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?


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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I like the overall idea, but I don't see it as being doable right now... I don't want to sacrifice the performance of my desktops (well at least not by that much) and yet I also don't want a thin client that runs $800 per seat.

As for marketing a 3 year replacement cycle - that's just stupid. It distracts from the message they're trying to push and is probably the wrong kind of message you want to be portraying right now (with the current economic climate and all).


Well I like (and sometimes hate) Thinclients just as much as the next guy but charging 529$ for a thinclient with 1GB RAM, 1GB Flash NVRAM, Windows XP Embedded is insane

You can buy a Dell Vostro with

Intel® Core™2 Duo E8400 Processor


160 GB HD

128 MB ATI Radeon

and Vista business for 500$

Admins might even consider buying Brand X netbooks which have about the same hardware and are cheaper than thinclients ;)

Thinclients should not be more expensive than netbooks


I've been toying around with the idea of just buying $399 Asus EEE Netbooks and using them as thin-clients....when this "offline-VDI" thing actually takes off...just use that.

I've been waiting for Dell to release a thin-client just because my company is all Dell on the server and desktop side...a thin client would just be one throat to choke, but I think they dropped the ball with this.  I'd rather deep six a thin client then messing around with upgrading them, down grading them, etc.

Whats also interesting is Dell claims they're the biggest WYSE reseller in the US, I'm sure by manufacturing their own thin-client, that has to put some kind of strain on that relationship.


Suddenly, everyone thinks they can make a thin client. Where is the most important feature of this thin client? The management software. Slapping an standard OS on a small PC does not make a thin client. I don't know how Dell can charge so much for so little. Search the web for a real thin client with real management software. They do exist. A simple test is, does it allow you to remotely manage 1000+ thin clients? install software updates? make small changes without cloggin the network. Forget PXE for thin client management. Imagine 1000 thin clients clogging the network as they fetch their OS after a power outtage. It just doesn't scale.


It will be used heavily in schools, libraries and the like extensively! There is a huge market for this. One of the reasons a lot of thin client makers have not taken off is a few reasons. A. They have crappy management Software

              B. Vendors are so small or overseas and can't get on state discount contracts.

              C. Fly by night companies... the industry has never been stable.

Dell is heavily working with Symantec Altiris for managing their bios and imaging. Altiris Deployment is one of the best products in the industry for this in my opinio. They are on most all states government contracts. You can even easily get them from cdwg.  The person who mentioned the Vostro above for $500 is forgetting about the power and size diference.  Mr Man you would set up a provision server at each location that has your gold image.  Doesn't need to be much just a 2003 box powerful enough to hand your clients so they are not going over the wan.  Software updates you change the gold image and push the updated gold image out to your branch servers. Next boot all machines are updated. It does scale if you really look into how PVS works. I didn't think so at first either but researching it I know better now.

It may seem expensive at first but when you cost in the management benefits and travel to locations you quickly will see that it is indeed cost effective.


I think the whole concept is wrong.  Who actually cares that there are different Hardware models out in the field as long as we have a standard image for Desktop Devices and a standard image for Thin Clients from the same Vendor.

To me it’s just Dell taking advantage of their mass production power and marketing a single model which they can mass produce at various different solution offerings.  I can’t see HP taking this approach who is the leader in this space after all.

Expensive options also don’t help this new offering from Dell.

I’ve delivered heaps of ROI and TCO assessments over the years for FAT v Thin and the replacement lifecycle plays a key role in this so a 3-year replacement cycle doesn’t help this in a FAT v Thin ROI or TCO.

Also management of Thin Clients is extremely important and not been familiar with this model can’t comment on the Management offering from Dell.

Power consumption is great in this present world but what I really like about Thin Clients these days is the whole stateless thing which gives us options to deploy Thin Client down mines and to other challenging environments.

I’d give the whole concept a “not sure” and we will see how they fare in the Thin Client market.


Jim Kenzig, I have a better idea than setting up a provision server at each location. Not setting one up. I'm sure your customer would agree. The point of thin clients is to minimize overal management (in personnel and hard/software), and if needing one additional server to maintain and update is necessary at each location, it is too much. If the point of thin clients is to save money, I don't see the benefit of using Virtual desktops. The reason is that in the end you get less user count for the same hardware investment with virtual desktops versus desktop publishing (RDP/ICA/etc.). Did I mention that you use more power on the server end too? The only reason good reasons I've heard for using virtual desktops is when you must use applications that don't work on RDP/ICA or you require a higher level of stability. I believe that weighed against cost and overall satisfaction, simple RDP/ICA is the best solution in 99% of the customer instances. I agree that schools and gov are different animals, but they hardly represent the majority of businesses, especially SMBs out there.


Brian, would this convince you to spend more than $15 on a thin client? :-)


OK I can't stand being dissed by "Oprah's human hankie";_ylt=Aonx7STpPSrRTnVc0QZmBX2s0NUE

Even if I try my best to take the high road, I am not going to let this one go.

Mr. Man.  I am not a VAR. I am a large customer of Citrix. I have been using their products for 14 years.  And last time I looked there are more computers in use at government organizations than any other industry. Thin clients are ideal for them whether they use TS er RDS or not. What makes PVS ideal is the idea that yeah you may have to have several single servers at locations with the image on it, you are only updating those servers and not thousands of machines or clients.

If you have ever tried getting 4 versions of Java working on one machine or every plugin under the sun and multimedia you would learn very quickly that TS er RDS is NOT a viable solution.  In this multimedia age people should wake up to this.  There I am done.


Interesting comments all around. The company I work for is already investing in PVS for DataCenters and as such have already invested in the server hardware at each of our sites. So the additional costs of deploying these servers specifically for these Dell Thin Clients is not there.

I've had 2 different prototype units in my office over the past 2 months and to be honest, XPe runs rather well on the device.

The unit which had a HDD and Windows Vista on it was slower than the XPe model but was by no means unworkable.

I do agree the price is too high. Dell needed this device to come in around the same price as some of the HP's $300 - $450.

I fear these devices are too good to be pure thin clients but not good enough to be desktops and in my opinion, there is no middle ground. Organizations either want desktops or thin clients, not something in between.



Sounds like a real loser. That article

from back in 2005 was a real hoot! But I really like the idea. Took a peek on fleabay just now and saw 10-paks of Wyse Wt1200LE's for ~$99.00! I am quite familiar with this unit. I like the curr price better than what Wyse was charging back then.

These are great for access to legacy apps, but nowadays full desktops, MS-Office, and IE are prevalent. All hogs. Server to client re-direction starts to look appealing - but you need local PNAgent, IE, and updated plugin's for that...