MiniFrame's SoftXpand Business package can allow multiple keyboards, mice and flat screens connect to one PC, converting it into a multi-user system able to service up to six users. Such a system has the capacity to save organisations capital and operating expenditure, which translates into proper green IT. In our opinion the pros significantly outweigh the minor cons.
Reduces IT management and maintenance costs; reduces power utilisation to only one desktop PC system.
Single point of failure requires backup PC system; no internal network load balancing; users have to consider how they deal with OS and application licensing issues.
£ 1,750. Base system plus MiniFrame SoftXpand Business £1,200 + VAT. Five USB headphones and five 17in flat screen monitors: £550
Businesses looking to save money on IT deployments and significantly reduce their carbon footprint should investigate MiniFrame's SoftXpand Business system.
SoftXpand installs onto a desktop PC system, to which six monitors, six mice and six keyboards are attached. Six users can then log on simultaneously and use what feels like a traditional desktop PC.
The theory behind this configuration is that a traditional desktop PC has underused processing power, which could easily be used to service six user accounts running under one operating system.
Had the system been linked through an RJ45 cable, using layer-3 switching would make the systems essentially separate, with each user being unaware that five others are sharing the same system. However, the USB cabling and graphics card connections mean that user systems will essentially be located closer to each other, probably in visual contact.
The benefits would be that firms deploying the package would need only one system and a fully configured backup system in the unlikely event of a failure. Application management and other associated system management costs would similarly be reduced, since initial setup would be a once-only exercise. Patching and system administration would be limited to the one desktop system.
The peripherals are standard, and the desktop PC is to all intents and purposes standard, albeit with subtle modifications to improve performance and reliability. For instance the power supply used in the system is a more reliable and energy efficient model.
Users log on to the host and can access any applications installed by the SoftXpand administrator, be they standard office productivity or processor-intensive graphics applications. However, these applications have to be certified for use by MiniFrame, since profiles for each user need to be serviced correctly by the applications. Firms needing to use non-certified applications should consider this before deciding to use SoftXpand.
The hardware used in our review of SoftXpand was a standard desktop system running an Intel Core2 Duo E4500 processor running at 2.20GHz, with 2Gb of 400MHz system memory and an 800MHz Front Side Bus. The motherboard is an MSI model with an nVidia nForce 650i SLI SPP chipset and an nForce 650i SLI MCP Southbridge. The hard disk was a standard Maxtor 80GB STM380815AS model.
There were three nVidia GeForce 7100 GS graphics adapters installed in three of the seven PCI slots. The 7100 GS cards each have one analogue VGA port and one digital DVI port, so we could connect six LCD panels to the system. We used four of the six USB ports at the rear of the system and another two from a PCI card with two USB ports and a single FireWire 400 port to connect to six Targus USB hubs. A keyboard, mouse and USB to microphone/headphone minijack adapters were plugged into the Targus hub, with headphone/microphone sets connected.
All users are given an account with 'limited' privileges, so they can run but not install applications. They can also look at system properties, but the ability to change them is stopped through 'greyed out' sections. Only the system administrator can change system properties or install applications.
Once SoftXpand was installed and the six accounts created, we could fire up the system and log into each account. Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2 was running on the system, and initially the only application installed was Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003.
Running six Word sessions did not overly trouble processor utilisation, and browsing web pages did not pose problems, although the main bottleneck would be the network connection.
The interesting point about MiniFrame is that, whenever a bottleneck is encountered, whether network, graphics, processor or disk related, upgrades could be put in to partially or totally fix the problem.