Virtual Desktop Review: NComputing M300 Virtual Desktop Kit - Page 2

By Joseph Moran | Posted March 29, 2012

It turned out that the keyboards (salvaged from circa-2005 Dell desktops) were harboring built-in USB hubs which rendered them incompatible with the M300's USB 1.1 ports. Swapping out the keyboards for more recent hub-less models solved the problem.

Each of the clients offered a responsive Windows virtual desktop from which we were able to comfortably browse the Web, run Microsoft Office applications, and perform other workaday computing tasks. All three clients recognized a USB storage device plugged into the front port without any problems, and all were able to concurrently play HD (720p) video, both from the local network and online sources such as YouTube (though there were occasional and brief interludes where audio/video streaming bogged down slightly).

All in all, there was little about the M300 computing experience that would lead typical office workers to think they were using anything other than a standard PC. NComputing credits the M300's performance to a custom Numo2 SoC (System on a Chip) which it says is designed to offload processing from the server and which incorporates provides three graphics and video controllers so each client gets dedicated rendering resources.

Clients are limited to a maximum display resolution of 1,440 x 900, which is set on the large client or the vSpace server and applies to all three devices. Other customizable device options include network configuration settings and automatic account logon.

NComputing says that a single vSpace server can accommodate between nine and 100 users depending on how the server is outfitted and what kind of workload the clients need to perform, as well as whether they need to handle 480p or 720p video. (See more details on performance considerations.)

One thing you don't get to customize much with the M300 is the user environment, because all users work off the same instance of the operating system on the server. By contrast, Citrix's VDI-in-a-Box, lets you set up operating system VMs and templates with applications and settings customized for particular individuals or groups. On the other hand, unlike VDI-in-a-Box the M300 doesn't burden you with having to create and maintain distinct OS images.

M300 Virtual Desktop Kit Pricing

The M300 kit's street price of roughly $400 works out to $133 per client, and adding in the cost of the required Windows Server and Remote Desktop Services CALs (Client Access Licenses) for each one -- around $30 and $75 respectively -- brings the per-user price to $240 or so. (Microsoft licenses may cost less depending on the type and quantity purchased). Of note, the vSpace software doesn't carry any ongoing subscription or maintenance charges.

Of course, this $240 figure doesn't include the cost of the server to run the vSpace software, a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for each client, or any of the ancillary cabling. But, even after accounting for these costs (many firms may already have much of this stuff on hand), the M300's per-user cost should easily come in well under that of a standard PC.

Conclusion

The M300's cabling limitations make it better suited to a cubicle farm than a row of offices, and it won't provide the horsepower required for demanding applications. But small businesses that want to deploy a number of low-cost, low-power consumption, and low-maintenance virtual desktops for standard office tasks would do well to give NComputing's M300 Virtual Desktop Kit a close look.

Price: $549 (MSRP)

Pros: considerably lower cost per seat than full-fledged PCs, plus simpler deployment and management; very good performance for general office tasks and HD video playback

Cons: cabling restrictions limit physical placement of some devices; limited per-user customization

Joseph Moran is a longtime technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7 from Friends of Ed.

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