- A cost-effective and relatively easy way to add extra users to an existing network
- Terminals are low-power, secure, easy to administer and quiet
- Works with Windows- or Linux-based host PCs
- Up to 30 terminals supported (with a server OS running on the host PC)
- Long and slightly confusing install process
- Performance is inversely related to the number of terminals installed, and directly related to the computing power of the host PC
- Unsuitable for demanding applications
The NComputing L230 is designed to connect to an Ethernet network and — when equipped with a keyboard, mouse and display — to operate as either a fixed IP or DHCP terminal. Unlike the entry-level PCI-based X300, the L230 has no restrictive cable length limitations; it can also support a wider range of resolutions and colour depths than the X300.
L230 terminals communicate over the network with a PC that acts as a terminal server, which responds to the mouse and keyboard inputs, processes the requests and returns the results as a GUI display back to each terminal. The network may be an existing LAN with many servers, printers and PCs already connected, or it can be a network created simply to connect a number of L230s and a host PC together. In either case, the terminal PC and the L230 must be connected to an Ethernet router or switch; if DHCP is used, a DHCP server must be present.
Depending on its specification, up to 10 L230 terminals can be supported by a host PC running a desktop OS such as Windows XP. If the host is running a server operating system, such as Windows Server 2003 or Linux, then up to 30 terminals can be supported.
The square, black plastic, L230 terminals measure 11.5cm by 11.5cm by 2.6cm, weigh just 154g and bear the NComputing logo across the front. Above the logo is a transparent strip covering three indicators marked Power, LAN and Ready. At the back of the shallow box there's an RJ-45 Ethernet connector, a 15-pin VGA port, a co-axial connector for the supplied 5V DC out, auto-sensing mains adapter and a power on/off rocker switch. Five more connectors are arrayed along the right-hand edge of the unit; a USB 1.1 port, two 3.5mm audio jacks and PS/2 connectors for mouse and keyboard. A VESA-compatible mounting bracket and screws are supplied for mounting the L230 on the back of an LCD monitor, while two slots on the underside allow it to be screw-mounted on a wall.
NComputing's L230 is an Ethernet-based access terminal that is not bound by its entry-level X300 stablemate's cable length limitation. The L230 is powered by a 5V AC adapter and is a sealed unit containing no moving parts that consumes about 5W in operation.
Also supplied are a 2m CAT 5e cable, a quick-install guide and the NComputing terminal server software on CD. The CD also contains the full PDF user guide and a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader.
The L230 has firmware that displays a server connection menu when the unit is turned on. Three selections for Connect, Refresh and Options appear across the bottom of this display. If there are any NComputing terminal servers present on the network in the same IP address range as the L230, these will be listed on-screen. The Refresh selection can be used to initiate a new search to find servers that may log onto the network after the L230 terminal. Users connect to a terminal server by clicking to highlight their choice from the available list and then clicking on the Connect selection.
During installation each L230 must be individually set (by selecting Options and then Setup from the internal menu) for either DHCP or fixed IP, and its display resolution set to suit the attached monitor. Optional settings for a terminal name and log-on passwords can also be set. The L230 supports five resolutions ranging from 640 by 480 up to 1,440 by 900 at either 8, 16 or 24-bit colour depth and at either 60Hz or 75Hz refresh. Above 1,024 by 768, the refresh rate is limited to 60Hz.
Installing the terminal server software onto our host PC (an HP desktop powered by a 2.8GHz single-core Pentium 4 processor with 1GB of RAM running Windows XP Service Pack 2) was not straightforward. The install routine on the CD checks the internet for more recent version, but selecting this option repeatedly produced an error message stating that the program was incomplete or corrupted. The only way forward was to close everything, including the CD menu, start again, cancel the internet install option and force an install from the version supplied on the CD.
As with its X300 stablemate, it appears to be very easy to break single-user licence agreements with an L230 system because most Windows applications will run from the host server on multiple terminals.
In use / power consumption
Compared to the PCI-based X300 product, NComputing's Ethernet-based L230 offers greater cable length flexibility, support for USB 1.1 memory devices on the terminal itself (rather than the host PC), plus better audio and video support. Otherwise, the user experience is very similar: you supply the host PC, plus keyboards, monitors and mice for the terminals, so performance, ergonomics and overall power consumption are largely down to what you specify. The L230 access terminals consume around 5W compared to around a watt per X300 unit.
Generally speaking, the L230 is fine for word processing, low-level spreadsheet work, web browsing and other mainstream tasks. However, with more demanding applications such as full-screen video playback, the L230 — like other PC-sharing schemes — shows its limitations.
If you're concerned about giving users access to USB sticks and want a simpler Ethernet terminal-access solution, NComputing offers the L130, which omits the USB and microphone ports, and limits the graphics to 16-bit colour depth.
To get a complete picture of the cost-effectiveness of a PC-sharing product like the L230, you'll need to include the cost of a monitor, keyboard and mouse for each terminal, and factor in the expense of the host PC and the Ethernet router/switch.
One drawback of a shared-access system such as the L230 is that if the host PC is heavily stressed, it's more likely to fail and put the whole system out of action. To help in this eventuality, NComputing offers NShield an optional backup/recovery tool for host PCs that allows hard drives to be restored to a known working state — including OS files, applications, settings and data files.
It's therefore doubly important to ensure that the host PC is adequately specified — not only to deliver acceptable terminal performance, but also to be sufficiently reliable.
|Data Link Protocol||Ethernet, Fast Ethernet|