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Low-cost, multi-user desktop PC upgrade goes Linux

Apr 26, 2006 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 21 views

NComputing is shipping a multi-user Linux PC expansion kit targeting the global education market. The company's Xtenda X300 expansion kit allows a single Linux PC to support up to six additional users, at a cost of around $83 per added user (plus monitor, keyboard, and mouse).

(Click for larger view of Xtensa X300)

NComputing says its Xtenda X300 kit has previously been used with Windows hosts in some 80 school districts in the U.S., but that it will market the product with Linux in the global education market. It has already signed up South African distributor Yellow Penguin, which will sell and support the product under Linspire Linux.

NComputing's Xtenda X300 kit comprises a PCI card with three RJ-45 ports, along with three small “terminal boxes” that connect to the PCI card via standard networking cable. Each terminal box offers ports to attach a local PS/2 keyboard and mouse, speakers, and an SVGA (800 x 600) or XGA (1024 x 768) monitor (16-bit color depth, or 65,536 colors, is supported).

NComputing's X300 kit allows four users to share one PC

Two kits can be installed in a single PC, to support up to seven users, including one on the host system and six remote users. All users enjoy equal access to the PC's resources. NComputing recommends a 1.3GHz Pentium 4 or AMD equivalent for a single-kit setup, or 2.4GHz or better Pentium 4/AMD for two-kit use.

The terminal boxes are driven by Altera Cyclone3 FPGAs running proprietary firmware. They draw only half a Watt, and are powered by the host PC, via the network cable, using a proprietary technology, according to Justin Emilio, director of technology at NComputing. The kit comes with 16-foot cat-5 cables, although cat-6 STP (shielded twisted pair) cable up to 40 feet may also be used, Emilio says.

The X300 terminal boxes use PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports

The X300 kit comes with Linux PCI bus enumeration and display drivers that are currently closed source, although the company hopes to open them before year's end, according to Emilio. Also included is free management software that has a graphical installer and supports “many Linux distributions,” including Linspire, Ubuntu, and Debian, among others.

Compared with thin clients, NComputing says its Xtenda X300 offers reduced hardware costs, reduced server software cost, better performance, and extra user “elbow room,” given that the terminal boxes measure just 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.1 inches (110 x 65 x 30mm).

NComputing senior director of sales Bob Block stated, “Our multi-user terminal products, Linspire's Linux operating system, and Yellow Penguin's computing expertise will help open the door for more computer users at schools, government agencies, SMBs, and homes in South Africa.”

Yellow Penguin CTO Jan Henkins stated, “NComputing's Xtenda X300 terminal reduces hardware and software costs without sacrificing performance.”


The Xtenda X300 kits are available now, retailing for $250. They will be showcased, along with Linspire PCs, at the Futurex tradeshow, May 16-19 at the Sandton Convention Centre in Gauteng, South Africa.

The company has already signed up a distributor in South Africa, it says.

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