Hewlett-Packard has announced its third generation of blade PCs, which focus on the "Achilles' heel" of most thin-client infrastructures: performance.
Like blade servers, blade PCs are physically stored on racks, typically in datacentres or server rooms. Users equipped with thin-client devices, keyboards and monitors can access their blade PCs through a network or over the internet. The users (and the blade facilities) can be located anywhere in the world.
Centralising the PCs, rather than having them located at users' desks, can make them easier and cheaper to manage. One downside, however, is that the distance between the actual hardware and the user's monitor creates the potential for network-based delays as the PC tries to send down data and "paint the screen".
For instance, the conventional Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) used by most existing blade PCs (including HP's own) to transmit data sees its bandwidth requirements jump from 10- 15Kbit/s during normal usage to 100-150Kbit/s when users are watching a YouTube video, says Tate Davis, a product marketing manager in HP's personal systems group.
By contrast, HP's new Remote Graphics Software (RGS) uses better compression to let users watch streamed video while using only about 65Kbit/s.
"With RGS, we'll deliver a true desktop experience," Davis says. Users should be able to run demanding graphics applications such as Adobe PhotoShop with few hiccups, he says.
That change, he says, could help remove one of the barriers to corporate adoption of blade PCs: expectations of desktop-like performance.
HP released its first blade PCs in late 2003. In late 2005, it switched from Transmeta processors to its current AMD ones.
The company's new bc2000 and bc2500 blade PCs, successors to the bc1500, are also energy-efficient, using low-voltage AMD Athlon 64 2100+ and X2 3000+ processors, and consuming only 25 watts altogether per blade. The machines will run Windows Vista.
Users will also need to buy a thin-client device, which sits on the user's desktop in lieu of the actual blade.
IBM is also expected to release new workstation-class blade PCs later this year that will rely on hardware-based compression for improved performance. A third vendor, ClearCube, has not announced any release plans.
At this year's WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference), held recently, HP also showed off a new Vista version of its rp5700 long-life-cycle desktop PC that it says is both durable and environmentally conscious. The rp5700 is built from 95% recyclable components and a tool-less chassis for quick and easy disassembly. It is the first product to win "gold" status from the US federal government's Electronic Products Environment Assessment Tool (EPEAT).
Federal agencies are mandated to spend 95% of their money on products that win gold, silver or bronze ratings from EPEAT.
The rp5700, which comes with a three-year warranty for parts, labour and on-site service, is also 'hardened', such that a 120kg man can stand on its steel case with no problems, according to Leslie Fagg, product marketing manager for retail POS systems at HP.
The PC as is aimed at retailers, healthcare companies and other organisations who tend to use PCs longer than the three- to five-year lifecycle of machines in most offices.