Enticing the move to server-based computing

Thin clients come in a variety of forms. From outward appearances, you might not expect any surprises from Netier Technologies' NetXpress SL2000. But this thin client stands out from the crowd because it's flexible and runs Windows NT Workstation 4.0 embedded in flash memory.

The basic thin client comes in a 9.5" * 1.9" * 8.6" case that contains 32MB of RAM, a 180MHz Integrated Device Technology (IDT) WinChip processor, 16-bit sound capability, an S3 ViRGE AGP graphics subsystem with 2MB of video memory, a keyboard, a mouse, a 10/100Mbps Ethernet adapter, and a full assortment of ports. Netier plans to make the standard processor a 233MHz AMD-K6. You can upgrade to a 350MHz AMD-K6-2 processor.

With Netier's internal 24X CD-ROM drive, 3.5" disk drive, and 4GB hard disk options, the NetXpress SL2000 becomes a full-fledged PC. The company also offers options such as an upgrade to 128MB of SDRAM, a V.90 modem, a multiport serial card, and ISDN and wireless LAN adapters that you can insert into an optional PCI/ISA riser card. These options make the product a good fit for enterprises that want to use thin clients but need to customize systems.

The product's use of embedded NT (rather than Windows CE) caught my attention. The product uses 18MB of flash RAM to store a slim version of NT Workstation (e.g., without PCMCIA and SCSI support, the DOS subsystem, Disk Administrator, User Manager, NT Backup, Performance Monitor, and network protocols except TCP/IP). The slim NT version still has administrative tools such as Registry Editor, Event Viewer, Windows NT Diagnostics (winmsd.exe), and the graphical IPConfig (wntipcfg). You'll find a minimum set of fonts, NT shell, Control Panel, online Help, and device drivers for video, LAN, audio, I/O, printers, and accessories. Netier also includes RDP and ICA clients with the product.

The product's flash memory is expandable to 360MB, so Netier can customize the embedded OS and add drivers, Web browsers, or Win32 applications. This flash memory capacity is an asset for custom applications because when you switch to server-based computing, you can embed the custom applications.

To test the product, I installed NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition (WTS) with Service Pack 3 (SP3) on a server and connected the NetXpress SL2000 to the test network. Setup took just a few minutes. I booted the system and used the WTS Client Connection Manager to establish a connection to the server. Booting the system from flash memory was as fast as booting from a high-performance hard disk.

I ran BAPCo's SYSmark98 application performance test suite on a server with two 333MHz Pentium II processors and timed the execution of the test scripts. Then, I launched the suite from the NetXpress SL2000 thin client. Surprisingly, the Microsoft Word 97 script's execution times were the same, but the Microsoft Excel 97 script (which is more graphics intensive) ran about 3 percent slower. This performance wasn't bad at all. In ordinary use, the system's response was very fast, but I noticed a slight lag when I dragged application windows around the screen.

NetXpress SL2000 offers a wealth of configuration and expansion opportunities, good performance, and support for both RDP and ICA protocols. Administrators should consider the product's embedded NT and x86 processor and Netier's ability to embed drivers and applications. Although the product's price is high for a thin client, I can easily recommend the NetXpress SL2000.

NetXpress SL2000
Contact: Netier Technologies * 888-603-1763
Web: http://www.netier.com
Price: $940 as reviewed, plus $188 for a 15" monitor and $175 for Windows NT Workstation 4.0 embedded (if you don't have an NT Workstation site-license)
DECISION SUMMARY:
Pros: RDP and ICA support, good performance, embedded Windows NT, x86 processor, expandable flash memory, and flexible configuration and upgrade options
Cons: Somewhat high price