing makes it an EPIC FAILURE.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    So it's a SunRay....

    ... only 10 years late !

  15. Mr Shouty

    Waste of time & money

    A few years ago I designed and built a Citrix thin client environment for the company I worked for, for approximately 700 users, across 4 sites including India. We originally used whatever hardware we could get our hands on, which was predominantly Dell desktops. The on-board NICs supported PXE so we built our own thin client image using Ubuntu and the Linux ICA client. It worked a charm and meant we didn't have to go round upgrading every single desktop to run the new main business app. It was refreshing to see a crappy beige P2 dell desktop running a session to the same standard as a brand new P4 machine. Eventually we stopped buying desktops altogether and moved to the HP thin terms - at about £100 a pop. They weren't as reliable as the desktop machines but given the price they were deemed more "disposable". There is no way a company who has already invested heavily in a centralised infrastructure would choose to spend more cash on a thin term device like this when cheaper alternatives (even desktop PCs running as thin terms) are still out there. Bad move Dell, if these boxes were ~ £100 you might have stood a chance.

  16. toughluck

    So it's a Sun Ray

    Only it consumes 3-6 times the power and requires expensive software to run?

  17. Matthew 3


    This looks like a fatter version of the Jack PC which seems to offer everything this has without a desktop footprint. And I ended up ruling those out for much the same reason that these will fail: too expensive!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    25+ years to late

    before over half the readers of this site were even born, some of used to work on "Zero Client" devices....

    they used to be called IBM 3194 and 3278 VDUs linked to a very big server (called a mainframe)

    Like the tin foil suits, meal pills and flying cars...........

    The concept keeps coming round and round.............

    some peopl say i am cynical, i'm not - its jst that these days i rarely see a idea that hasnt been tried and failed before in one guise or anthoer.... of course if you want enthusiasm over experience pick that 20 year old spotty oik any day!

  19. Long Time Observer

    Holy Minicomputers!

    So we can now attach a keyboard and monitor (plus a few other things) directly to a computer? Break out the disco ball!

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    So it's a Sun Ray AND...

    ... it requires special dedicated hardware to drive it. I'd say this is more like a remote terminal for a single (server-like) desktop. No thanks. SunRay still is unmatched in the industry. I continue to hope Oracle decides to keep supporting (and improving) the platform. <3 my SunRays.

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Down

    $800 for *NO* CPU & *NO* hard drive.

    Imagine that.

    15 years ago we called them IBM 5250s. There is *no* way however that can be the bulk price for these things. No one in their right mind would buy this.

    Of course *this* box can AFAIK run high bandwidth graphics like video.

    But how often *does* it run that sort of app?

    Thumbs down, with a possible downgrade to EPIC FAIL if the sales tank.

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