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Getting the Right Windows MultiPoint Server Hardware

Ariel Gilbert-Knight
Getting the Right Windows MultiPoint Server Hardware

This is an original blog post on Feb. 18, 2013 by Ariel Gilbert-KnightTechnology Analyst for TechSoup.

Setting up Windows MultiPoint Server isn't difficult. But it usually requires some additional hardware to connect your user stations (keyboard, mouse, monitor) to the host computer. These additional hardware components are called access devices.Charles Brennick, Founder and Director of Interconnection, shares his advice for selecting the right access devices for your Windows MultiPoint Server environment.

What is an Access Device?

Access devices connect user stations to the host computer. There are three ways to connect: direct connection, via a USB video hub, and via a local area network (LAN). You can mix these methods and arrange the user stations in the best way to suit the space and layout of the room.

Direct Connections

In a direct connection setup, you plug user station monitors directly into the host computer's video display ports.

What you need to know about direct connections:

  • Direct connection doesn't use as many of the host computer's resources as other connection options. So this option is preferred if you've installed Windows MultiPoint Server on a less powerful computer with lower-end hardware or your users will be performing resource-intensive tasks, such as watching very high quality full-screen video.
  • The number of user stations you can connect directly to the host computer is limited by the number of video display ports (the spot where you plug the monitor into the computer) on the host computer. Most modern computers offer multiple display ports and can also support multiple graphics cards. Each graphic card offers one or more display ports.
  • If you're using multiple graphics cards, don't use different kinds. Always use identical models.
  • Distance from the user station to the host computer is limited by the length of the monitor and USB hub connections. This means your user stations must be fairly close to the host computer.

What you'll need:

  • A host computer with enough video display ports to plug in each user station monitor.
  • For each user station, a small USB hub to connect keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals (such as speakers) to the host computer. 

USB Video Hub Connections

USB video hubs (also called multifunction hubs or zero clients) connect user stations to the host computer via the host computer's USB port. You plug the user station monitor, keyboard, mouse, and other hardware into the USB video hub, then plug the hub into the host computer's USB port.

What you need to know about USB video hubs:

  • Video quality for user stations is not quite as good as direct connection setups.
  • This setup is ideal for users in large room. User station distance from the host computer is limited only by the length of the USB hub’s cable. You can also "chain" multiple USB hubs together to extend the distance between user stations and the host computer.
  • You don't need to worry about the number of video ports on the host computer, since the USB video hub also handles the video connection.

What you'll need for each user station: a USB video hub to connect monitor, keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals (such as speakers) to the host computer. 

    LAN Connections

    User stations can also be thin clients or traditional desktops or laptops connected to the host computer using Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) via the LAN. Thin clients are small devices that can be networked but do not have hard drives. They rely on the host computer's processing power. 

    Older desktops or laptops can also be used as user stations. This is a great way to extend the life of older computers that may not be powerful enough to run modern software. 

    What you need to know about LAN connections:

    • Host stations must be connected via a network to the host computer. Some thin client manufacturers offer wireless connections. Click here to see a range of solutions offered by Microsoft partners.
    • User stations don't have to be near the host computer.  
    • Thin clients are generally more expensive than USB video hubs and direct connection.
    • Video performance is similar to USB video hub connections.  

    What you'll need for each user station: connection to the LAN via a switch, router, firewall, or other network device, and the capacity to connect via RDP. Thin client devices often come with basic software pre-installed, including RDP capability.

    If you're repurposing an old computer, you'll need to install software to allow you to connect via RDP. If you have Microsoft Software Assurance coverage, ThinPC is a good option. Other software products, such as NComputing’s VSpace Client, Rdesktop, and Virtual Box can also be used.

      Recommended Access Devices

      USB hubs and USB video hubs:

      Thin clients:

      We used Plugable and NComputing devices in our pilot installations. YMCA of Greater Seattle, the La Conner Regional Library, and the Burlington Public Library were a few of our pilot organizations. See how they're using Windows MultiPoint Server, and what they learned while setting up their systems.

      Image: Jari Sjölund