Cut costs with IOGEAR's ShareView terminal server system

Need to stretch your IT budget a little further? IOGEAR's new ShareView product can turn one PC into many. James McPherson gives you the scoop on how it works and a few pitfalls to watch for.

ShareView. Sounds like something parents would say when their kids are fighting over the window seat. In this instance, however, ShareView is a new product from IOGEAR that I recently ran through the test lab. ShareView is one of those devices “serious” IT pros are aware of but perhaps have not taken seriously. Besides, who needs a Windows-based terminal server system? Well, how about kiosk operators, training facilities, schools, and maybe even you?

The package consists of a USB keyboard equipped with a PS2 port, a 4-MB SIS video card, the ShareView software CD, and a few thin installation manuals. The product retails for $199.

Getting started
Installation was relatively painless for my Windows 98 test system. Remove the case, insert the card, connect the keyboard to a USB port, add a mouse (either USB or PS2), plug in the monitor to the ShareView card, and boot your computer. After the physical connections are made, the next step is to sit through the standard new hardware detection routine and reboot.

Next, it gets a little tricky, as you have to initialize the dual-display settings so Windows will properly recognize the other monitor. First, install the ShareView software from CD, accept the license agreements, enter an administrator password, set up two new users, and reboot again. When you boot the first time, you’ll see the second monitor start up, but it won’t have more than a video card BIOS message. You will have to activate the ShareView station manually the first time and set the Auto Start check box.

The documentation mentions that you can specify “danger” applications that you don’t want to run on multiple sessions. Unfortunately, little explanation is given as to what those applications are. I learned, painfully, that antivirus programs and personal firewalls qualify. I had to jump through a few unpleasant hoops (a.k.a., reboots) to get my standard survival programs straightened out. I tend to be frugal about the applications I run, so those of you with taskbars full of icons should take notice.

Once you get your applications straight, ShareView is pretty innocuous. Log in to the two terminals and enjoy. Remember, this is a PC sharing system; it doesn’t add more CPU power but splits what you have between two users and does so with a program that takes up resources. IOGEAR says you need 64 MB for the primary user and then 16 MB for each additional ShareView station. However, setting up a machine with anything less than 128 MB for the primary seat and 64 MB for each other user is a sure sign you’ve been out in the sun too long. One primary and four ShareView stations come in at 384 MB or about $30 worth of memory, assuming you aren’t using Rambus, in which case you’ll have to shell out $70 for memory.

Bugs encountered
I noticed some unusual performance issues. The primary user seemed unusually slow while the secondary station remained zippy. I might have chalked it up to a memory issue, but my test machine had a plump 256 MB of RAM. Since the station was working fine, I’m attributing it to the ShareView administrator software. It was a spurious problem that only happened twice and may have been as an unsolved aspect of the antivirus or firewall problems I encountered earlier.

The other flaw occurred whenever I tried to run the computer without ShareView. I initially started by disabling the ShareView system. I found myself dumped into Safe mode. While shutting down and rebooting was fine, disabling ShareView required a trip through Safe mode every time. However, Single User mode should not be necessary when using ShareView, mitigating the impact of this issue. Also, uninstalling ShareView was tough, as some odd garbage got into my registry, requiring several of my special incantations to get the machine to boot properly.

Overall impressions
Overall, the package worked well. Determining its value requires a little math. Between the monitor and ShareView kit, you will spend about $350 per additional station. As long as $350 is cheaper than an additional machine, you’re in the clear.

Of course, you have to factor in the shared resources. A $900, 1.4-GHz system with one ShareView station will act roughly like a pair of 650-MHz systems (assuming about 100 MHz lost to the ShareView administrator) at a cost of $625 per station. Two ShareView kits give you three 433-MHz computers at $533 each. Three kits turn into four $485, 325-MHz computers. Running the maximum four kits results in five, 260-MHz, $460 stations.

Not all programs run happily on a 250-MHz processor, but most will. Office suites, Web browsers, e-mail clients, and most productivity packages will run adequately on one of these machines. In other words, kiosk-ware.

You then have to factor in software licenses. Most licenses are per computer and not per terminal. This lets you cut your software costs dramatically. Also, power and cooling costs can be reduced. Going to a single 300W system instead of five 230W computers saves you about a kilowatt of power that can add up in the long run. In a space-limited scenario, you also eliminate up to four PC cases.

Final judgment
The ShareView is not going to replace most computers. It can, however, fill out your training room with stations or provide extra seats for sales or phone-support staff who mainly use applications with low system overhead. If you want to set up a kiosk, either commercially or as a demonstration, this can be very helpful as long as you are sure to test it under a max-load condition. On the other hand, home users dealing with the struggle between gaming and productivity will find it cost effective to get a low-cost PC rather than buy the ShareView kit and another monitor.

Expensive relative to the shared bandwith. You can get good P4s for less than the amount you outlay on this product.