PCs

nComputing L200 PC Expanion: The Right Tool for the Job?

Rather than purchase, deploy and maintain additional systems for users, organizations can turn to nComputing’s L200 PC Expanion Multi-User Computing Terminal and leverage existing hardware capacity. The small hardware device, which measures roughly two-thirds the size of a 12-inch PowerBook laptop, enables connecting multiple users to a single system (using only a single PC or server).

The Job

Systems frequently possess capacity beyond that which a single user utilizes. In some organizations, multiple PCs are deployed when only the computing capacity of a single workstation is really required. But, because other users must simultaneously access e-mail, the Internet or other data, additional systems are required. A computer terminal, such as nComputing's L200 PC Expanion, enables users to connect to a single system using only an existing LAN and their own PC Expanion (each user also requires their own mouse, keyboard and monitor).

The Tool

nComputing L200 PC Expanion

Rather than purchase, deploy and maintain additional systems for users, organizations can turn to nComputing’s L200 PC Expanion Multi-User Computing Terminal and leverage existing hardware capacity. The small hardware device, which measures roughly two-thirds the size of a 12-inch PowerBook laptop, enables connecting multiple users to a single system (using only a single PC or server).

Instead of deploying (and having to maintain) multiple systems, an organization can install a single server (or PC) and roll out an nComputing PC Expanion device, mouse, keyboard and monitor to each user, thereby enabling the user to take advantage of the capabilities that single system provides. Using the L200, up to 10 users can connect to a single desktop (or up to 30 users can connect to a single server).

 

nComputing's L200 PC Expanion possesses several advantages:

  • Multiple users can share a single PC or server
  • Administrators need not maintain security and driver updates on multiple systems even if numerous users connect to the system
  • Software setup is clean and easy
  • Windows 2000 (Professional and Server)/XP Home/XP Professional/XP Media Center Edition/Server 2003 and Linux are supported
  • Fast performance
  • USB support (simplifies user's adding data to the host system)
  • Touch screen support (via an included serial port)
  • Graphics support up to 1280x1024 with 16-bit color

There are a few drawbacks, however:

  • Limited Windows support (no Vista or Windows NT/ME/98SE/98/95) support
  • Performance may degrade as additional users stress a single host's capacities (although nComputing claims only a P4 3.2GHz CPU and 2GB of RAM is required, for example, to support 10 users connected to a single XP machine)
  • USB support doesn't work with Linux
  • Notebook PCs don't work well as hosts
  • Cost (at about $220 each, not including a monitor, keyboard and mouse), a new entry-level PC doesn't cost much more

The Right Tool for the Job?

nComputing's L200 access terminal helps organizations leverage today's faster and more potent PCs and servers while minimizing support requirements. The software is easy to use, includes a centralized administrative console and is easy to set up when using existing Ethernet LANs.

Read my comprehensive screenshot review of nComputing's L200 PC Expanion.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

41 comments
jeanalgernon
jeanalgernon

How about LAN games? Is it possible to play a non-Internet based games (example: call of duty, counter-strike, etc.) simultaneously? I am asking because this type of gadget is already available in our country - Philippines but we doubt if it could support our present internet cafe and gaming services. - jeanalgernon@yahoo.com.ph

Anetagama
Anetagama

I'm not see the accesability of the NComputing to use the Autocad , drawing application and Multimedia instead of Ms. Office and others small application. Also ,There is no calculation about the system requirement for Host of Ncomputing againts the total of users , total application.

Anetagama
Anetagama

I'm not see the accesability of the NComputing to use the Autocad , drawing application and Multimedia instead of Ms. Office and others small application. Also ,There is no calculation about the system requirement for Host of Ncomputing againts the total of users , total application.

Anetagama
Anetagama

I'm not see the accesability of the NComputing to use the Autocad , drawing application and Multimedia instead of Ms. Office and others small application. Also ,There is no calculation about the system requirement for Host of Ncomputing againts the total of users , total application.

Anetagama
Anetagama

till now , I'm not see about the accesibility of Autocad Users and Multimedia Users to using the NComputing instead of ms. office and small Application. Also there is no calculation of the Host requirement against the total users and total appications.

dan
dan

The TCO of this device really improves when the host uses Microsoft server - the number of users can be as high as 30. You need additional RAM but overall it significantly reduces the cost for adding multiple users. End user response improves as well

max_hayami
max_hayami

The equipment solves many problems but is not better thin client from market.

bronsonws
bronsonws

When I was looking down the list of CONS I didnt see "single point of failure listed"

kkopp
kkopp

I've started phasing these into my call center. The only thing that we use is a web app and Internet Explorer. My users like to tinker around with the equipment when they think no one is looking. This is the best solution for that kind of problem. They have no way to install or run stuff on these (no CD/DVD or USB to use) It can be installed under the desk so it's out of sight from the user and off the desk. (edited for spelling...)

ben
ben

"Cost (at about $220 each, not including a monitor, keyboard and mouse), a new entry-level PC doesn???t cost much more" What? That's not true at all. For a business, you're looking at $500 minimum for a new PC with Windows installed, minimum. That's already two and a half times as much, even if you don't factor in the cost of things like antivirus and per-host licensing of other network hardware and software. Yes, there's still the Office cost to consider, but you'd be stuck with that anyway.

rob_l
rob_l

It is also a single point of failure, and for the price I would still go down the multi-PC route.

jeremiah2911
jeremiah2911

how about microsoft's licensing issue? can we purchase just one XP pro to be used for 10 cuncurrent users? : )

danburn2001
danburn2001

We have successfully setup L230 with a PC Host running Windows XP Pro SP2.b with AutoCad 7.0 having six (7) simultaneous users. The PC Host specifications as folllows: Intel Based Mainboard with 8Mb L2 cache, Intel Core 2 Quad Processor, 4 Gb Memory, 250 SATA HDD. Please take note that Ncomputing is a hardware solution and not intended to be used to free us from any application licenses issues. Be creative enough to lower down hardware acquisition costs and multiply the possible simultaneous users using a single PC solution through Ultra Thin Multi Access (UTMA) technology. Danny D.

troy
troy

If you do deploy this on a Server OS (2000 or 2k3), do the end users also have to use that OS? Someone in sales gets a server 2k3 as well as someone in QC getting server 2k3. Is there a way to get 30 users with XP as the desktop to be used by users (server OS independant?)

john.a.sahl
john.a.sahl

This is the main reason I don't see cost as a reason for choosing this solution for an office or lab. In order to mitigate the issues of single POF, you need a much more reliable machine. Registered memory, RAID drive, dual power supply, basically all the things you need in a server. When taking these things in to account, for a 10 user system, you are looking at roughly the same cost - not to mention that the server needs much more power than each individual machine would need. This isn't to say that this isn't a great product if you are looking to centralize your setup, limit maintenance & power consumtion, etc. Just that you shouldn't look to this for purposes of saving money.

kirk_augustin
kirk_augustin

If you are paying $500/business system, you are getting ripped off. There are lots of places like TigerDirect, Fry's, MicroCenter, Dell, Compaq, etc., that will sell complete systems for as little as $300. You can even do a little better, depending on volume, sales, closeouts, etc.

ben
ben

Yes, but if you transition (say) 100 PCs over to 12 PCs and 88 thinclients, then you have significantly -fewer- single points of failure. There are a couple givens: hardware will fail; users will screw up software; and software will break. There will also be required upgrades for software packages which do not have automatic update features. I don't know about your environments, but in any remotely complex environment that's going to result in significantly less maintenance, cutting down on the man-hours needed to maintain the systems. We are not all fortunate enough to have homogeneous Windows networks. The likelihood that you'll have a system failure on any given day would be a tenth of what you'd have with an all-PC environment, and if each department has different requirements, then you'll reasonably need to keep a significantly higher number of PCs in stock to replace them. Never mind that diagnosis is likely to be significantly easier than if it was a PC issue: PCs have many more components and typically one user. If multiple people start having problems all at once (say, program crashing) you can swap that host out. If it's just one person, it's likely to be their software or their thin client; in the case of the thinclient failure, it's a simple, non-intrusive replacement (which isn't the case with a PC replacement). Replacement costs also go down, and it becomes feasible to keep a number of replacement, quick-swap systems with all existing installed software packages. For instance, a "live" HR machine, and a spare which you keep in the back room ready to switch over.

ramuvr
ramuvr

Any server client mechanism is a single point of failure for that matter. For that matter lisencing would be an interesting topic. And the cost of the certral PC will certainly go up, it needs more processing. How far better is this from the thin client option?

Nubber99
Nubber99

We use it for operator interfaces in a dirty industrial environments where a PC would last about a week. Also, because you can configure it not to have a taskbar but only run the apps you specify, users cannot make any changes. Plus if you image your server, then you automatically image your users too. At $200 it's cheaper than a PC, less admin, uses less power and cheaper than a KVM!

dan
dan

If you are running server on the host system - you will still need the Client Access license - but that is nothing compared to the full xp license or Citrix licensing. Office and seat licensed software will still need licensing - however, you will save on the antivirus license as well since it is only running on one system.

john.a.sahl
john.a.sahl

As far as windows & Office go, you will need additional licenses for each station. The XP EULA specifically states that it's license is for ONE terminal, workstation or device. It allowas up to 10 connections for things such as file, printer & internet connection sharing, but for full use of the graphical interface (which you are getting with the L series (and X series) thin clients, you need to purchase an additional license. That said, nComputing's software does not specifically check that all your license ducks are in a row, however, it is very telling that they no longer push their product as a means to save on licensing fees. Their current statement for users to "Please ensure that you obtain all necessary software licenses or check your existing software license agreements to ensure your continued compliance with the terms and conditions of such third party licensing agreements."

tundraroamer
tundraroamer

You can buy thinclients with Windows CE for around $150 and they can stand alone to operate or be connected to a server. They even come with read only versions of Office which makes them handy for another reason. I would never want to run these devices instead of a thinclient. A thinclent can be easily replaced if it fails. Not so if the PC fails. Maybe this is for home use with small Kido's. Not for business applications. The cost is too high for the bang.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

It is my understanding that the license for an MS OS is "per CPU". I've read the fine print and that is what I've gotten from it. There was some flap over dual and quad core CPUs and the licensing for them, but I think that has been worked out. As far as I know, server OS licenses are the only ones that record licenses as "per seat". I could be wrong, but that is my understanding of this issue.

dennis
dennis

We are installing these boxes in several locations where we don't want a 'real' PC, just functionally. There is only 1 PC and it only has 1 copy of XP installed and only 1 copy of Office installed. And even the PC isn't there. It's a virtual PC installation on our VMWare Server that supports the remote nComputing boxes. Don't have any performances measurements to speak of, but in our case, the 'terminals' are not all in use at once. Which is what makes it a great candidate. As the department manager, I'm looking for more opportunities to deploy this technology: you can lock down the user interface, seems to be low maintenance, and very cost effective (@ 10 units per virtual PC, ~40% cost of PCs).

SonicClang
SonicClang

If you're concerned about there being a single point of failure, don't install these in any mission-critical set up. I'm using them in places where, if the computer goes down for an hour, it's not going to hurt anyone's feelings. My company runs 3 shifts, and we used to have 3 computers for the production supervisors. This works perfect for that because only one person is logged into the computer at a time. There might be a few minutes of overlap between shifts, but for the most part it's one person at a time. If the computer fails and it takes me a bit to get a new one installed, oh well, someone doesn't get their e-mail for a little bit. Where I absolutely wouldn't use these is on my production floor. We've actually gone so far as to install two computers on each machine so we have redundancy. I couldn't imagine the world of hurt I'd be in if one computer took down production in our entire plant. You have to pick the places you'd use these. They aren't good for all applications. But in some cases they CAN save you administration time and bring down the total cost of ownership of your network.

hfieglein
hfieglein

I examined putting SunRay solutions in when I was the CTO at Deutsche Bank. The problem is that the SunRay requires a Sun Server to drive the devices themselves. This SunServer has to be "reasonable" proximity to the SunRay devices in order to provide a reasonable user experience due to the fact that the required operating system is cached on the server. In essence, this is streaming an operating system to the client to run in memory. The client then connects to a back end system (Citrix, VMWare, MSTS, SGD) in order to get its applications served. The ROI on this investment was about twice as long as a typical thin client ROI and would have been thrown out by my users for usability issues. I went with a Wyse CE solution which was centrally manageable, incredibly performant and required no "local" server technology. I was able to get 30,000 users across Europe up on this system and saved the bank enormous amounts of money year on year.

triniweb
triniweb

I would equate it to a blade pc solution rather than a Thin Client where a machine would be dedicated to each user and the focus would be on 'lite' application loads on the PC (such as via server based / terminal deployed / SaaS / web accessible software) assuming the box will operate as a loadbalancing IP-KVM. I do echo the concern that it could be a single point of failure unlike the Blade PC which can include high-availability options with virtualized or physically redundant hot-swappable "instances". I think a virtual environment (if only for redundancy) would be a good application for it, however streamlined applications to run a a terminal deployment. I would still prefer a thin client or dedicated PC at that price, how would I justify: remember this is without a display and peripherals! hmmm I wonder if this could with a touchscreen.

kirk_augustin
kirk_augustin

It turns out that an EULA is basically invalid because you can only reduce your "fair use" copy rights by signature. Not once has a federal court ever upheld additional restrictions in "fair use" as protected by federal copyright laws, unless there has been a signed licensing agreement. Opening a shrink wrap package is not valid proof of a contractual agreement. And logically you can easily see why no other copies of Windows is required, no matter how many people are using it at the same time. That is because they are being time sliced. Only one at a time is actually using the main operating system. They only appear to be simultaneous. This was researched in great depth when Sequent was first selling multi processor and multi user systems. It turned out the enterprise licensing was necessary in order to get other desired features, but it was not required by the EULA. The EULA is basically null and void when it tried to alter the basic "fair use" rights under federal law,(as of 1997).

ben
ben

$150 for a 'full' Windows CE thinclient? Where would you find such a thing, and who makes it/what is it?!

chromeronin
chromeronin

Xp has only ever been considered a singler user kernel by MS, hence why when you connect to a remote desktop on XP it locks the local console and you get the logged in console. With Windows server 2000 and 2K3, you get Terminal services, which allows 2 concurrent desktops + the local console. Adding Windows Terminal Server CALs lets you add more simultaneous users. I assume this sharing device installs software to work around the MS crippled terminal services. However under Linux, no problems (depending on how you license your apps) But again this will come down to the applicaitons and their services as well. If running in Active Directory, each user still needs an AD CAL, no matter what your OS is. Same for exchange. 3 Outlook users and 4 using mailboxes with iMap or POP3 still require 7 total CALs for Exchange. This is where it adds up in the MS world and why the OS is just about given away for free to the vendors to bundle. What always got me is company buys PC's with XP OEM installed. MS gets paid for the OS on the machine whan sold. Company then blows the OEM install away and installs Windows from an image using their Select licensing agreement (MS then clips the ticket on that too). Then the PC is attached to an AD consuming a User license (MS again gets paid) and logs on to Exchange via Outlook 2003 (now Outlook is licenced with your CAL to exchange, but most comanies will install an Office suite which contains Outlook anyway, and pay for the license again.) Does anyone else see the double dipping going on here? And then you attach to a Sharepoint server, again licenced per user. You will cry if you see how much it costs to have a sharepoint server that allows users from the public authenticate with individual accounts. Remember that AD CAL?) Meanwhile at home, I run one server with OpenSuse10.2. This runs the free version of VMWare server, and with this my OpenSuse server acts as a mail server, LDAP server for directory based authentication, Mail server using OpenExchange, ISPConfig which lets me run multple virtual websites (a Joomla based CMS system, phpBB forum, Wordpress blog) and my development servers for these sites. I can share any desktop application on this server by running VNC for a full desktop session or tunneling X11 over a secure connection for running any application installed. The only things I have paid for is the hardware it runs on, a commercial grade firewall, my router and switches, and my data every month. If I want to double capacity, I'll just buy another server and move some of the VMs onto it. No extra licencing. My site now has over unique 1000 users all over the country and there is no way I could afford the MS tax to do this with Windows.

ben
ben

The wording in the MS Windows EULA is both very vague and very concise. They've changed it a bit as time has gone on, but basically, here are the pertinent parts from the Windows XP SP2 EULA: You may install, use, access, display and run one copy of the Software on a single computer, such as a workstation, terminal or other device ("Workstation Computer"). The Software may not be used by more than two (2) processors at any one time on any single Workstation Computer. You may permit a maximum of ten (10) computers or other electronic devices (each a "Device") to connect to the Workstation Computer to utilize one or more of the following services of the Software: File Services, Print Services, Internet Information Services, Internet Connection Sharing and telephony services. The ten connection maximum includes any indirect connections made through "multiplexing" or other software or hardware which pools or aggregates connections. This Section 1.3 does not grant you rights to access a Workstation Computer Session from any Device. A "Session" means any use of the Software that enables functionality similar to that available to an end user who is interacting with the Workstation Computer through any combination of input, output and display peripherals. -- In short, it appears to grant rights to do something (in the first two paragraphs) and then takes some of those same rights away in the third. And that third paragraph can be as widely defined to include a KVM switch.

dcavanaugh
dcavanaugh

It is difficult to claim that your 10 user solution is 40% of the cost of conventional PCs. By the time you add the Expanion, keyboard, monitor, and mouse to each station, it's getting dangerously close to the cost of a low-end PC. After all, in your one-user-at-a-time scenario you could buy a single entry-level notebook and let it go at that. Maybe run it on Wifi and ditch the cost of ethernet wiring for additional savings. Most people who use this solution would plan on more than one concurrent user, which brings all of the licensing and most of the administrative costs back into consideration. But I suppose there are some cases where people might use these devices as a giant extension cord for keyboard/video/mouse. Do you do anything special to ensure that only one user is truly online at any given time? Certain applications (such as Exchange) are licensed per user, so you don't save anything on e-mail software. And you need CALS for each user to log on in the first place (unless everyone shares an account -- bad idea). You might save on Windows & Office, but you could go with Open Office to eliminate the cost of MS Office. Replace Windows with Linux to save even more. You have to run a really generic setup to make this work -- I realize that not every business can do it. If you have old computers that are headed for the dumpster, you could retrofit them with bootable Linux CD's (Knoppix?) and run the terminal services client from there. Client-side administration doesn't get much easier than that. It would give you capability similar to the Expanion, using hardware that you were going to discard anyway. See also: http://thinstation.sourceforge.net

hfieglein
hfieglein

They can also connect to Vista, can handled most streamed multimedia and can virtualize USB ports on the device itself. The list cost of the device is a little higher than $169, but with volumes can be reduced. The NComputing device is a very niche device which can help extend the current computing investment, but falls well short of what real thin computing offerings can bring in savings and ROI.

mikesg
mikesg

Looks like a 333mhz AMD machine to me. I have about 20 old machines like this lying around with monitors hard drives "plus a floppy disk drive!" I could see a use for them, however, but only where limited space is the reason...like on the kitchen counter or something. Aside from that, I've got a dozen faster (333mhz - 2ghz) working junk pc's lying around. One of these would be fun to play with though. Maybe put one in my kids' rooms. As for the thinclient, I don't see it... having to have a special server application for these? At least the expanion will run on a basic windows xp home machine. I'd like to set one up and test it nonetheless.

tundraroamer
tundraroamer

None. We use assorted whatevers. No issues. As a side note, you can disable the USB ports and then password all the unit's settings if you need to keep security tight. They have other models with more features but this one fit our needs and budget.

kmmelcher
kmmelcher

Have you had any trouble with thumb drives working on the esprit thin clients? I am using the Neoware thin clients and they are only working with SAN and PNY thumb drives about 80% of the time. Other thumb drives don't work.

tundraroamer
tundraroamer

Looks like the price went up a little, now $169. With a little negotiating, I paid $149 and own about a dozen of the model TCE-230's. http://www.espritsysonline.com/230tce.html They have been very reliable and are used in a Terminal Server environment. We also use one with our projector where we can run a Power Point off a thumb drive. New projectors have that ablity built in but this makes it simple for the sales staff not to lug around a laptop. With its built in IE and ICA, they can connect home if needed. Update 12/6/07 Geeks.com has a refurb "IBM ThinkCentre desktop is powered by an Intel Pentium 4 3.0 GHz processor and 512 MB of RAM. Other features include a 40 GB hard drive, a DVD-ROM drive, plus a floppy disk drive! Video, audio and network interface are also provided. Just add your favorite peripherals, and this system is ready to go! Perfect workstation or home PC!" all for $169.99. There are better deals then the L200.

mikesg
mikesg

I have about the same setup as you do, and mine was free too, except instead of Suse I use www.clarkconnect.com and I have mail, web, ftp, MySQL, Apache, PhP Nuke, PhP Photo Gallery, and even webmail for when I'm away (yeah like yahoo). Literally PRICELESS on a 2ghz Emachine with 1 gig of ram. You just can't beat what chromeronin and I have as far as investment goes, and I can play Call of Duty 4 from any of the 15 machines on the network.

john.a.sahl
john.a.sahl

The rights it grants are the rights to use things like file, printer & internet connection sharing. The connections types that are denied are connections in which the user interface is being sent. In regards to the comment regarding "per CPU", XP (and Vista) can be used on machines that have up to two processors - not cores. Multi core processors are on a single die, so they are still counted as single processors. What this means is that you can install XP (or Vista) on a dual processor mother board, but not a four processor mother board (like this: http://www.supermicro.com/products/motherboard/Xeon/GC-HE/P4QH6.cfm)

benroberts
benroberts

The primary benefit with this technology is, in my view, low total cost of ownership (TCO) In a business setting this is crucial. If you were to recycle your old hardware into thin client machines, you've still got a PC operating with its optical drive, hard disk, CPU fan, power supply and fan etc etc. Not only it that burning up power, it's also going to break more often, with associated repair and maintenance cost and man hours. After five years, the same applies to an entry level PC. I have one of these boxes in our sales area and apart from forgotten passwords, its been a champ. All the users files are stored on the admin server and the host PC just runs the OS and apps. The biggest complaint I have had with this installation is "no sound and no CD drive.

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