NComputing`s X Series Combines Low Cost with Virtualized Thin Client Computing

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print

NComputing looks to turn one PC into many with its latest X series technology, which straddles the line between thin client and remote virtual desktop solutions.

Businesses of all sizes are looking to squeeze the most value out of the typical desktop PC, but the question remains, how low can you go? While some businesses may choose to go as low-end as possible to shave a few bucks off a PC, Ncomputing is offering a different way to maximize value. The company has launched its latest in PC-sharing technology, the X series, which allows many users to share a PC, for as little as $70 per seat.

Of course, PC sharing solutions have been around for some time and the basic concept harkens back to the days of mainframes, where multiplexers allowed terminals to share CPU access. Even so, Ncomputing’s X series is a lot more than just teaching a new dog an old trick; the product comes in two versions – the X350, which allows four users to share a PC, and the X550, which maxes out at 11 users.

We took a look at the X350, which has a street price of about $225. The X350 kit consists of a PCI card with three ports and three access devices. The access devices connect back to the PCI card via CAT 6 cables. The maximum distance between the X350 host card and an access device is 10 meters. Installers will need to connect a Display (1280x1024 or 1440x900 resolution), keyboard and mouse to the access device to finalize the terminal setup. It’s worth noting that the access devices are powered by the CAT 6 cable and use less than 1 watt of electricity.

The product works by creating virtual PCs on the host system and then delivering those virtual PC sessions down to users via the access devices. While the concept of accessing a virtual PC is not new, Ncomputing takes it one step further by replacing the client PC with an inexpensive access device.

Ncomputing’s desktop virtualization software, Vspace, is the heart of the package and is responsible for creating and managing virtual PCs on the host system. Ncomputing advertises that the product works with Windows and Linux, yet makes it difficult to figure out exactly which versions of Windows or Distributions of Linux. The included manual and quick start guide indicate that there is support for 32-bit versions of Windows XP, but Vista support is not mentioned anywhere in the included documentation; neither is Linux. The company provides a "product selection guide," which, does not list the X300, nor does it mention anything about host PC requirements, other than CPU speeds, RAM and open PCI slots.

We tested the X350 on a few different host systems and could only get it to work on a host that was running Windows XP SP2; our Vista (both 32 bit and 64 bit) systems could not install the Vspace software. On those systems, the installation program came back with a terse warning that Vspace only works with Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Ncomputing ought to consider mentioning that limitation on its Website and on the product packaging. The company claims that support for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista will be coming in the near future.

Our test system was a custom white box unit (for configuration details, click here), on which we installed Windows XP. The actual installation of the hardware was very easy, and the Vspace software installation was quick and easy as well, although – with the previous model, the X300, it was required to input serial numbers and activation codes to achieve full functionality, the X350 reduces the hassle somewhat, but until the product is registered, sessions will be limited to 60 minutes. 

The remainder of setup chores consisted of creating user accounts, setting up access, tweaking minor settings and installing any needed updates. Once set up, the product pretty much worked as advertised. The user experience on the host PC was only impacted minimally, while each of the access device users was provided with enough processing power to run most standard business applications and some multimedia applications.

Users will notice a rapid drop off in performance as loads increase – in other words, don’t expect every user to be able to run a demanding application at the same time.

Management of the product is simple and is accomplished using a software console found under the Vspace software menu. Here, administrators can change some of the basic settings, such as display resolution and automatic logon, as well as keep track of access to the system. The products management capabilities do not approach what one would get with a typical client/server setup, but it is adequate enough for taking care of the needs of a few users in a small office or classroom. Resellers will find the product's primary merits consist of ease of use and low-cost user access. On the downside, the product is very limited and can only accomplish so much, such as supporting the basic goals of allowing multiple users to share a single PC.

Ncomputing could take the solution a great deal further with some enhancements. For example, if the Vspace software worked with 64 bit operating systems, then the X-series could be used with high-end workstations, which offer lots of processing power and memory. Those product enhancements may make it easier for a solution provider to sell a high-end workstation (with its higher margins) into a small business environment, where that expensive, high-end workstation actually can become the host for 11 additional users.

Although the product is easy to install and configure – Ncomputing does need to do a better job at defining system requirements and installation options. What’s more, the need to input serial numbers and registration/activation codes only adds to the installation burden. It is an obvious attempt at protecting the company’s intellectual property, but one has to wonder why that is needed – after all, the Vspace software only works with Ncomputing’s proprietary access devices.

The company does offer its L Series of products, which sets out to accomplish the same goal as the X series, but uses the Ethernet backbone to connect the access devices to the host computer. The L series can support as many as 30 users per host and is more in tune with the needs of a larger business.










Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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