Thin Clients vs. Zero Clients for VDI | 10ZiG Technology

By illustrating the differences between Thin Clients and Zero Clients I hope to better define them as well. Both are small form factor, solid state computing devices, specifically designed for a server based typology, currently generally associated with Desktop Virtualization (VDI) and Host Desktop Environments (DaaS), but they have many different characteristics that are important to distinguish. Below we will discuss the key differences between Thin Clients and Zero Clients.

Thin Clients

Thin Client devices are traditionally end-point devices with some flavor of skinny, optimized, locked-down OS. The most common current type of Thin Clients run on Linux or Windows Embedded (WES7/WE8), and to a much lesser and declining degree Windows CE. Windows CE is deployed much less frequently due to the lack of available current connection brokers by major providers, as well as limited peripheral support. It is extremely difficult for a Windows Embedded Thin Client to get a virus and with the built-in write protection filter easy to get rid of by just cycling the power. As the filter restricts anything to be written to the solid state storage. It is impossible for a Linux Thin Client to get a virus.

Zero Clients

Instead of an operating system, Zero Clients have a highly tuned on-board processor specifically designed for one possibly three VDI protocols (PCoIP, HDX, or RDS). Most of the decoding and display processes take place in dedicated hardware and therefore are more efficient than using a software client and a standard CPU and GPU setup as with a Thin Client. Zero Clients have boot up speeds of just a few seconds and are immune to viruses, malware and the like. Thus decreasing the overall downtime of the device and increasing the productivity to the end-user. The Zero Client device requires very little maintenance and rarely needs an update unless there is a significant change/enhancement to the VDI protocol or the occasional BIOS related update, which usually has to do with improved/additional peripheral support.

Let’s Compare and Contrast the Differences Between Thin Client and Zero Clients:

Connection Type:

One factor that distinguishes the differences between Thin and Zero Clients is their connection type.

  • Thin Clients usually contain multiple connection brokers, such as VMware Horizon, Citrix XenDesktop, and Microsoft RDP to name a few. This provides some flexibility if you are running multiple brokers, which can be common especially during a migration from one to another. These connection types are managed with a central utility, which provides the ability to efficiently maintain and apply updates to the connection brokers, as well as control, shadow, restart, and push out a cloned configuration to multiple units*. Note these management features are supported by 10ZiG and may not be universal throughout the industry.
  • Zero Clients run only with one connection type largely being either Citrix or VMware. They are optimized for that specific broker. Usually providing a limited user interface as most just boot into the sign on screen of said broker. These devices can also be centrally managed, but is many of the management features are not available or potentially not needed in the case of a zero client.

The reason so many people go with Thin Client devices for their VDI implementation is because of their great flexibility. Thin Client devices are able to change connection brokers (ex. VMware to Citrix) when required by your company’s quickly evolving desktop needs or dictated by shifting corporation directions due to acquisition. Though flexibility is a great selling point, Zero Clients are finely tuned for a specific protocol which offers an unparalleled video experience. 10ZiG’s V1200 is a prime example of a Zero Client for PCoIP that offers exceptional video graphics; this unit is specifically designed with the Teradici PCoIP Portal Processor. Teradici being the creator of VMware’s PCoIP Protocol.


The configuration process is another factor that compares Thin Clients vs. Zero Clients.

  • Thin Clients are usually configured using a template from previous Thin Client configurations and therefore makes managing the device(s) very simple and can be done by a single IT administrator either locally or remotely. With Thin Clients, software updates are usually larger and can be more frequently than that of Zero Clients because of their extensive features. Thin Client software updates are still very small and far less frequent compared to a PC. Rarely occurring more than a couple times a year. Especially as a thin clients do not have the security vulnerabilities inherent of the PC. Thin Clients provide a future-proof design focused more on flexibility than pure performance
  • Zero Clients by default have a relatively simple set of configurations compared to a Thin Client. Software updates for Zero Clients are usually minute, for example our V1200 Series Tera2 PCoIP Zero Clients containing the Teradici PCoIP chipset usually only have updates for the PCoIP protocol itself or the occasional BIOS update for improved peripheral support. This means that updates are released infrequent and are only small packet firmware updates when they are . Zero Clients have very minimal firmware maintenance.

Keep in mind that though Thin Clients can have more sizable updates, the updates can be scheduled to be done at off-peak times so that end-users are unaware of the update and it does not affect their productivity and peak bandwidth usage

Task Capabilities:

Identifying the application needs of the end-user is an important consideration when choosing Thin Clients or Zero Clients.

  • Thin Clients are known for being flexible and designed for the needs of the individual end-user. IT managers can simply drag and drop the proper applications to the Thin Client for the end-user to access ranging from graphic design applications for the advanced user to very simple Microsoft Office applications for the every-day task worker. Thin Clients have the ability for installed applications such as browsers, email clients, office/PDF viewers, device drivers as well as, connectivity to any legacy client server application.
  • Zero Clients will only have the applications which are provisioned to them from the virtual desktop or application server. These devices can handle the most graphically demanding applications and can support the highest quality multi-media. Zero Clients are also the perfect fit for those looking to use quad monitors without suffering significant performance degradation.

Typically, the exceptional graphics capability, ultra-low power, fast boot-up and easy management are the characteristics that people go for when deciding to deploy a Zero Client. Others go for the highly flexible, well-rounded Thin Client that proves to provide the truest desktop experience.

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