One of the coolest things at Citrix Synergy last week was a new all-in-one thin client from HP. ("All-in-one" means that the monitor and thin client are integrated into a single unit.) Ordinarily I don't get too excited about thin clients, and all-in-one thin clients have been around for years. What makes this one special is that it's completely powered via Power over Ethernet (PoE), so all it needs is the Ethernet wire plugged in. You don't need a power outlet. (To be clear—both the monitor and thin client are powered via PoE, which is incredible, given the the PoE standard only provides about 15 watts.)
To achieve this, HP had to do a lot of engineering work on both the display side and the thin client side. The thin client piece of it is based on their HDX System on a Chip smart client. For the display, they worked with 3M to lower the power consumption while maintaining the brightness and field of view on the display.
HP was showing off an engineering prototype of this thin client last week. Take a look:
People always talk about low power thin clients, but with the monitor taking up so much power, it's been hard for me to get excited about them. (I mean who cares if you have a 5W thin client if it's connected to a 25W display?)
By the way, this all-in-one thin client is powered by the "low power" version of PoE, which is about 13W. This is the PoE that works on any existing wiring, including even really old Cat3 wires. So if you don't have PoE switches, you can buy new switches without having to update any wiring. (Though almost every enterprise switch from the past decade can handle PoE.)
HP has applied for seven hardware patents and six software patents for this, including a cool feature where it will "walk the line" to find out exactly how much power it can take. (The PoE standard that it uses will provide 15.4W at the switch port, but by the time you factor in resistance of the wires, it means that devices can only get about 13W if they're 100m away from the switch. But in HP's case, the thin client can actually figure out how much power it can draw, because if it's only connected via a 30m cable then maybe it can pull 14W and give the display an extra watt for brightness.)
This HP all-in-one will also shut down certain parts of the system or adjust the clock speed of the CPU or DSP depending on which protocol it's connecting with. (It supports HDX, RemoteFX, RDP 7.1, and PCoIP.)
When I tweeted about how much I like this thing, someone responded with, "What happens if I want a second screen?" The answer is simple—if you need a second screen, don't buy this.
I say that because this illustrates an important point. People have been slamming this thing with statements like "PoE is not that common," or "Who cares?" or "What if I want more than an 18.5" screen." To all of them I say, "Then obviously this isn't the thin client for you, so stop complaining and move on."
I've started explaining it via a car analogy. This PoE all-in-one thin client is like a breakthrough passenger car that gets 100mpg, and now people are saying "What if I need a vehicle to carry around a bunch of lumber?" Then I would say, "Don't be a idiot. Obviously if you need to carry around lumber then you shouldn't buy a small car, regardless of the fuel efficiency."
Another comment I head was "HP has it backwards. For one wire they need to make that the power cord, and then use WiFi." Again, regular thin clients have been around forever. If you want to use a thin client in a scenario where you have power buy no Ethernet, there are about 200 models on the market now that you can choose from, so you shouldn't be looking at this thing.
For me, the draw for PoE is not the overall power consumption (though if you have a lot of these that would certainly be nice), but the fact that you can now have a thin client in a location that doesn't have a power receptacle. (Walls, store displays, classrooms that were not originally built for computers, etc.)
It's also great because if you need to wire a room, it's much cheaper to drop network cables than power. Heck, you don't even need a certified electrician or a building permit or anything to do it.
When I recorded this video, I asked if anyone had any questions I should ask these guys. Most people wanted more information about the specs, so once we finished recording I read Tom and Shannon the questions that were submitted, and they provided all the answers, including:
- 18.5" display, 1366x768, 60hz
- 1000:1 contrast ratio
- 200 NITS (varies based on power)
- Color gamma is typical white LED is 67% NTSC white 1931
- 4 USB2 ports (limited to 100mA when in PoE mode, full power if you use a power brick)*
- 1.5W speaker, mic
- MSRP is TBD and set by the regions, but the thought process is for it to be similar to a thin client + monitor
- No battery back up in the thin client, but you can back up the PoE switch if you need power backup
- No Bluetooth, too much power.
- No Wifi. (think about it)
- Network is 100mbps when PoE, 1gbps when plugged in*
*This devices do ship with a power brick if you're in a scenario where you'd like to plug them in. Doing so allows the system to take more power than PoE can provide, which means they can support any USB devices (instead of only the lower power devices), GB Ethernet, and maximum screen brightness.