Thin Client vs thick client: the pros and cons

Both thin clients and thick clients are widely recognised software, mostly found in the business environment for running applications and connecting to servers.

They both have their pros and cons, but which is better when it comes to utilising them?

What is a thin client?

A thin client (sometimes referred as dumb terminals) is a basic computer optimised for remote access to a server-based environment which is responsible for the majority of the work, such as storing applications, data and resources.

A thin client is hardware that doesn’t generally have hard drives, fans or memory and is capable of running any OS, depending on what the business requires. They can run Windows, just like a PC, Ubuntu, VMware or Citrix.

Thin clients are utilised as part of a larger computing infrastructure, that enables many clients to collaborate and interact on operations within a server. A thin client connects to a server-based environment which hosts the majority of applications, memory and data the user requires, enabling clients and users to work more remotely.

A thin client replaces a bulky PC workstation and rather than keep all the data on a local machine, it requires a server or data centre to work.

Thin clients are often seen in banks and post offices and have been around for quite some time, often being referred to as dumb terminals, although modern thin client servers are significantly smarter.

What is thin client software?

Thin client software refers to the operating system that runs on a thin client device, which may be based on Windows, Citrix or Linux.

However, in the case of applications, such as ThinKiosk, the client software is an application which converts Windows-based devices to thin clients.

Unlike hardware thin clients, which are smaller PC devices, software thin clients typically operate as an application on an existing device. Despite the fact that both thin client software and hardware function identically.

Why use a thin client computer?

For companies who have invested in a virtual infrastructure, thin clients are ideal as they further cut costs and improve workflows. They are also space-saving, a greener alternative to PC workstations and can cut IT support costs considerably as companies who use the cloud are generally supported by their supplier. This applies to any professional cloud computing provider and should apply also to the chosen infrastructure, whether it be Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

Companies that have already deployed to the cloud, especially when it comes to SaaS and desktop virtualisation, often find that the outlay required to lease/buy and run thin clients require little in the way of investment when compared to fat clients/think clients, or PCs. Add to this that they have no moving parts, consume very little in the way of power and are very hardy and the benefits of investing in a virtualised environment become clear.

Another advantage is that they are more secure, since virtual machines are managed centrally at the data centre and security patches are applied as soon as they become necessary.

So, this all sounds great right? Let’s look at the pros and cons:


Thin clients save space and energy and have a longer lifespan than fat clients.

Efficiency is improved as thin clients can be used to access remote services such as virtual hosted desktops.

Security is improved as all clients use the same network to access servers and administrators can monitor usage where appropriate. Likewise, there is a reduced chance of malware infection as traffic is monitored at the server, which is behind a firewall.

Thin clients are simple to maintain, as opposed to a fat client, as all data is stored on a server (virtual or otherwise).


As thin clients depend on connection to a server, if the server fails then all of the clients on the network will too. Should the server fail, then unless everything is backed up all of the data will be lost; however, virtual data centres and environments tend to have back up servers in the event this should take place.

Performance of the client greatly depends on the power of the server. If used in an in house infrastructure, this could present a problem if the server isn’t up to the job.

As you can see, there are many benefits to investing in thin clients, especially in a time when sustainability and the environment are becoming more important to people around the world daily.

Many data centres are built with sustainability in mind these days and many companies are beginning to jump on the green bandwagon and show that they are environmentally responsible.

What is a thick client?

A thick client (also known as a heavy or fat client) is software on a PC device or computing workstation which does all its own data processing, performing operations requested by a user regardless of the main server. Thick clients are often used in computing environments when the main server has slow network speeds, insufficient power and memory capacity to support client devices or when there is a requirement for offline work.

Unlike thin clients, which lack hard drives, memory and other features, thick clients are functional whether they are connected to a network or not. They may, however, benefit from network and server connectivity.

In contrast to a thin client, a thick client is software that does not need a connection to a server system to operate. Thick clients are often used in a business environment where servers provide some data and application support, however, the thick client computer is mostly independent. Thick clients are equipped with an operating system and software applications and are capable of being utilised offline.

What is a thick client application?

Thick client applications refer to the applications that are run on a user's machine or device. Thick clients generally conduct more complicated computations, display more detailed graphics and have more complex menus and forms.

Microsoft Outlook, Yahoo Messenger and Skype are some thick client application examples.

Why use a thick client computer?

Thick clients are pretty widely favoured by network users due to their high customisability, which gives the user more control over which applications and programmes are installed and how the system is configured.

Employees will often be provided with thick clients by their workplaces, as thick clients can enable users to continue to work offline or when away from the office. They are still functional even when there is no need for constant server communication or connection with the thick clients. A temporary connection is only required to download applications, data and operating system upgrades. Furthermore, thick clients do not need the use of any server computer resources. The majority of the resources will be accessible on the client, allowing it to operate independently.

Another advantage is that thick clients will perform optimally in environments where the main server has slow network speeds, limited or insufficient storage and power capacity or when there is a requirement for working offline, it will also work well in work-from-home environments.


Thick clients are able to work offline and away from the office, as they usually have the necessary hardware and software to operate independently without needing to connect to a central server.

The use of a thick client usually means that there is more server capacity available, meaning the server can benefit more clients as there are fewer requirements to provide to each individual client.

Majority of the resources are accessible on the client, operating system, storage etc, enabling it to operate more independently. This also means larger levels of flexibility as they should be able to work from anywhere, as long as it has temporary connection to a main server for updates and installations.

They can perform efficiently in poor environments (even in offline situations), whether that's slow network speeds or limited storage etc.


A thick client depends on a lot of maintenance as it includes updates for security and software and hardware repairs. It will also have to connect to a central server in order to perform the updates or fixes.

As the data will be kept on the thick client, each user will be more accountable for the security and protection of their devices.

There may be a lot of network traffic, since each client must transport data across a network in order to operate on it locally.

Thick clients don't have a long lifespan.

Daily backups for the data storage are required to guarantee that data is not lost in the event of damage, theft or loss.

Switch to hosted desktops

If you would like to benefit from using thin-clients or for that matter thick-clients, with Hosted Cloud Desktops for your business, we can transition your team over to their very own hosted desktops without any disruption to your business. Also, be sure to check out our article: how does a think client work?

If you’re ready to make the switch, get in touch on 01482 751133 or email hello@gocloud.co.uk to find out more.

Try a hosted desktop

Take a GoCloud hosted desktop for a free 5-day test drive and experience the freedom to work from anywhere.

red tick circle
Free demo login
red tick circle
No credit card required
red tick circle
5-days of unlimited access
Try a hosted desktop