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Touch 'N Teach

M90z-1L With school budgets stretched to the breaking point at most districts, it’s hard to justify a PC that costs more than a thousand dollars, right? That’s the conventional wisdom but if that computer is Lenovo’s ThinkCentre M90z, it can turn a small space, like a large closet, storage room or repurposed office, into a classroom, and actually save money compared to yesterday’s destktop. In fact, the M90z is an investment in the future, and as far as teaching potential goes, it’s a bargain.

The M90z is nothing short of the most advanced all-in-one PC available today. It has a responsive 23-inch touch-screen and is only 3.5-inches thick. With its adjustable chrome stand, the system be set up on a table only 7 inches from a wall or mounted directly on a wall with VESA-standard screws holes that are 100-mm apart. A nifty stand that lets you raise and lower the screen adds $50 to the price tag.

Its optical display responds to the touch for moving the pointer around, selecting items or activating them. It can also work with two-finger gestures, like pressing your fingers in and out to zoom-in and -out on an image. Kids are attracted to it immediately and have an intuitive way of understanding how it works. The only downside is that after a day of teaching, the screen will be covered with fingerprints, dust and chalk.

The unit I looked is about as well equipped as the M90z gets. It has a powerful 3.2-GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB or RAM and a 500GB hard drive. There’s a Super Multi DVD burner, Intel’s GMA HD graphics engine and a 2-megapixel HD Web cam above the screen; the camera can be easily turned off with a shutter that closes in front of it. There are models that start at about $929 that use a Pentium processor and have less RAM and a smaller hard drive.

Every M90z has a great assortment of ports with 6 USB, audio, DisplayPort, wired and wireless networking and a flash card reader. While it comes with a Bluetooth radio for connecting with peripherals, the system lacks an e-SATA jack for adding an external hard drive.

There’s the bonus of a VGA-in connector, which allows a teacher to connect a second computer or iPad to the M90z and use it as an external monitor. All it takes is a few clicks of Lenovo’s SimpleTap touch interface to set up it up to either mirror or extend a computer display.

It stands head and shoulders above other all-in-one systems by being easy to get inside for repairs, maintenance and upgrades. Just unsnap two clips on the back and swing the back open to get at memory, hard drive, DVD drive and other parts. Putting the cover back on is a little harder and involves a good hard shove to get it all fit back together.

M90z-6LUnlike other all-in-one systems, like Acer’s Aspire Z5600 family, which comes with a nicely matched set of wireless mouse and multimedia keyboard, the M90z includes a nondescript wired keyboard and mouse. Still the Aspire Z5600 sells for at least $100 less than a comparably equipped M90z.

Regardless of whether it’s an interactive map of how Lee’s soldiers entered Gettysburg or a rotating 3-D model of a vitamin C molecule for a biology class, the system’s 23-inch wide screen can display full high definition video in vivid color. This should be great for a computer lab or for a teacher to use to teach to a group of up to about 10 or 15 kids in a classroom setting. More than that and you’ll need a larger monitor.

It all adds up to a high performance PC with a 1,147.7 on Passmark’s Performance 7.0 benchmark suite of tasks. That’s on a par with a high-performance PC, at least double the potential of the typical notebook and four-times that of a netbook.

This speed is not at the expense of wasting electricity because the M90z uses only 73 watts of power when it in use, only about as much as a light bulb. Overall, if it’s used for 8 hours a day during the school year, it should cost less than $17 a year to operate – a small fraction of what a tower-size PC and separate monitor cost.

At $1,250 my loaded system came with Windows 7 Professional and a slew of software. Overall, it was a pleasure to use with excellent touch response and great performance, but I think that the $930 base system is an easier sell for most schools these days


Lenovo ThinkCentre M90z

+ Excellent performance
+ Wall mounting
+ Touch screen with two-finger gestures
+ Easy access for maintenance
+ Can use as monitor

- Expensive
- Lacks e-SATA port


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