Comparison of two ICT solutions: desktop PC versus thin client computing



Information communication technology (ICT) offers the chance of enhancing the efficiency of public services and economic processes. The use of server-based computing is supposed to reduce the energy and material consumption in ICT services. This hypothesis will be investigated and quantified looking at the whole life cycle of the products. In this paper, server-based computing in combination with thin clients (SBCTC) is compared to a typical desktop PC (DPC) workplace over a time period of 5 years.

Materials and methods

The LCA method used in this paper is focused on the impact category of global warming potential. The calculations were performed using the Microsoft® Excel-based methodology for ecodesign of energy-related products tool. This tool includes the requirements of energy-related products (Directive 2009/125/EC). Moreover, an input-orientated method—material input per service unit (MIPS)—is applied which allows for an additional comparison between the two ICT solutions.

Results and discussion

Electricity consumption could be identified as a crucial environmental impact factor of DPC and SBCTC with both methods. Depending on the user behavior, more than 200 kg CO2e can be saved by switching from DPC to SBCTC. Over 80 kg CO2e can be saved in the material and extraction life cycle stage. The largest savings are achieved in the material category electronics (about 70 kg CO2e). A correlation analysis between the results of global warming potential (GWP) and the MIPS category “air” shows that both indicators GWP and air lead to the same conclusions when evaluating life cycle stages and ICT material categories.


Taking into account all assumptions made in this paper, SBCTC saves more than 65 % of greenhouse gas emissions compared to DPC during the entire life cycle. To ensure further profound comparisons of the ICT solutions, current data on the energy demand and detailed information on the composition of the IT products should be made available by industry.

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The authors would like to thank the team of the material efficiency and resource conservation (MaRess) project (Kristof and Hennicke 2010). Their support was extremely helpful for the calculation of the MIPS values. Other important tools were the MEErP calculation sheet and data of the thin clients which were provided by Igel Technology.

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Correspondence to Daniel Maga.

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Responsible editor: Michael Z. Hauschild

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Maga, D., Hiebel, M. & Knermann, C. Comparison of two ICT solutions: desktop PC versus thin client computing. Int J Life Cycle Assess 18, 861–871 (2013).

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  • Environmental assessment
  • ICT
  • MEErP
  • MIPS
  • Thin client