13 Differences Between A Thin Client And A PC?

There are a lot of myths and jargon in the technology industry especially around thin clients and personal computers (PC). So, deciding to look at the real differences between thin client and PCs makes a lot of sense, as it can help determine the detailed facts about how these devices are different from each other.

What is the difference between a thin client and a PC? The main difference between a thin client and a PC is where they do their application processing. With thin clients offloading the processing to a remote server and receiving screen updates, whilst PCs do the processing locally themselves as the applications are installed on the PC and not the remote server as is the case with thin clients.

Other differences include:

  1. All applications and desktops remotely accessed
  2. Network connection is required
  3. Less hardware
  4. No local storage
  5. Better Security
  6. No backups required
  7. Reduced energy bills
  8. Reduced carbon footprint
  9. Simplified management
  10. Easier maintenance
  11. Cost savings
  12. Space-saving
  13. Operational efficiencies

In the next few sections of this article we’ll dig deeper into the points mentioned above and look at the differences between a thin client and PC in detail. This will help in determining the suitability of these devices for specific duties.

1. All applications and desktops remotely accessed.

Thin clients have no user applications installed on them and have no operating system capable of providing a user desktop experience. Instead all applications and desktops are accessed remotely.

The applications and desktops (Desktop as a Service DaaS) are in data centers including the Cloud like

  • Amazon Web Services
  • Microsoft Azure and
  • Google Cloud Platform.

PCs have operating systems like Microsoft Windows 10 providing the desktop experience along with applications installed locally like Microsoft Office applications.

2. Network connection is required

Without a network connection thin clients can’t connect to applications and desktops in data centers and the cloud. PCs can carry on working without a network connection as the desktop will still be available along with applications installed on the PC.

3. Less Hardware

Thin client devices are simpler devices as they don’t need to be as powerful as PCs to work. This is because all the application and desktop processing is done on a remote computer the thin client connects to. All the thin client has to do is send the mouse movements and keystrokes made by the user to the remote computer.

The remote computer will apply these mouse movements and key strokes to the application and send back the changes in the display to the thin client.

The thin client will then display the updated display and by doing this in milliseconds each time, it looks like the application is running on the thin client when it’s actually running on the remote computer.

4. No local storage

As all the work is done remotely on another computer the thin client doesn’t need to store any data within itself, so there’s no local data storage. Realistically, it is wise to have any data secured on a central system than on every computer.

This is why many thin client devices don’t have any hard disks and any thin client device configuration settings are stored in special flash memory, that’s reprogrammable and doesn’t get erased when the thin client is switched off.

5. Better Security

Without any data stored locally, there’s no point in stealing a thin client for a company’s secrets. Along with smart card authentication and biometric authentication using fingerprint scanning, thin clients can offer a better security posture than PCs.

6. No backups required

Without any data stored locally on thin client devices and with simpler operating systems, there’s no real need to any backups. PCs on the other hand can have data and configuration which requires regular backup to protect against data and productivity loss.

7. Reduced energy bills

Thin clients consume less energy when compared to PCs. The cost of electricity consumed when using thin clients is low, a total average of 20 watts maximum for thin clients. PCs can absorb up to 150 watts.

With lower powered processors, no (or smaller) hard disks, less memory and less electronic components, thin client devices energy consumption is substantially reduced.

8. Reduced carbon footprint

Unlike PCs, thin clients tend to use less energy as they have less parts and lower specification components, all beneficial when it comes to lowering carbon footprints.

9. Simplified management

One of the crucial things using thin clients is that all the software gets installed and upgraded in the data center including security policies. Any hardware upgrades are done to the computers in the data center including the cloud, that the thin clients connect to.

10. Easier Maintenance

No IT expert is needed to fix individual issues as opposed to PCs which can have complicated hardware and software issues. With the simplistic nature of thin client devices, there is no user software installed, so nothing to fix and with higher reliability than PCs due to less hardware required, maintenance costs are lower.

11. Cost savings

In terms of cost savings, thin clients stand up the best. Starting from the upfront buying price to total operational cost, thin clients are a win-win situation.

When compared to conventional desktops, thin clients’ capital cost is relatively cheap. Licensing thin clients also is affordable as compared to PCs. Thin clients also offer a 70% operating cost reduction.

12. Space-saving

Thin client devices are smaller than traditional PCs requiring less space (also known as having smaller footprint).

13. Operational efficiencies

It is true that thin clients, unlike PCs, can increase the productivity of a firm. Yes, because you can package systems, pre-configure, and put them to operate in less time. Thin clients lessen the setup. It offers flexibility that you cannot obtain from PCs.

Another thing why you should go for thin clients is that conventional desktops are prone to delays. Better yet, with thin clients, you can get access to data from anywhere, and anytime you want.

What are thin clients?

You may have heard them, seen them or touched them. Maybe right now is the time to understand what thin clients really are.

It is no surprise that you probably understand desktops and the way it operates. Realistically, all the application and software you see installed on your computer.

However, some of your data get stored on the server. Thin clients are viable alternatives for desktop computers specially designed to bring about required applications. Thin clients get connected to the server. It is a software that rests on the server unless you want it.

Thin clients do not need direct access to endpoint operating system-a significant advantage when it comes to desktop virtualization. Thin clients, on the other hand, are specially engineered to connect into data centers separately remotely, and this is helpful if you are working in a virtual environment.

What is a limitation of a thin client?

Thin clients do have some limitations compared to PCs, these can involve limitations around networking, usablility, mobility to issues around a single point of failure.

Network limitations

Without a network connection, thin clients users won’t be able get access to the server where their desktops and applications are, so the network is essential. Unlike laptops and PCs that can work offline, that is without a network connection, thin client devices can only work online, with a network connection.

In an organization with many workers assigned to work in various departments, all the workers get connected to the same network. As a result, the organization is likely to experience a network slow down and this can effect the ability to use thin clients effectively.


Thin clients are specially engineered to serve as client software designed to help as simple terminals that connect to the server. Thin clients are demanding, as they need frequent communication to and from the server.

If the server can’t handle the load placed upon it from several thin client devices connecting to it concurrently, the server will slow down under the bulk of requests.

Affecting the speed at which the thin client gets screen updates. This will make the applications and desktops slowdown and affect the user experience on the thin client device.

Mobility issues

In environments where direct ethernet network connections are limited, Wi-Fi can be used but this can easily become constrained with too many thin client devices fighting over the Wi-Fi bandwidth.

Likewise connecting over 4G LTE networks could also cause contention problems as these networks can easily become saturated or have patch availability.

Points of failure

As thin client devices rely on network accessed services, if there’s a data centre failure, a server failure or the network fails, or if home working, the broadband connection fails, then the thin client fails to become usable.

Final thoughts

There a lot of differences between thin clients and conventional PCs, but the key features that worth understanding are the efficiency, storage capacity and the operational costs. Technology is quite a deep subject. So, understanding the two will enable you to make the right decision.

Bal Kang

Bal Kang is a technology expert based in the UK, with experience across a number of technology areas from phones, tablets, computers to gaming.

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