NComputing L300 Review: Virtual Desktop For SMB’s

Ncomputing’s L300 virtual desktop device is like a replacement for thin clients.  It provides businesses a way to deploy desktop computer services to additional employees without having to purchase or lease desktops or thin client hardware.

According to Ncomputing, The L300 model provides “a rich multimedia playback” capability.  The unit also supports a number of USB peripherals.  The L300 unit has ports for USB keyboard and mouse along with sound and microphone capabilities.  The unit that was reviewed only supports VGA monitors.  We would hope and presume DVI monitor capabilities will be added in the future since many new monitors have DVI connections.  If nothing else, the user can install a VGA to DVI converter.

After looking at pricing from a few different sources, we found out that the L300 by Ncomputing can be purchased for less than $200 at the time of this review.  Both Windows and Linux operating systems are supported by Ncomputing.  Linux support is limited to Ubuntu Linux. At this time, Macs are not supported by the Ncomputing VSpace software.  The VSpace software permits up to 30 virtual desktops to be connected to one share host PC.

Testing of the NComputing L300

Small businesses as well as home users can add additional virtual desktops as their needs increase, but one L300 unit must be used for each virtual desktop added.  The VSpace software that comes with the unit supports up to thirty virtual desktops for each host PC.  While only one virtual desktop was used during testing, it is logical to presume that, depending on the hardware capabilities of the host PC, less than thirty virtual desktops can be supported without suffering performance issues.

The VSpace software was easy to install using a MSI file which was about 80MB in size. Even though it only took a few minutes to install, during installation the user is warned to disable or uninstall all anti-virus and firewalls because it may affect the installation or operation of the VSpace software.  During the installation process, all anti-virus and the Windows firewall were disabled.

When installing the software, the user should check the box “Install the Administrative Network Console.”  The console helps manage the virtual desktops connected to the host PC.

Once the VSpace software has been successfully installed, the user will be prompted to reboot.  After rebooting, the user will see a “terminal server login” where the user can use their regular login and password to gain access to the host PC again.  The terminal server login looks different than the default Windows XP login because the VSpace software is used to manage the virtual desktops that will use the host PC resources.

The user will now apply either Windows’ user settings or the VSpace Network Console to add a user for each virtual desktop that will be added to the host PC.  Local users cannot be added with the VSpace network console if the host PC is running the home edition of Windows XP.  While it is presumed that this is also the case for home editions of Vista and Windows 7, these operating systems were not tested during the review.  Since many small businesses start out as one person shops using a home edition of an operating system and stay that way even when they have added a couple employees, it would be beneficial for home editions to be supported.  Either way, the user can still add virtual desktop users using the Windows “add user” utility.

Once the keyboard, mouse and monitor were added to the NComputing L300 unit, and the unit was connected to the LAN (local area network), it took only a few minutes to connect and start using the virtual desktop.  Instructions included with the unit were limited, but luckily NComputing has some very good instructions bundled with the software as well as instructions available via their website.

Once the virtual desktop was configured and connected to the host PC, a number of resources were used to see how the virtual desktop handled them. The conclusion is that the virtual desktop user should not be able to really tell the difference between working directly on the host PC and on the virtual desktop (PC).  After using the host PC to take screenshots for the installation of the VSpace software, the virtual desktop was used to take similar screenshots for this review.

In addition, iTunes was used to test music, and a movie was played on Windows Media Player while using the virtual desktop. Both worked fine with no noticeable jitter or delay in the video. Sound was also available and worked fine during the review testing.  The only limited resource noticed during the review was that the virtual desktop only allowed the user a limited number of desktop backgrounds.  It appeared that any ones that required heavy graphic resources on a continuous basis were not available to the virtual desktop user.

The NComputing L300 should be considered for homes, home offices, and businesses if they want to add additional PC’s without the hassle of purchasing, maintaining and updating another desktop. Users should evaluate the use of the L300 based on their computing needs as well as the total cost of the virtual desktop unit and all the necessary peripherals.