Dell's new thin client: jack of all trades, master of none?

Behold the Dell Optiplex FX160: Yesterday Dell announced their "flex client" series of desktop devices. This is basically a super-small Optiplex-branded client based on Intel's Atom processor.

Behold the Dell Optiplex FX160:

Yesterday Dell announced their "flex client" series of desktop devices. This is basically a super-small Optiplex-branded client based on Intel's Atom processor. So what is it? A thin client? A desktop PC? A locked-down PC? A desktop appliance?

Yes.

This single client device model can be used in many ways, such as:

  • Running Windows XP Embedded or embedded Linux, like a traditional thin client device.
  • Receiving a streamed OS (like from Citrix Provisioning Server)
  • With a hard drive and an old-fashioned copy of Windows XP or Vista installed and running locally
  • Any combination(s) of the above

The idea is that you buy this single model for all your users, and then you can deploy or configure (now or later) the thing exactly how you need it, when you need it. All of these devices use the tiny Atom processor which consumes less than 3 watts. (A typical Intel Core 2 Duo mobile processor consumes around 35 watts.)

 

Pricing varies based on the exact configuration you choose at purchase time. A few examples (in $US Dollars):

  • 512MB RAM, 512MB Flash NVRAM, SUSE Linux Embedded: $399
  • 1GB RAM, 1GB Flash NVRAM, Windows XP Embedded: $529
  • 1GB RAM, 80GB hard drive, Windows Vista Business, Citrix Provisioning Server CAL w/ SA: $807
  • All with Intel Atom 230 processor, Intel SIS Mirage 3 graphics, no monitor

Is this something that people want?

Now that Dell's released this, how important is it to you? Would you pay $399 for a thin client that you can upgrade to real windows later on? Or would you pay $800 for a Windows PC that you can downgrade to a thin client later on? (And with things like Windows Fundamentals and Thin Launch and stuff, why not just buy a $300 PC and downgrade it later? Will you ever make up the power consumption cost savings?)

What scares me the most is the processor. Windows Vista is not exactly screaming fast to begin with. And that Atom processor Dell chose is benchmarking slower than a 900Mhz Celeron processor. Based on that, I can't possibly see anyone running Vista or XP (Embedded or local) on these things. Maybe when the dual-core Atoms come out next year this will be interesting. But if you ask me, what you have right now from Dell is yet another thin client.

The other real downside to these is that Dell talks about a 3-year replacement cycle. So you get the cost and lifecycle of the PC, with the performance of a thin client.

What do you think? How important is it to you that you have flexibility in your device? Could you imagine using something like this? (Forget about "Dell," per se. Could you imagine this concept in your environment at all?)

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