Innovation

Full Windows 10 on a Raspberry Pi thin client: Here's how it compares with a desktop

One of the more recent uses for the best-selling board is perhaps the most unlikely yet: acting as a full Windows desktop for business.

The $35 price of the Raspberry Pi computer belies just how versatile the credit card-sized board truly is.

One of the more recent uses for the best-selling board is perhaps the most unlikely yet, as a full Windows desktop for business.

While the Pi may not run the desktop version of Windows 10, it is more than capable of running Windows as a virtual desktop.

In this instance, Windows doesn't run on the Pi itself, but rather on a more powerful computer, which then streams the OS to the Pi. However, to the end-user the experience is practically identical to working on a full Windows 10 desktop.

My time using the Pi-based RX300 thin client over the past week has been broadly positive, leaving me able to work pretty much unhindered.

Everything your typical office worker does can be carried out without incident. Word processing, accessing emails, updating spreadsheets — all using Google's G Suite — and web browsing have been quick and easy.

Login is also instantaneous and HD (1,920x1,080) videos on YouTube and on the local drive will play back smoothly thanks to NComputing's vCast streaming technology.

There are drawbacks. The very slight lag with everything I did has been bothersome, whether typing or alt-tabbing between applications, and transferring files to and from USB is incredibly slow, probably a foible of the remote desktop setup.

SEE: NComputing RX300 review: Accessing Windows 10 via a Raspberry Pi-based thin client

But as an alternative to Windows 10 desktops, I can see the Pi-based RX300 being used in small businesses or schools without much pushback from staff, particularly since the vSpace Pro 10 software that streams Windows 10 is straightforward for admins to setup and manage — albeit at the expense of customizability.

At $99 a pop, the RX300 is several hundred dollars cheaper than some other thin-client offerings from HP and Dell, demonstrating the advantages of basing the client on such a low-cost machine.

The price doesn't mean missing out on the fundamentals. Being based on a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, the RX300 offers four USB ports, with full USB redirection, and is compatible with a range of mice, keyboard and other everyday peripherals. The device also includes 10/100 RJ-45 Ethernet and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi.

NComputing isn't the only company to offer a Raspberry Pi 3-based thin client. Citrix and ViewSonic also sell the $89 SC-T25, which can run stream Citrix XenDesktop virtual desktops and XenApp virtual on the device. However, there are some particularly negative reviews and feedback about the device's ease of use, as well as the cost of buying into the Citrix ecosystem.

Nevertheless, the costs of setting up the RX300 are reasonably clear: each thin client costs $99, including a free one-year connection subscription to vSpace Pro 10 and a six-month trial of premium features. Each subsequent year will cost $49 per RX300 user.

vCast video acceleration for smooth playback of HD videos on YouTube and locally is a premium feature that will cost an additional $99 per year per server.

vSpace Pro 10 can stream a Windows desktop to a single client from Windows 7, 8.1 or 10. To stream to multiple clients, vSpace Pro 10 needs to be running on Windows Server 2016, Windows Server 2012 R2 U1, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Windows Multipoint Server 2011 or Windows Multipoint Server 2012. Organizations will also need to purchase the appropriate one-off Microsoft Client Access Licenses (CALs).

It seems that running Windows desktops for small businesses can be added to the already long list of possible uses for the $35 Pi.

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The RX300 thin client.

Image: NComputing

Read more about the Raspberry Pi

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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