Thinspace TST750 thin client laptop - Review

Thinspace TST750 thin client laptop - Review

Mobile thin client promises data protection

Bottomline: Laptop-format thin client keeps data off the hard drive and safely in the datacentre.

Price: £333

Manufacturer: Thinspace

The TST750 from Thinspace is a laptop-style thin client designed to let workers access business applications while on the move, without the risk of compromising any sensitive information if the unit should be lost or stolen.

Available since November, the TST750 resembles a standard mid-range corporate laptop with a 15.4in 1280x800 wide-screen display, but the unit lacks a conventional hard drive and instead boots an embedded version of Windows ­ - Windows XP Embedded (XPE) with SP2 ­ - from a Flash solid state disk (SSD).

While many thin client vendors now offer laptop-style devices, Thinspace said it is prepared to work with buyers to customise its devices to suit their requirements, including integrating extra hardware, software and drivers necessary for a particular application.

As with desktop thin clients, the TST750 is designed to access applications hosted elsewhere, typically using either Microsoft’s RDP or Citrix’s ICA client software, or via the Internet Explorer browser. Unlike its fixed siblings, this model is designed to be moved around, and so is equipped with an 802.11b/g Wi-Fi interface as well as 10/100 Ethernet.

In tests, we used the TST750 to access applications such as Microsoft’s Office suite hosted on a test server with Terminal Services running, and found the laptop equally responsive using either an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection. XPE uses the same Wi-Fi network client as the standard version of Windows XP, and so configuring the TST750 for our test wireless LAN was a familiar process and the system re-connected automatically at boot-up, just like a laptop.

While server-based computing can protect information by keeping it in the datacentre, the downside is that it requires a network connection to access applications. Workers travelling further afield may therefore need a wireless data card for when Wi-Fi is unavailable. The TST750 lacks any such built-in capability, so we were unable to test how responsive applications would be in this situation, but current 3G networks should offer ample bandwidth for thin client sessions.

The TST750 is based on a 1.5GHz VIA C7 processor. The same chip is used in many ultra-mobile PCs that run XP or Vista, and so should prove capable of handling any thin client task, even browser-based enterprise applications that require a measure of local processing power.

We intended to gauge the TST750’s performance with the same Java-based benchmarks we used in a thin client group test last year, ­ ­ but Thinspace has not included Java support as standard in its XPE image build, and there was insufficient space in the Flash SSD for us to install this. Customers that require access to Java-based web applications should therefore specify a larger Flash size, or have Thinspace integrate this for them.

Our review unit had the standard configuration of 256MB RAM and 512MB Flash SSD, but customers can specify up to 2GB RAM and 4GB Flash, if required. A larger amount of Flash also enables more drivers or client software to be installed on the device by an administrator. Software included as standard consists of Adobe Reader, a Flash plug-in for Internet Explorer, and a client agent for the eProManager admin suite.

Thinspace said it intends to include support for VMware’s desktop broker into its OS builds by the end of the second quarter. This will enable the TST750 and other Thinspace terminals to smoothly integrate with VMware’s virtual desktop infrastructure, so the device can serve as the user console for virtual machine client systems hosted in a datacentre.

At 2.4kg, the TST750 weighs about the same as a typical laptop, and in fact the system appears to be based on a standard laptop chassis from Taiwanese vendor FIC, and has a blanked-off slot where a DVD drive would fit. The Flash SSD the system boots from is also a drop-in replacement for a standard 2.5in Sata laptop hard disk, and so can easily be removed and upgraded if necessary.

The TST750 lacks a PC Card slot, but carriers now typically offer USB modems with embedded drivers to support mobile data needs, and the system has three USB ports available to support this. There is also a VGA port for an external monitor.

The battery of the TST750 is a removable six-cell lithium-ion pack that is expected to provide about three hours of use between recharges. Our tests suggest that this is a realistic figure, even when the system is using a Wi-Fi connection for a user session.