A netPC, often referred to as a diskless PC or network PC, is an economical alternative to the traditional personal computer. NetPCs run many common applications; however, they are significantly scaled back in software, hardware, processing speed and memory, but maintain a strong emphasis on networking. For this reason, netPCs are often cheaper to acquire than a traditional personal computer and are most commonly used by large companies.
Some people attribute the start of the network computer to a concept developed during the mid-1990s, the netPC made its larger debut as a cooperative effort by some of the leading names in computer manufacturing and was initially created with businesses in mind. The purpose of the network computer was to help people in a number of industries keep costs down and improve both connectivity and productivity. These machines were generally meant to concentrate on the exchange of data that could be managed locally, or as a standalone computer should the network go down at any time.
Unlike the more common personal computer, the netPC is usually devoid of a CD-ROM drive, floppy disk drive and hardware expansion slots. This design is intended not only to lower the price but to help maintain efficiency and focus by limiting the number of diversions, as well as ensuring the integrity of the device. The external casing for these machines is usually sealed or locked to aid in preventing the reconfiguration of the included computer hardware.
The original incarnation of the netPC did not include and did not require any specific operating system, because it was a non-proprietary platform. As larger-name companies began to develop diskless PCs, specific operating systems and many of their common applications became standard. Most netPCs then became capable of basic functions such as web-browsing and e-mail, as well as more complex functions such as booting in multiple operating systems.
Though it is capable of a number of other functions, the netPC is commonly used as an advanced terminal device. These machines are meant to support a variety of business-related applications but may also include software that makes other machines within the network more accessible, general maintenance easier and more cost-effective; and finally, data more portable. In addition, most diskless PCs contain a hard disk drive that is largely used to store a temporary cache. This feature is meant to replace the storage of permanent data and, thus, will make machine run faster.