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NeoStation 220

This thin-client device offers high performance

Neoware Systems offers a line of non-PC desktop devices for centralized computing environments. These devices—called NeoStations—run variations of netOS (Neoware's proprietary operating system—OS) or Windows Consumer Electronics (CE). You can choose from three netOS versions: enterprise, intranet, or netOS for WinTerminals. The enterprise version of netOS includes Telnet, X11 Independent Computing Architecture (ICA), NTrigue access protocols, and support for VT and IBM terminal emulation. The intranet version of netOS supports a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and includes the Netscape Navigator Web browser. The netOS for WinTerminals version supports ICA and NTrigue thin-client and thin-server access protocols. Neoware's implementation of Windows CE supports Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and ICA for thin-client and thin-server connections.

In May 1998, I reviewed Neoware Systems' enterprise-oriented @workStation ("Thin Clients for Thick Applications"). I concluded that the system was a good fit for large, heterogeneous environments, but it was too complicated for a typical thin-client and thin-server environment (e.g., Citrix WinFrame/MetaFrame or Windows NT Server 4.0, Terminal Server Edition). Neoware's response was that the company also offers the NeoStation 200 line, which targets the thin-client and thin-server market. Neoware shipped me a NeoStation 220 unit to examine.

Scoping Out the System
The NeoStation 220 is smaller than a toaster. The back of the unit houses connections for a standard SVGA monitor, mouse, keyboard, serial port, parallel port, 10Base-T Ethernet link, and PC Card. The front of the unit features a power button, sound jacks, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for power and network activity. The unit I reviewed included 32MB of RAM and a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. In addition (and much to my surprise), the PC Card slot contained a hard disk.

The NeoStation 220 is an instant-on/downloadable Windows-based terminal hybrid. You can configure the system to boot its OS and operating parameters from a PC Card hard disk (in which case it looks and feels like an instant-on terminal) or from the network (in which case it looks and feels like a downloadable terminal). At first, I was skeptical about the PC Card hard-disk feature because it adds more moving parts to the device. Over time, I saw the wisdom of this approach. You can upgrade or replace the OS more easily with a PC Card hard disk: You just pull out the old card and replace it with a new one. (Editor's Note: NeoWare Systems has since replaced the hard disk with an external flash card. Flash cards have no moving parts.)

If you configure the system to boot from the network, you can implement downloads to a NeoStation 220 using NFS, FTP, or Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP). You can also download files through the Common Internet File System (CIFS) access protocol, which NT supports. The availability of CIFS is a plus because most downloadable devices require you to add support for NFS or TFTP to existing NT Server systems.

Plugging In the System
I assembled the NeoStation 220 and connected it to the Windows NT Magazine's Lab network with no problems. I must confess, however, that I experienced a momentary pang of worry during the unit's startup cycle. When I turned on the unit, I heard a confirming beep but didn't see the monitor sync up. Just as I began to sweat (I thought I'd broken something), the unit beeped again and the monitor came to life. This complaint is minor; I guess I'm too accustomed to network computers and Windows-based terminals that display every step of the boot process on screen.

After the boot process completed, the unit was ready. My test unit was preconfigured for BOOTP/Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) support, so it automatically obtained an IP address from the Lab's DHCP server. I didn't have to change the initial configuration. Using the NeoStation 220's main menu, I entered the IP address and a username and password for the server, and I launched a connection to my thin server (WinFrame). You can also use the Browse button on the main menu to direct the NeoStation 220 to locate other servers on the network.

When I launched the connection request, the NeoStation 220 established a link to my WinFrame server, automatically logged me on, and presented me with an NT desktop. The unit was as simple to start up as any of the instant-on Windows-based terminals I've seen.

Change As Needed
If the NeoStation 220's default settings aren't appropriate for your system, click Options, Settings on the main menu to change the operational settings. You can use the Options button to change the access protocol from ICA to NTrigue, choose your default NT domain, and set the screen color (to 2, 16, or 256 colors). In the future, you might not be able to use the NTrigue option: Citrix acquired Insignia, the company that produced NTrigue, and is in the process of incorporating NTrigue technology into MetaFrame.

Using Settings (the second configuration button), I accessed global configuration information. This information is divided into five configuration tabs: Startup, Network, Kbd/Mouse, Token Ring, and Advanced.

You use the Startup tab to configure the NeoStation 220 for local (i.e., from the PC Card hard disk) or network boot. If you choose network boot, you must determine the access protocol you want the unit to use to download the device (e.g., CIFS, NFS, FTP, TFTP). You can also define the download server's IP address and the location of the files on the server.

I used the Network tab to configure TCP/IP settings for the NeoStation 220. You can set an IP address for the unit or configure it to obtain an IP address using the BOOTP/DHCP protocols or the Reverse Address Resolution Protocol (RARP). The NeoStation 220 doesn't have separate options for BOOTP and DHCP. Instead, the unit supports both protocols and adapts to the protocol of the first server that responds to the address assignment request. Other fields on the Network tab let you set values for a default gateway and a Domain Name System (DNS) server. If you use BOOTP or DHCP, the download server typically sets the gateway and DNS values automatically.

You can use the Kbd/Mouse tab to select the type of keyboard and mouse port you want. The mouse port operates on the PS/2-style port or the serial port. Both ports are on the back of the unit. The NeoStation 220 supports a standard Windows-style keyboard and several international keyboard types.

You use the Token Ring tab to set the operating attributes of an optional Token Ring PC Card. (My test unit didn't have a Token Ring PC Card.)

The Advanced tab lets you perform several interesting tasks. The tab's View Log button lets you access the unit's boot log. Viewing the boot log provides you with information about the unit and its configuration (e.g., the amount of memory in the device, the version of flash programmable read-only memory—PROM—currently in effect, the Ethernet media access controlMAC—address, disk and network parameters). You use the tab's Factory Reset button to change the internal configuration back to the factory defaults. The Advanced tab includes two fields for viewing and entering custom configuration settings.

Moving to the Future
After I received my test unit, Neoware added an important function to the NeoStation 200 line: support for RDP, Terminal Server's native access protocol. The addition of RDP to the NeoStation 200 line lets you deploy the units in environments running Citrix WinFrame, Terminal Server, or Microsoft Terminal Server Edition with Citrix MetaFrame.

The NeoStation 220 is a fine fit for the thin-client and thin-server environment. The unit's flexibility to operate as an instant-on or downloadable device makes it easy to incorporate into any type of network. Furthermore, because you can easily upgrade the NeoStation 220, you can protect your investment against future technology changes. If you're looking for a thin-client device for today and tomorrow, check out the NeoStation 200 line.

NeoStation 220
Contact: Neoware Systems * 610-277-8300 or 800-636-9273
Price: $699
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