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Yes, they can even play Crysis

The idea of so-called "thin-client" virtualization is simple and not terribly new.  The idea is basically you take a very powerful server computer and create a number of hosted environments on it, and then stream video to cheap, low-powered desktop clients.  The hosted environments receive all the input (say keyboard and mouse) from the clients.  

I. Power Efficient CPUs Drive HP's Growing Thin-Client Army

While the idea itself is not all that new, low-power processing and broadband streaming technology has only just now reached the point where server makers can come up with the products to make it attractive and affordable on a wide scale.

One of the key companies leading the way is Hewlett-Packard Comp. (HPQ), which is looking to leverage emerging processor design to offer businesses cheap and capable thin-clients.

It's current demoing two designs -- one based on a 1 GHz Texas Instruments Inc. (TXN) chip using an ARM Holdings Plc (LON:ARM) Cortex-A8 intellectual property core + instruction set, and the other using a 1.65 GHz dual-core T56N "accelerated processing unit" (APU) from Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD), which comes with a built in Radeon graphics processing unit.

These cheap, low-power processors from TI/ARM and AMD prove the key to HP's ambitious thin-client vision.
 
HP t610                      HP t610
A pair of HP t610 thin-clients (powered by AMD APUs)

(The ARM product is dubbed the HP t410 AiO Smart Zero Client, while the AMD APU variant is named the HP t610 Flexible Thin Client.)

Michael Clifford, HP Director, Cloud Computing, UK&I, spoke about showing the new designs at the upcoming IP EXPO, which is being held this Wednesday and Thursday in London.  He comments, "The Cloud Computing space is constantly accelerating and maturing, and it is important that IT departments are not left behind.  At this year's IP EXPO, we will demonstrate how our secure cloud solutions establish the ideal foundation, allowing businesses to become the 'service broker' and decide how and where to deliver IT services, opening limitless horizons of new abilities and powers."

So what does all that mean?

Your employer may soon be replacing your full-fledged PC (expensive) with a small, lightweight, power-efficient thin-client (cheaper).  But you won't see any performance hit (in-theory), thanks to the beefy server back-end.

II. Enabled by Windows 8

Speaking of that back-end, that gets back to a final player in both HP and its rival's thin client experience -- Microsoft Corp. (MSFT).  Microsoft's latest Windows 7 and Windows Server operating systems are offering a technology called RemoteFX, which allows the server backend to deliver a so-called "remote desktop" (the virtualized workspace) to the thin-client.  Microsoft shows off the might of RemoteFX in a recent video, showing that yes, a thin-client really can play Crysis.


While Windows 8 is oft demonized for introducing the controversial Metro reskin of the start menu and other features businesses don't care as much about (say, touch), the upcoming OS is good news for businesses when it comes to thin-clients.  Why?

Well, the latest and greatest upcoming thin clients such as the HP t410 AiO that use cheap, power-efficient ARM processors -- the same chips used in smartphones and tablets -- won't run on Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Windows XP.  Windows RT -- the ARM-centric version of Windows 8 -- will be the first Microsoft operating system to add support.  In that regard, the ability to leverage ARM-endowed thin clients could prove a key carrot to driving businesses to Windows 8 -- something that would doubtless please Microsoft.

Sources: HP [1, press release via IT News Online], [2]



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RE: I'm sure this would be great for business...
By Shig on 10/16/2012 3:45:11 PM , Rating: 2
Wouldn't the terminals each need their own dedicated GPU in the master box to run a game at high quality settings in HD quality?


RE: I'm sure this would be great for business...
By MZperX on 10/16/2012 5:23:22 PM , Rating: 2
Good question, I've been wondering myself. Quite possibly the answer is yes, in which case this is still a bridge too far for gaming applications.

The dumb/thin terminals could be relatively low resolution (1680x1050 or 1440x900) and I'd still be okay with that, but ideally the "mainframe" machine would have to do all the graphics crunching for them. So, there would have to be a way to allocate certain number of rendering pipelines to each virtual machine if they are to run on a single graphics card. I can see this happening on something like a Radeon 7970 with 6GB VRAM if the graphics driver supported it. Afterall GPUs are supposedly awesome for multi-threaded tasks. There would of course be a limit as to how many virtual terminals could be served with graphics at an acceptable FPS, but even if it's only 3 or 4 that would be workable. I guess a future hexa- or octa-core CPU could handle the processing end of this without too much trouble.


RE: I'm sure this would be great for business...
By Jeffk464 on 10/16/2012 5:37:30 PM , Rating: 1
Terminals are better served running chrome OS than windows.


RE: I'm sure this would be great for business...
By Alexvrb on 10/16/2012 8:23:04 PM , Rating: 2
Oh they've got RemoteFX for ChromeOS now?

Heck, even all that aside, I'd go for a popular Linux distro before ChromeOS. :/


RE: I'm sure this would be great for business...
By Samus on 10/17/2012 1:53:39 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not so sure, Windows 7 Thin PC is 2GB installed and runs on 512MB RAM and a Pentium III well.

The compatibility pro's outweigh any con's (unless the $35 COA is too expensive for you cheap ass linux fans)


By Alexvrb on 10/19/2012 2:01:00 AM , Rating: 2
Oh I agree. I was just saying that if you're going to go with "Hey it's free!", why not just use a superior non-Google-dominated Linux distro?

I didn't mean to imply that he is correct in assuming that Windows is unable to run well or are otherwise inferior on low end hardware. I mean shoot, WinRT runs like butter on a lowly T30, and as you pointed out they've got slim versions for x86 clients that work great on lowly hardware.


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