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What is a Thin Client?

Jeff Petersen
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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A thin client refers to either a software program or to an actual computer that relies heavily on another computer to do most of its work. It operates as part of a network, with the client software or computer acting as an interface and the network server computer doing all the real work, like saving files, processing data, and controlling certain functions of the clients, like whether they can download things or not. This type of setup is commonly used in places with lots of people simultaneously using computers, like businesses or schools. Though this system is often easier to maintain and use, it also has some downsides, including the lack of peripherals and limited performance.

Types

A physical thin client can be something as minimalistic as a graphic display and an input mechanism like a keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen. Generally speaking, these devices contain just enough information to start up and connect to a more powerful computer, the server. Many do not have the peripherals that come with personal computers like an optical drive or input/output ports, which are where wires connecting the computer to other devices come into it. They may also lack a hard drive, which means that if the client computer needs to use a program or save a file, it will connect to the network server computer to do so.

The software version is interface-based program. The user of the client software sees all of the data, tools, and features that would appear on a normal piece of software, but another program running on a remote server does the work.

Uses

Thin clients are typically used in settings where a lot of people need to use computers. This includes public places like libraries, airports, and schools. The thin client setup is also popular in places where people need to be able to save and access information from a central location, like an office, a call center, or a manufacturing plant. For instance, an office might use this type of setup to allow all employees to save all their work on an office server, or to control the programs and information that they can access.

Advantages

The reasons someone might use hardware and software versions of a thin client include reduced cost, ease of maintenance, ease of use, and security. Thin clients are much more simple than complete computers, which means they may be less likely to break. A standard computer has a lot of parts, and a thin client only has a few — fewer parts mean fewer things can go wrong. The simplicity also makes it much easier to diagnose problems and repair them. Additionally, in a situation in which many people need to perform a similar task, it is often more cost-effective to have one network server computer and many cheap client computers than to have many complete devices.

People who are not computer literate may have an easier time using a thin client than a standard computer or software program because it has fewer features and functions to learn to use. Although thin clients are relatively easy to secure, users generally have restricted access to programs or functions that could breach security. Restricting all of the real computing power to a single network server also means that security can be focused in one place.

Disadvantages

Downsides to this type of setup include the lack of peripheral devices, the limited performance of certain tasks, and sometimes, the nature of the security system. Those clients that don't have optical drives can't play CDs or DVDs, and if a client doesn't have input/output ports, it may be unable to easily connect to other devices, like a printer. Additionally, since most thin clients are so stripped down, their performance may not be fast enough for tasks like video rendering, graphics editing, or gaming. This is particularly true if several clients are doing very intensive tasks at once, which can affect the server and slow other clients down.

Though the ability to have one end point for all the security in a network can be beneficial, it also means that a problem with that one point can compromise all the client computers. Likewise, if none of the clients have hard drives and all the data is saved on the server, then if the server crashes, all the data from all the clients will be lost.

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Jeff Petersen
By Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist based in Berkeley, California. He earned his B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Creighton University and loves putting his skills to work creating captivating content for EasyTechJunkie. Jeff's articles cover a broad range of subjects, keeping readers informed and entertained with his insightful writing style.
Discussion Comments
By anon990964 — On May 18, 2015

@Ebere, Thinlabs thin client computers can connect via Gigabit Ethernet or wireless connectivity, and can power up via standard 12V power supply, 280Wh Lithium Ion battery or PoE802.3at+ (Power Over Ethernet).

By anon324698 — On Mar 12, 2013

I have a single CPU and I have five monitors and keyboards, a mouse and LAN cables, and I want to connect the single cpu and five monitors using thin client.

How can I do that type of configuration with a single CPU? I want to use five different users. Can someone give me a suggestion to solve my problem?

By anon250620 — On Feb 26, 2012

Can thin clients make screenshots?

By anon196059 — On Jul 13, 2011

@anon10548: Search for diskless workstations.

The thin clients boot from a local boot server which delivers the image via LAN.

By anon133245 — On Dec 09, 2010

My thin client server getting log off automatically after three days and because of that problem client can't log in using thin client. What i should do to solve this problem.

By Ebere Nketha — On Nov 22, 2010

can thin client be used wireless?

By Technologik — On Nov 11, 2010

They are booted by PXE "network boot" the server has to be up for the clients to boot.

Yes you can share network and Apps. The apps have to be installed on the server, and be capable of running in a "network environment." Good luck.

By anon125399 — On Nov 09, 2010

There's a thin client supplier based in cambridge, UK, called the cutter project. I work for a school which uses a system they installed. It's great.

By anon103359 — On Aug 12, 2010

how do I configure a thin client?

By anon81947 — On May 04, 2010

what server OS can i install for my HP thin clients, and which appliance will control security and login sessions?

By anon73553 — On Mar 28, 2010

how do we set up a thin client?

By anon50803 — On Nov 01, 2009

Q- Can I install Tally on the server and use it from any of 2 installed thin clients?

Reply: Of course you can install tally on the server. You can use on all nodes parallel or any one of them.

you must have a tally should be multi user license.

VINAY KUMAR MITTAL

By anon47154 — On Oct 02, 2009

what is the structure of a thin client?

By anon46931 — On Sep 30, 2009

What protocols do these thin clients use to establish connection between client and server? Do these thin clients have a built-in protocol of their own? Likewise, do they develop thin clients or do they have their own protocol or do they rely on Citrix, Microsoft, VMWare etc. for it?

By anon37983 — On Jul 23, 2009

Can I install Tally on the server & use it from any of 2 installed thin clients???

By puli921 — On Jun 05, 2009

hi all!

Can anyone tell me the actions required regarding:

I have n number of thin clients connected to a server. I want to add one more.

Is there any need to change any conn. protocols?

thanks in advance

By nidalgh — On May 17, 2009

in a multi-server environment (with thin client installed on all servers) will the user be able to access the server of his/her choice? or is the thin Client limited to a single server?

By brendaschec — On Apr 29, 2009

Desktop virtualization has many benefits from increased security, lower physical costs (don't have to replace or add PC's) and ease of management (upgrades or installs are done at the server) just to mention a few.

Software is loaded at the server level. You can use a dumb terminal with a thin client devise. Administrators can log into the server and copy 'golden images' to add additional seats very easily.

By PQ2k — On Mar 30, 2009

I am working for a non-profit organization. I would like to know if there’s a vendor that would allow me to “test” the latest version of thin client? It must have a Windows base flash file on it. I don’t need citrix since it is not apart of the infrastructure.

Thanks.

By faiza — On Dec 28, 2008

how can we reduce work for IT in thin client approach?

By faiza — On Dec 28, 2008

i know thin clients can be set up on a LAN easily but how do you set up one on a WAN?. could you advise on any relevant design specifications/architect diagram or steps to implement this.

By rinalm — On Aug 26, 2008

We are just starting to look at a thin client solution utilizing existing PCs (without their hard drives) and a TS server back end. The existing environment consists of standard PCs on a domain with multiple servers on multiple subnets. I have the following questions:

1. Can users still sync a Palm or Blackberry with a thin client?

2. Can they still share files with other PC users on the different servers?

3. Can they still map drives to other servers on the network?

4. Can user's easily share access databases with non-thin client users?

5. Can user’s still access a flash drive through the USB port?

6. Can a user still access and write CD’s to a local media drive?

By anon14589 — On Jun 19, 2008

How should I go into the administrative side of the This Client? Is it by pressing 'SHIFT' key? During which period of time should I press 'SHIFT' key? How long should I press the key?

By gyampo1 — On Jun 04, 2008

hello. i have a couple of questions and hoping you can help me.

1. i know thin clients can be set up on a LAN easily but how do you set up one on a WAN?. could you advise on any relevant design specifications/architect diagram or steps to implement this.

2.could you advise where to purchase large quantities at discounted rates?

many thanks

By Technologik — On May 28, 2008

To answer these:

1. can we use old computer as thin client for a thin client architecture?

A: With my experience, most thin clients I've worked with were all about 3-4 years old, but I imagine you could maybe get older PC's to work, if they had the right software.

2. if yes, can we install any software?

A: Most software will work, you will be limited by space on the flash memory though.

3. where it will be installed? the old computer or the server?

A: Almost all software is installed on the server. Thus the name Thin "client". Applications are run from the server and essentially "streamed" to the client workstation.

4. where is thin client architecture most suitable for?

A: I've seen them used in medical offices, banks, hotels, and shopping malls. Also anywhere there are a lot of workstations that are pulling off of the same database or calendering software. They are really great for large corporations where the Admin would not want employees adding personal things to the workstation, or surfing the net all day. They are really good for keeping the IT support to a minimum.

By axis — On May 28, 2008

I have some questions.

1. can we use an old computer as thin client for a thin client architecture?

2. if yes, can we install any software?

3. where it will be installed? the old computer or the server?

4. what is thin client architecture most suitable for?

thanks

By Technologik — On Apr 16, 2008

A thin client usually has solid state storage to boot (similar to a PDA or smart phone). After it boots the applications it accesses and uses is usually on a server. To answer your question, YES.

By anon10548 — On Mar 29, 2008

How are the thin clients booted if they are diskless? Can we share internet & applications if we have one server ex. windows 2K server & 10 thin clients (Diskless). Pls reply

-Santosh Deshpande

Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen
Jeff Petersen is a freelance writer, short story author, and novelist based in Berkeley, California. He earned his B.A....
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