back to article Ah, the Raspberry Pi 3. So much love. So much power ... So turn it into a Windows thin client

Using the Raspberry Pi 3 as a Windows thin client is not a new idea, but NComputing has wrapped it all up in a nice package for its target markets of schools and verticals. The NComputing RX300 is a $99 piece of kit that uses the Pi 3 board in two modes: running native Raspbian Linux, or as a Windows VDI thin-client. And …

  1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    WTF?

    Why?

    Just, why?

    1. Herby Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      Look at the founder: He previously founded E-machines.

      Good luck with that!

    2. d3vy Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      Because businesses need cheap thin clients with support contracts.

      Look at what dell charge for a wise terminal and you'll see the appeal of a £99 box that can be powered from the monitors USB socket.

    3. Tim99 Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: Why?

      For a similar reason to Citrix packaging the Pi as a virtual desktop in a nice box (Citrix Link)?

  2. jamesb2147
    Meh

    Problems?

    At least you can source your own parts.

    1. InfiniteApathy
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: Problems?

      The thin client hardware is rarely the source of the problems in VDI

  3. Dwarf Silver badge

    He missed a trick

    The E-stuff era has passed, but now its all virtual. Given that this is for VDI deployments, why is it not called V-Machines or does someone hold that name already ??

    Whats the big deal though, its a Pi, presumably an add-on card for the second screen, a different-colour-and-shape-to-everyone-else-plastic-case and a different firmware image to do the VDI connectivity bit. Its not really that innovative.

    As it will be competing with Wyse / HP / everyone else, the big issue here is how the platforms can be centrally managed to keep everything up to date from a firmware perspective and to push out policies to the device - which is the same issue everyone else has.

    On the positive side, if it takes off, it makes it will make it a lot easier for those who want to get into corporate networks for various reasons (insiders, pen test teams, etc) - just turn up with your micro-sd card, drop it, give it a reboot and you are are on the LAN with your tooklit.

    1. Iain Thomas

      Re: He missed a trick

      USB dongle for the 2nd screen. Says on the website. The data sheet mentions this is an optional extra. Which requires an extra licence too.

      And the article seems to have missed the connection licence; only 1 year comes with the device.

      The tricks seem to be present and correct...

  4. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    In essense a Pi can be seen in the same way as a CPU in the 1980s. It's this century's commodity part that you just plug your own stuff into to use.

  5. Sirius Lee

    Gearbest

    Or buy a complete device with a screen and Windows and HDMI and USB for $88.

  6. Lee D Silver badge

    I use the nComputing n300's - these are their previous product, I have the VGA versions but they made an HDMI version of the same thing later.

    They're okay. Small. They log in reliably. Do RDP reliably. You can use them for anything office-y.

    But increasingly with video or anything even vaguely taxing, they are just a waste.

    When I started at my current school they were trying to run two IT suites from them using two HUGE Dell servers (each of which could barely service 20 clients, so long as you didn't try to run too many Chrome tabs).

    My first action was to box them up and replace them with cheap, real machines. Never had one complaint and I hadn't been the first person to tell them it was necessary.

    They're fine for what they are - and what we used them for in the end. Once we'd paid for them (there was a final payment of something like £200 pending), and you have the perpetual licence for the nComputing hardware/software (obviously you still have to pay for the RD licenses, but as a school you pay for those by buying one per full time teacher), they make rather nice digital signage machines. Tiny little VESA-mount things that just RDP in automatically and show whatever you tell them to show and can do audio too. I use them with Xibo.

    The one trick they missed was a PoE-powered version.

    But they are very much 90's technology wrapped in a cute box. A RPi 3 might solve some of the video acceleration issues, but it's not going to do much as they still just do RDP and the server does the bulk of the work. It does mean, however, that they should be as cheap as anything if you want me to touch them because otherwise why would I not just put an £25 RPi 3 in a £5 box and make my own version that isn't reliant on their silly software that does nothing more than let you use RDP anyway?

    I was going to do that myself, with first gen RPi's, when I remembered I still had a box of the n300's lying around doing nothing.

  7. tiggity Silver badge

    RDP from weedy hardware can be good

    I use my (android) TV box to RDP into a headless desktop at home, that copes fine with taxing stuff but obviously does have a bit more grunt than a Pi (think sub 100 quid smartphone spec) and link via cable network not wifi so no data transfer issues

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      During my time as a trainee...

      ... back in the late 1990s my coleagues have tried actual remote RDP, essentially running multiple "office" RDP sessions over an ISDN line. This worked decently well, but was to expensive in the time before flatrates and VPNs.

      Of course this was when a computer with 128 Megabytes of RAM was nearly unimaginable, and a developer had something like an AMD K6-II with 300 megahertz.

      So of course a raspberry pi has way than more power to run an RDP terminal.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: During my time as a trainee...

        Irony:

        Using a Linux-based ARM-processor low-power board.

        To access the Windows-based, x86-64-processor, stupendously powerful (if you want to get anything done with multiple users) server.

        Now, last time I looked, nComputing had a Linux server too, but even then - thin clients? In this day and age? No real work's being done like that, surely? Except digital signage, etc.?

        1. jamesb2147

          Re: During my time as a trainee...

          I've seen a pharma co use them as dumb terminals for local work. Helps keep all the valuable data away from the forgetful meatsacks that tend to leave laptops in various unfortunate places.

          The downside was that AV and backup software tended to trash performance, but otherwise each server served ~100 clients shockingly well. And that was on 5 year old servers.

        2. Youngone Silver badge

          Re: During my time as a trainee...

          @ Lee D

          I have about 30 thin clients on site right now, and it's as awful as it sounds.

          Slow: yes

          Reliable: no

          Cheap: Not really.

          Thin clients are something beancounters like because they think they're cheaper.

          Beancounters (in my experience) always have to have a proper laptop though.

        3. martinusher Silver badge

          Re: During my time as a trainee...

          >No real work's being done like that, surely? Except digital signage, etc.?

          Its a corporate IT department's wet dream -- everything centralized within easy reach of their snacks, no need to go schlepping all over the place configuring and fixing PCs.

    2. enormous c word

      Re: RDP from weedy hardware can be good

      I use just use a £30 Android Kodi Box (Kodi reoved) as an Android PC with added BT keyboard - works just fine...

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: RDP from weedy hardware can be good

      worth pointing out, I think Raspbian already comes with an RDP client. I should verify that, though...

      /me checks, 'xrdp' showed up as an available package in aptitude, as well as a gnome version. So yes. maybe not pre-installed, though it's not that hard to 'apt-get install' something.

      /me checks again - xrdp is a server, not a client. rdesktop I meant.

    4. dajames Silver badge

      Re: RDP from weedy hardware can be good

      ...copes fine with taxing stuff but obviously does have a bit more grunt than a Pi (think sub 100 quid smartphone spec)

      Methinks a Pi 3 has more grunt than a sub-100-quid smartphone ... you don't get a lot of grunt in a phone for less than a hundred!

  8. Jay 2

    A colleague here has just loaded a Pi 3 with Rasberry Pi Thin Client (http://rpitc.blogspot.co.uk/) which amongst other things supports VMWare Horizon and Citrix. He says it seems to be OK for remotely logging into a work desktop. I may even give it a go myself.

  9. Mikel

    How about

    No?

  10. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    S'one way to break a perfectly good computer I s'pose.

  11. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    And the rest of the bill...

    ...is the cost of that remote server, running whatever Terminal Server is called these days, with as many seat licences as you've got RPis, plus the mouse, keyboard and monitor for each one.

    It looks like the first of those is approaching $200 per seat: https://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msusa/en_US/pdp/Windows-Server-2016-Remote-Desktop-Services/productID.5074017300. And of course, your server machine needs enough welly to support all those sessions, so it ain't exactly going to be a cheapo beige box.

    I can't see you having much change from 500 (pounds, dollars or euros). you could buy quite a nice (and self-contained) laptop for that and still have the benefits of centralised management through a small domain controller.

    1. jamesb2147

      Re: And the rest of the bill...

      You assume the people doing this know how to use that DC. This is kind of a poor, ignorant man's form of a domain.

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: And the rest of the bill...

      They're aimed at schools.

      Schools pay (at least depending on what they signed up for) one licence for each full-time-equivalent teaching employee.

      So a small primary might pay for 20-30 licences. A large secondary for 100 licences.

      At educational pricing, I have 500 pupils and 50 staff. We have DataCenter (all versions), Windows (all versions), Office (all versions), RDP licences (all versions), Exchange (all versions), SQL (all versions), etc.

      And what I pay is 40 x Windows. 40 x Office. 40 x RDP. 40 x Exchange CAL. 40 x SQL CAL. And then one each of the others. It costs a few thousand a year.

      Per user, that works out to a couple of quid each per year to have it all.

      And because of the licenses, it matter not how many actual machines I deploy. Only servers are charged individually. We have 150 client machines, for instance.

      My network switch licences cost more than that each year.

      1. Ian 55
        Childcatcher

        Re: And the rest of the bill...

        You're being bribed to have the kiddies only experience Microsoft stuff. You're being bought cheaply.

  12. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Devil

    you don't need WINDOWS for a thin client

    I would prefer FreeBSD or Linux as a thin client. After all, if everything is client/server over a web portal, you can run Firefox or Chrome on just about ANY operating system, and both Linux and FreeBSD are BETTER, FASTER, and *FREE*!

    No need for Micro-shaft's "PIG-WARE" known as Win-10-nic, THAT's for sure! The Raspbian image fits on a 4G Micro-SD card, last I tried it. And I can get FBSD (with a similar GUI setup) to fit in about the same space, if I try really hard.

    So yeah, if you WANT a thin client, RPi with Raspbian or FreeBSD 11. That's the ticket!

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lackluster

    Heh, I still have a funny taste in my mouth over NComputings "share a single computer with up to 10 users" hardware gadget that, oops, oh yeah, we forgot that violates the Windows license, so watch our next trick: vaporware!

  14. psychonaut

    refurb hp elite 8000 with win 7 license

    45 quid. 128 gb ssd ...mmm, dependant on what you use, between 50 and 100 quid. or use a shitty old pata disk for nothing or very cheap.

    job done. rdp away to the server.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: refurb hp elite 8000 with win 7 license

      These things are the size of a large matchbox. Silent. No moving parts. No heat. No ventilation. Minimal power.

      By comparison, deploying a laptop or even a mini desktop is much more expensive and hassle.

      These things sit behind the monitor that you're viewing them on (VESA mounting).

      Anyone can find a "free" way to do the same. But not in so small a box.

      That said, their annual licensing is expensive. But they do have a niche usage case.

  15. NotTrue

    When you find a monitor with a 2.5a USB port let me know... Pi's run like a bag of spanners without the full power

  16. LewisCowles1986

    Nobody seems to be complaining about the fact "thin-clients" based on VNC, are not for what most people do at work, they were originally conceived so that server-admins could become more efficient by not needing to move or incur call-out-charges for companies.

    For schools (as productivity is not the goal), the benefits as I see it are

    * Fits in with existing infrastructure

    * Allows central storage of student work (assuming they have to login to their student account)

    * Pre-packaged (setup is an issue with hobby kits like rPi)

    Problems will come from kids opening & switching memory cards, breaking out of VNC and altering the Pi (which likely hasn't been secured). Also if it's for displaying windows, how will the students use their GPIO? You need an alternative where you lock down the Pi, enable access to it's GPIO etc, but upload files to, and retreive files from the central server (maybe via AD).

    Andrew Mulholland @gbaman has gone some way towards what is needed, so maybe they can buy some of his time, contribute to his project PiNet and move from central computing to easy-setup labs Pi's for students.

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