Thick Vs. Thin Clients: Comparing the Differences

By Albatross Editorial Team

Constant technological advancements and fast turnover requirements have changed the way business gets done today. Employees and consumers need lightweight, portable devices while still accessing the information they need from anywhere.

With globalization, and more companies having employees work from home, businesses have more of a need for remote access to the company’s collaboration software than ever. As some already know, the answer to improving access and management is moving to a cloud-based system where needed applications can be accessed through a browser. 

Even with cloud applications becoming more popular for businesses, some businesses are still skeptical for a few reasons.

Common concerns about cloud-based systems: 

  1. Is the information secure? 
  2. What happens if the network goes out? 
  3. What about the cost? 

All of these questions bring up a more significant issue that should be considered; ultimately, what is right for the business, and what do employees need in order to get business done? There are a few options when considering the type of server system for a business of any size. Whether it is a small in-home office or a large corporation with thousands of computers, figuring out the best method that is cost-effective, time-efficient, and user-friendly is essential. 

Desktops and thin clients are two standard solutions for business computing. But how do you determine what the right answer is for your business? Below, we’ll define the key differences between desktops and thin clients and identify the impactful pros and cons of the two options. 


Desktops are essentially computers with their own servers, and they can do some pretty heavy lifting; that is why their nickname is ‘thick’ or sometimes ‘fat’ clients. Desktops have the ability to work independently from the central server and network. When this type of computer turns on, even if it is not connected to the internet, many software and applications can still be used (such as Microsoft Word and Excel) because they do not rely on an internet connection. These locally-based systems can also run independently from the central server because many of the applications needed are downloaded directly onto the computer itself. The benefits of having desktops for business really depends on:

  • The kind of work being conducted
  • The type of software and hardware being used
  • The need for collaboration for employees and company operations

Although desktop systems are often robust, they do come with specific vulnerabilities and drawbacks. Here’s how:

  • Desktops can be less secure due to the direct downloads of each software onto the system; this can present more opportunities for malware and other security issues.
  • Desktops can be a bigger headache for users or IT because every desktop must be updated individually.
  • Managers and owners have less control over user data due to it being stored locally.
  • Desktops aren’t inherently mobile, which can make a big difference for a company who’s employees travel often or work out of the office with regularity.

All of that being said, desktops formulate specific pros that are unique to their category, such as:

  • Desktops can run independently from the central server if the network is down. This allows for a more seamless workday.
  • The usage approach can be more hands-on because some software and applications are downloaded directly onto the device.
  • Desktop systems tend to have more powerful processing and storage capabilities than systems that rely primarily on cloud-based storage and software.

Although desktops do have more robust processing systems and capabilities, the cost of maintaining the systems by IT teams, a well as potential security risks, is something to consider when deciding the server set up of a business. This is where thin clients can come into play.

Thin Clients 

Simply put, a thin client is a computer that relies on another central server and connects to this server through a network connection. If an office has thin client computers, each system is functioning virtually from browsers, and they all share the central server that speaks to these virtual servers through a network connection (ex. software and applications are based on the primary server and sent to each computer through the browser). A popular thin client in the category these days is Google Chromebooks.

For companies and organizations that need a quick access and sharing approach, thin clients work well for constant collaboration. The term ‘thin’ refers to a less robust processing system over desktops as they do not have their own individual servers capable of large software downloads. 

Although the processing system for thin clients is not as powerful, there are some significant benefits to a virtual approach; take a look:

  • Thin clients can be more secure because the software is not being directly downloaded individually or stored directly onto the computer. This lack of local storage can mean that there are fewer opportunities for malware.
  • There is more access control for managers and owners over employees. Users and guest users can be continuously and more easily monitored. Also, the information they have access to can be adjusted quickly if needed.
  • Thin client systems are often more cost-effective. Thin clients themselves are generally more inexpensive; this means adding additional computers can be less expensive and faster.
  • Thin clients can require less in-house IT management due to less need for individualized updates and maintenance unless it’s on the hardware itself.
  • If your employee require more mobility, thin clients tend to support this need better than desktops.

While the pros of thin clients are vast, there are a few items that could be considered downsides for some companies:

  • Thin clients rely on a network connection to function, meaning if the network goes down or is weak, it could potentially disrupt the entire system.
  • A weaker processing system is often associated with thin clients. Because thin clients rely on the strength of the network versus an internal processing system, it requires less power. But this fact can translate into this computing option being less powerful in completing certain processes for your business. 

It’s important to note that if connectivity and processing power are considerable concerns for your business, utilizing a professional desktop as a service (DaaS) provider can help ensure that your company runs smoothly and gets the most out of whichever computer hardware option they choose.

The best choice for your business 

Of course, what is right for one business may not be for another. The best way to make the decision on desktop versus thin clients is to first clarify your needs and goals. Consider, does the business need multiple, secure processing systems, or do employees need the ability to access software from anywhere? Narrowing down the answers to these questions can help businesses choose the right system for them so they can keep innovating and growing.