Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Thin Client Diet

One of the cool things about my job beyond the teaching aspect is problem solving. Now, I am not an engineer or a mathematician. No, I started out to be a shop teacher, woods to be exact. But the times changed and I found myself teaching computers. Back to my point; I often have opportunity to look at new or in this case updated technologies to evaluate their relevance in education.

This past October, I was fortunate enough to speak at the T + L show in Dallas. Once my speaking duties were complete, (See "
Say it again… Improving Student Learning through Podcasting"), I was able to enjoy the show and see what I could see. As my boss Larry and I perused the floor we came across a tiny booth with 4 monitors, keyboard, mice and one PC. Each of the three monitors, keyboards and mince were attached to a small black box roughly the size of my wallet. We began reading the single page brochure sitting on the table as the one and only representative walked up to the booth to tell us about his product.

Introducing (On this blog anyway.) the X300 PCI XTenda multibox. This slick little device basically turns a single PC into four workstations through the use of the software and a PCI card. (
Click this link to see the topology) To be honest, I thought this device was cool and had potential at home, but I was skeptical about it at a school. That is until I had a chance to see it in action.

When I returned home, I began the process of getting a demo unit. nComputing was good enough to provide me with the X300. I installed the X300 card in a Dell Optiplex GX240 with 1 gig of RAM then connected three keyboards, monitors and mice to XTenda multibox. Next my staff and I began to test this device. (Remember there are now 4 people working from one PC.) We opened MS Word, Outlook, etc… After about 15 minutes of various activities and applications, we decided to really abuse this device. The four of us opened MS
PhotoStory, created and rendered 4 videos. As expected this test put the Optiplex on its proverbial knees. However, we did have four videos rendered in less than ten minutes. This little box has potential.

Test with students… Next I took the Optiplex with X300 over to one of our schools (Temporality replacing four 6-year old Dell GX110’s.) to test with 7th and 8th grade students. By the end of the next day, the teacher sent an email stating the students request that I leave the X300 with the XTenda boxes and replace the rest of the lab with the same setup. The students did experience one problem with our Punch Pro software as it requires access to the CD Rom. The CD Rom does work on any station trying to access it. However, only one person can access the drive at a time. Basically, the first person to click on the CD wins.

My opinion… Do I think this device is the Holy Grail for Educational computing? No, it does have a few limitations so we will still have a need to purchase full systems in some situations. Nevertheless, at $200.00 the X300 and the XTenda multibox can make one PC do the work of four. In situations where the computer will be performing basic tasks, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, email and searching the web, this device deserves consideration.

Links to look at…
The Next Cheap Thing
nComputing Demo Video

Education, K-12, Shawn Wheeler, nComputing, Thin Client

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