NComputing vs Standalone PCs

In many computer labs in schools I have visited, I have received mixed reactions over the deployment of NComputing technology. In fact, some staff are even bold enough to tell me, NComputing is bad and not at all user friendly for school environments.

Related: How to ensure your NComputing works forever.
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Students of St. Peter's SSS Nsambya in a computer lab fitted with NComputing technology.
Students of St. Peter’s SSS Nsambya in a computer lab fitted with NComputing.

In around 2011, the government of Uganda fitted computer labs with this game changing technology in several schools including St. Peter’s SSS Nsambya where I was lab technician. A few years down the road, you will be hard pressed to find a fully functional computer lab with NComputing technology. One school that has maintained this setup us Sam Iga Memorial College in Maganjo and only  a handful of others.

Dumba Stephen doing maintenance works on in the computer lab of Sam Iga Memorial College using NComputing.
Inside the computer lab of Sam Iga Memorial College Maganjo.

In this article, I explore the a few aspects of both options and then give my verdict if I were to setup a school computer lab.

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CD Burning during exams

It is definitely more convenient when a student burns his/her work using a standalone PC. This saves them from panicking when they are out of time and there is a line of others waiting for their work to also be put on CD.

Dumba Stephen on a routine maintenance job in the computer lab of Kitende Secondary School.
Inside the computer lab of Kitende SS along Entebbe Road.

There is even a possibility of students burning another student’s work on their CD when using NComputing. Students using NComputing technology must be highly efficient and well prepared for such scenarios during exams.

The winner? Standalone

Printing

When it comes to printing, it is easier to print when using NComputing. For standalone PCs, a printer must be connected to each of the system units. This is not affordable for many a school. Alternatively, students work must be transferred from one PC to the one connected to a printer. This still causes  jam as students will use more time.

Some schools though, have the privilege of a network where each student can print from their standalone direct to a shared printer. This however comes at an extra cost.

The winner? NComputing

Software licenses

In a setting of 6 standalone computers, you will need 6 licenses of say an antivirus. If each lisence was UGX 50,000/=, you will have to part with UGX 300,000/= for the entire setup.

This is not the case with NComputing. In one internet café where I deployed NComputing, we parted with only 1 license and all the 6 were covered. This is the same for any other software that requires a license. Just imagine buying licenses for a 100 user computer lab!

The winner? NComputing

File storage

In a standalone environment, every user will have their work on an individual PC. During exam marking, the teacher will have to visit every PC used in the lab.

This is not the case with NComputing. A teacher will sit next to only the min station and view all the work done by the students. In an office environment where files are scattered, backing up becomes tedious since you have to get the files from several hard disks. In an NComputing environment, you will have oly one hard disk where all files are stored.

The winner? NComputing

Power consumption

The reason many internet cafes are closing is because of high electricity bills with dwindling income. A few years ago, my electricity bill with only 5 standlone PCs was close to UGX 200,000/= per month. As of now, I have 13 stations using NComputing and a laptop and my monthly bill is just around UGX 100,000/=.

A prospective student visits the computer lab of E-zone School of Computing in Nabbingo that uses NComputing.
The computer lab of E-zone School of Computing is fitted with NComputing X550.

In a school environment with over 100 standalone PCs, the bill is way too high and can be heavily lowered with the use of NComputing technology. Sadly, those against NComputing never even get to know how much is spent on electricity bills.

The winner? NComputing

Space

When using NComputing, you will get round 5 users in 10 feet. This is space comfortable enough for the user with his mouse, keyboard and monitor. But this cannot be achieved with standalone PCs. You will use approximately 2 ½ feet for very users making it only 4 users in the space of 10 feet.

The computer lab of St. Peter's SSS Nsambya where NComputing is used.
A school computer lab fitted with NComputing.

The winner? NComputing

Hardware management

Managing the hardware of a 100 user computer lab is an enormous task. Take the example of blowing dust out of the system units. It takes you an average of a minute, this translates to 100 minutes of just blowing. This is even without the consideration of the power used during the process.

A 100 seater computer lab using NComputing will only need 10 system units or even less. This translates to only 10 minutes of your time. Even transferring just 10 standalone PCs is not as easy of transferring 1 CPU with 10 monitors and a few accessories.

The winner? NComputing

Software registration

When NComputing is deployed, you will have to register the gadget with the manufacturers. This is not the case with standalone PCs. Once a standalone PC is bought, you are not required to register with the manufacturers. Registration at every install can be a pain for some tech staff.

However, there is a good benefit in registration. You will not get counterfeit Computing products.

The winner? Standalone

Related: Installing NComputing X550 on Windows 7

Acquisition cost

A good computer along Kampala road will cost you around UGX 1.5m/=. Deploying 50 of them in a new lab will need a budget of over UGX 75m/=. This cost can drastically go down if NComputing was used.

The winner? NComputing

Summary of NComputing vs Standalone setup

  NComputing Standalone
CD burning during exams Users have to wait to burn in turns No congestion  
Printing You need only 1 printer per server Easy when each PC has its own printer
Software licenses One license will serve all users on a server You have to buy a separate license for each computer
Storage All files are saved on 1 machine Files are scattered across the individual PCs.
Power consumption Cuts power bills by up to 90%. Uses more power
Space Saves  lot of space on the desk Uses slightly more space.
Hardware management Makes work easier for lab staff A lot more work for lab staff.
Cost Saves almost half the cost of acquisition No saving on cost of acquisition
Registration Requires registration with the manufacturers Doesn’t need registration

In summary, I would settle for NComputing given the benefits over a standalone setup. Teachers of ICT are encouraged to attend the Regional Capacity Development Workshop hosted by King’s College, Budo on 12th September 2019 where your challenges s regards NComputing will be responded too by a seasoned technician.

______________________________
Stephen Dumba
E-zone School of Computing
+256 772 111 223 / +256 752 111 223

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