Five multipurpose thin clients compared

Lean andStrong

Fujitsu Futro S900

The Fujitsu Futro S900 can also be ordered with Windows Embedded, but our model had eLux RL – a Linux derivative, as the name suggests. It also offers a neat and functional interface for all settings (Figure 4).

Figure 4: The user interface of the Futro by Fujitsu is somewhat plainer.

In terms of hardware, Futro's unique feature among all our test candidates is the PCI slot that can, for example, house a second graphics card. However, dual monitoring is already supported by the standard DVI port along with the DisplayPort. This device was the only thin client to include a USB keyboard and mouse. Additionally, it was the only one with serial ports, which are useful for terminal emulation. The software supports a wide range of terminal types.

The supported session protocols are once again RDP and ICA; less common offerings are missing. However, you can use Leostream and VMware View and Citrix Xen Desktop as VDI brokers. Remote maintenance of the client via a centralized application, known as Scout Enterprise, is possible.

All told, the Futro presents itself as a well-equipped and extensible solution that also returned the fastest performance, by a narrow margin, in our benchmark (see the "Thin Client Benchmark" box).

Thin Client Benchmark

Statements about the performance of thin clients are not easy to make or verify because they depend on many factors – including available network bandwidth, I/O performance, and the processing power of the VDI server. The actual computing and graphics performance of the terminal device is only partly responsible for the results the user sees, in any case.

Nevertheless, to gain some objective criteria for testing the speed of our devices, we used the following structure: On an ESXi-server, we ran a virtual machine with Ubuntu 12.04 including a FreeRDP server. The thin clients connected with this, and we then launched the GtkPerf program on the VM with a resolution of 1024x768.

This Gtk benchmark measures the speed in displaying widgets (e.g., comboboxes, progress bars, various buttons, and scrolling text) or graphics functions (e.g., multicolored lines and circles). We measured the total run time of the benchmark in 10 passes. The measured values are shown in a box plot (Figure 5), including outliers (small circles), the minimum-maximum range, upper and lower quartile (distance to the box), and mean value of the median (red line).

Figure 5: The performance values of the five candidates compared.

Dell Wyse Z90D7

The larger model by Wyse – the US thin client manufacturer was acquired by Dell in 2012 – was the only one in our test field that did not use a Linux derivative. Instead, it booted Windows Embedded Standard 7 (Figure 6). This immediately gives users the feeling of not just having a runtime environment for configuration utilities, but a full-fledged operating system that includes media players, desktop accessories, and gadgets. Additionally, users can benefit from the ability to run 32-bit Windows applications locally – including support for desktop peripherals.

Figure 6: A configuration interface with a Windows look and feel: the Dell Wyse Z90.

This thin client supports VMware and Citrix Sessions for standard protocols without any problems but has to pass on more exotic connection types. As with the smaller model, remote management of the device is possible.

In terms of hardware, the Wyse Z90 impresses with two USB 3.0 ports, which no other competitor in our test field provided. They are about 10 times faster than USB 2.0, which is also on board. Like the Futro by Fujitsu, the Z90 also has a DisplayPort connector. Its energy-efficient AMD G-Series processor provides good performance and, although the Radeon HD 6320 graphics card is not suitable for gaming, it is fine for office applications.

Conclusions

All thin clients featured here are small, quiet, virtually maintenance-free, and energy efficient. All can be managed from a central location, and all can handle the basic communication protocols for environments by VMware, Citrix, and Microsoft. The differences lie in the details that predestine these devices for different scenarios. If you analyze your requirements, you are certain to find a client tailored to your applications and performance needs.

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