What is a thick client?

A thick client is a powerful computer on which a full-fledged operating system is installed. Its characteristic feature is its performance. It has sufficient capacity for local work and the independent execution of tasks. An example of a thick client is a desktop PC on which Windows is installed as the operating system.

Definition and characteristics of a thick client

A thick client is a type of client that has its own computing power, storage media, and graphics resources. With these dedicated computing resources, thick clients are able to run programs locally and independently of server resources. In most cases, it also means that users have access to rich graphical user interfaces. Thick clients are commonly referred to as fat clients.

There are several characteristics that make up thick clients. Data processing, output, and input take place locally on the client. Data storage takes place on local memory resources. If a fat client is connected to a network, data storage can also be performed on a storage medium in the network.

A fat client has all the prerequisites for accessing a network’s services. By being equipped with many interfaces, the client establishes connections to storage drives and peripheral devices, like printers.

On one hand, thick clients can be used on their own. On the other hand, they can be used in combination with a server. In this way, individual tasks or applications can be outsourced to the server.

What are the advantages of a thick client?

Using thick clients has several advantages. They can be used individually as a standalone resource. In addition, no direct connection to a network is required for full functionality. This means that their self-sufficiency enables offline work.

If a thick client is used in combination with a server, the demands on the server in terms of resources are lower, since the fat client runs the programs locally using its own resources.

Complex multimedia applications in the multimedia area, like rendering graphics, run independently of internet connection and bandwidth due to local execution. When transferring the task to a server, high bandwidth requirements follow. Due to the thick clients’ own high computing power, the server in the client-server model can serve multiple clients simultaneously. In general, the fat client is considered a versatile client that can run many different applications simultaneously.

What are the disadvantages of a thick client?

While thick clients have many advantages, they also come with some disadvantages. The administration of fat clients is much more complex since the operating system and programs are installed locally.

The complex administration makes it more difficult to secure the system. Securing each individual client against cyberattacks is a costly and resource-intensive process. Ensuring cybersecurity is a factor that should not be underestimated when working with a fat client. The bundling of resources makes the system vulnerable. If malware is deliberately installed by malicious code, there’s a risk of the system failing altogether. This could, for example, occur when opening a contaminated email attachment.

Since thick clients are equipped with a lot of hardware, they are expensive to procure. Since the hardware consumes a lot of power, they’re also energy-intensive to operate.

What can thick clients be used for?

There are many possible uses for thick clients. In the corporate context, fat clients can function as workstations. The creation of CAD models, programming software, or the workstation of a sales employee are common scenarios. Thick clients can also be used for different kinds of content production, like the creation of videos for video marketing purposes.

In the private sector, fat clients also have a variety of uses, especially when it comes to gaming. Many users also use thick clients to manage and store personal files and data. Here, however, more and more users are switching from local storage to cloud storage. This allows users to access their files and data from different devices.


IONOS’ cloud storage solution provides a safe platform for your data and files. Pick a HiDrive Cloud Storage package that best suits your individual needs.

What’s the difference between a fat client, thin client and zero client?

In addition to the fat clients, there are other clients in the client-server model, namely the zero client and thin client. The table below explains how they differ in terms of features and characteristics.

Thick client Thin client Zero client
  • Equipment with high computing capacity
  • Local resources for running programs and storing data
  • Local, full-fledged operating system
  • Equipment with low computing capacity
  • Often have their own memory drive
  • Have their own compact operating system
  • Equipment with low computing capacity
  • No local resources to store data
  • Operating system is limited to the function of connecting to a server
  • High acquisition costs for hardware
  • High operating costs due to large energy requirements
  • Low acquisition costs due to low hardware resources
  • Low energy consumption during operation
  • Low acquisition costs due to low hardware resources
  • Low energy consumption during operation
  • Independent execution of programs
  • Creating 3D models
  • Playing video games
  • Editing videos
  • Editing photos
  • Application for virtualised desktop environments
  • Virtual desktop application
  • Compact client-end PC
Dependence on server
  • Autonomous deployment option
  • No direct dependence on the server
  • Offline operation is possible
  • Communication with servers is possible
  • Clear dependence on the server, without which a thin client cannot work
  • The thin client behaves like a terminal to the server
  • Complete dependence on a server
  • Decentralised administration is costly
  • Ensuring protection against cyberattacks and hackers is challenging due to complicated administration
  • Centralised administration of the clients
  • Protection against risks in the event of cyberattacks can be implemented
  • Centralised administration of the clients
  • Protection against risks in the event of cyberattacks can be implemented
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