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Power in the Palm

Shuttle bThe era of the bulky and power-hungry desktop computer has long since passed, but it has taken a few years for a replacement to appear. Pint-sized PCs, like Shuttle’s NC02U can match its predecessors task for task, but take up less space and uses a lot less power. It may not be the best performing PC around, but at $150, the Shuttle’s price can’t be beat for a variety of classroom uses.

At 1.7- by 5.6- by 5.6-inches, the Shuttle PC is among the smallest full computers around and occupies roughly 0.8-liters of space. It weighs in at 1.5-pounds, meaning that you can Velcro it in place or use the included VESA mounting hardware to put it on the back of a monitor turning any display into a DIY all-in-one PC. It has rubber feet and includes a two-legged stand for stand-alone use.

In addition to a power button and SD card slot, the Shuttle has USB-C and USB 3.0 ports up-front for quick access. The back has connections for video with HDMI and Displayport plugs, but the system’s power input requires the included AC adapter. There’re connections for a pair of USB 2.0 devices and an audio jack as well as a gigabit wired LAN port and 802.11n WiFi.

Oddly, it does without Bluetooth wireless capabilities. In other words, you might have trouble using a wireless keyboard, mouse or speakers with the Shuttle, but I used a USB Bluetooth adapter without any problems with it.

If you use older STEM hardware, you’ll like the inclusion of an RS-232 serial port. On the downside, if you want to use the stand, you’ll need to get a right-angle adapter or run the risk that the serial port plug won’t fit.

Basic in the extreme, the Shuttle is powered by a 1.6GHz Celeron 3855U processor that is far from state of the art. In addition to not having things like Turbo Boost speed control and Hyperthreading, the processor does without Intel’s vPro manageability extensions.

Shuttle aThe system I looked at is a bare bones unit that doesn't include RAM or storage. Happily, despite its diminutive dimensions, there’s room inside the Shuttle’s case to fit an extra 2.5-inch hard drive if you need more storage space.

Under the skin, it uses Intel’s HD Graphics 510 with 128MB of dedicated video memory that is augmented by the system RAM that raises the amount of usable video memory to 2.1GB. For a budget computer, it does surprisingly well with the ability to put 3,840 by 2,160 resolution video onto a screen and can drive two displays at once. On the downside, when it’s working hard, the Shuttle blows hot air upwards if you use the stand.

A jack of all trades, the Shuttle comes as a bare bones unit without an operating system, but can work anything from Windows 7 through the current Windows 10 as well as Linux software. My test system used Windows 10 Pro. With 4GB of RAM and 32GB of SSD storage space, the system mustered a passable 1,254.1 on the Passmark 8 benchmark suite of performance tests, which puts it on a par with many current mid-range tablets or notebooks available. It can’t touch a high-performance PC but that’s not the point of the Shuttle, which can go where more powerful desktops can only dream of.

Along these lines, the Shuttle systems is a power miser that uses only 15.4 watts of power while working full blast. That drops to 0.4-watts when it’s in sleep mode. If it’s used for 10 hours every school day, expect that the Shuttle will cost only $4 per year to operate if electricity costs 12 cents per kilowatt hour, the national average.

Shuttle dIt has two more power tricks up its sleeve that can cut energy bills further. It can be set up to wake up on a network command so it can be dormant until needed. The Shuttle can also be set to turn itself off at the end of the school day and then start itself up before anyone arrives in the morning.

Unlike so many of its peers, Shuttle stands by the NC02U with a three-year warranty that makes the standard one year of coverage seem second rate by comparison. It promises lifetime support as well.

In other words, the Shuttle NC02U is not only one of the smallest and lightest desktop PCs around, but it’s one of the most economical to get and use.


Shuttle c

Shuttle NC02U



+ Inexpensive

+ Windows 7 through 10 and Linux

+ 3-year warranty

+ Includes mounting hardware

+ Tiny and economical


- Mediocre performance

- No Bluetooth

Freebee Friday: One Program to Rule Them All

ParallelsThe notion that PCs are PCs and Macs are Macs is an outdated idea with the advent of the ability of Parallels Remote Application Server 15.5 to virtualize apps for a wide variety of platforms. It works with clients ranging from PCs, Macs and Chromebooks to iOS, Android, Linux, Windows Phones and even Raspberry Pi systems. This is all without sacrificing ease of use, security or the touch control that makes each system unique. The software is constantly monitoring use to balance the resources among users. It’s free to try the server software out for a month with 50 user licenses.

Surface Sits Still

StudioWhether it’s the Surface, the Pro or the Book, Microsoft’s iconic PCs have always been very portable. That changes with the Surface Studio desktop. Expected to arrive in early 2017, the Studio is an all-in-one system with a huge 28-inch touch screen that can show 13.5-million pixels and tilt to a variety of angles, including a desktop drawing panel. It’s expensive at $3,000 with a Core i5 processor up to 32GB of RAM and graphics that can use up to 4GB of video memory, but the Studio is unique. There’s also a pressure sensitive stylus for intricate work and a unique Dial knob (see inset) that can sit on the screen to add an extra level of adjustments.



Power in the Classroom

Z240HP’s Z240 workstation is a powerful system that can run basic programs like Word and Excel just as well as high-end ones like Premiere and AutoCAD, yet costs only a little more than a standard desktop does. Starting at under $900 for a small format system, the workstation features Z Turbo high-speed storage and the ability to add extra solid-state storage with an unused M.2 slot. You can get it with up to 64GB of RAM, Windows 7, 10 or Linux and the Z240 can now be ordered with a Core i7 6700K processor. Capable of running at between 4- and 4.2GHz, it’s a screamer and it comes with 8MB of on-board cache to streamline its operations. On the downside, it uses as much power as the typical light bulb and HP engineers needed to tweak the system’s fan to help the Z240 keep its cool.

Hp remote swEvery Z240 workstation comes with a copy of HP’s Remote Graphics Software (RGS), which can let a student remotely run any Z240 in the school’s computer lab from home. RGS has software for PCs and Linux systems right now, but there will be a version for Macs sometime before school starts. On the downside, there’s nothing for Androids and iPads. This software is just as good for allowing a teacher to prepare lesson plans from home as a student trying to finish a project in time.



Power on the Cheap

Thinkstation p410When it comes to accomplishing high-performance tasks like video editing and computational and math or science simulations, there’s nothing like a full workstation, and there are two new gems. To start, the ThinkStation P410 provides power on the cheap, starting at $1,049, but with the ability to scale its power to match the task at hand. It can be ordered with an 8-core Xeon E5-2600 (3.5GHz) or E51600 (3.7GHz) processor, up to 128GB of RAM and 4TB of storage as well as NVidia’s Quadro M5000 graphics. Of course, you’ll need to get a monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Z1 g3 open backMuch like an all-in-one desktop PC, HP’s Z1 G3 does it all in a surprisingly small package. Starting at $1,498, the Z1 G3 is built around a 23.6-inch touch display, which can show Ultra-HD resolutions, perfect for image editing or digital art classes. There’s an optional pressure sensitive pen and the whole system is powered by either a Core or Xenon E heavy-duty processor. It has slots for up to 64GB of 2.1GHz DDR-4 RAM and the system has room for a pair of drives inside as well as NVidia’s latest Maxwell-based high-performance graphics. The good news is that unlike other all-in-one designs, you can open the back to add RAM, change a drive or even clean out the accumulated dust bunnies. It comes with a three-year warranty.

A Tale of Two Desktops

Hp all in onesThe latest all-in-one PCs from HP offer two different takes on this type of desktop system. To start, HP’s basic Pavilion All-in-One combines a 23.8-inch HD display with an Intel Pentium or sixth-generation Core processor (seen on the right) along with up to 16GB RAM and 3TB of hard drive space. You can get an Nvidia GT 930A graphics accelerator for high-performance video uses, like video editing. It starts at $700 and has a rather wide frame around its display, which is where the Micro-Edge version comes in. It has the same 23.8-inch HD display but a nearly invisibly thin frame holds everything together. It come with a sixth-generation Core processor, high-performance graphics accelerator, up to 8GB of RAM and up to 3TB of hard drive space. Its Web cam does a magic trick: press the top of the screen and the camera pops up or stow it to turn off the microphone and make sure that nothing is transmitted. The system starts at $750.

VR, Here We Come

Predator G1_G1-710_02It may look like an overpriced gaming system with a particularly aggressive look, but Acer’s Predator G1 just might be the best way for schools to learn about and teach virtual reality. Thought to be the next step in storytelling, VR could be the next hit class at high school, but you need a high-end system to deal with the data flow and ultra-high-performance video. In fact, the typical VR segment requires 7-times faster data flow than the typical HD clip. The G1 succeeds with 6th generation Intel Core i processors, up to 64GB of RAM and top-performance Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics.

Hopping onto the Desk

Kangaroo-Mobile-Desktop-Pro-left-angled-2While its new dock makes the Infocus Kangaroo Pro PC grow to roughly twice the size of the original Kangaroo, it’s worth it. That’s because the Pro is still one of the smallest computers around and fits into a shirt pocket or backpack pouch. Powered by the same Intel Atom quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, the new dock give the Kangaroo Pro the luxury of VGA and HDMI video as well as three USB connections and a LAN port. The big pay-off is that it can hold a 2.5-inch hard drive or solid state storage unit. It costs $200, double the original’s price.

InFocus Kangaroo: Where no PC has Gone Before

En-INTL-L-Infocus-Kangaroo-QG4-00016-mncoIf a standard desktop PC is too big and one of the new generation of stick computers are too small to be useful, think InFocus Kangaroo. One of the smallest and lightest PCs anywhere, it is powerful enough to change how schools computerize by inexpensively adding a PC to a projector, big screen display or a plain old monitor.

At 0.5- by 4.8- by 3.2-inches, Kangaroo weighs half a pound, making even the smallest tablets seem overweight. Unlike just about any other PC, Kangaroo’s black aluminum case can slip it into a shirt, jacket or bag’s pocket. 

Inside, it has Intel’s most power-efficient computer hardware available. It’s built around an Atom X5-Z8500 quad-core processor that runs at between 1.2- and 2.2Ghz, but comes with a skimpy 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage space, which is barely adequate. While you can’t add extra RAM to it, Kangaroo has a micro SD card slot so that its storage potential can be increased with up to an inexpensive 128GB card, bringing the total storage capacity to a spacious 160GB.

Unlike a notebook or a tablet, Kangaroo has no screen. There is an on-off button and a cool LED ring that glows blue to show that it’s on. Flexibility is key with Kangaroo so that it can go where no PC has gone before. Some of my favorite set ups include on top of a projector, Velcroed it to the back of a display or mounted on underside of a desk. A magnetic base that sticks to steel surface would have been a big bonus here.

Kangaroo comes in two parts: PC and dock that together sell for $99. The base PC has a micro USB port for powering it and charging the system’s 8,100 milliamp-hour battery as well as a fingerprint scanner. But, to get the most out of Kangaroo, you need to snap on its included dock, which adds HDMI as well as USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports. Even with the dock, Kangaroo is still about the size of the typical smartphone.

En-INTL-TH-Infocus-Kangaroo-QG4-00016-RM2-mncoOn the downside, Kangaroo can’t be charged with a USB power input from a display or projector. You’ll need to use its included AC adapter, a small price to pay for such flexibility.

It comes with 802.11ac WiFi networking for connecting with the school’s LAN as well as Bluetooth 4 for adding a needed keyboard and mouse. It does without an audio jack so to get sound out of Kangaroo, you’ll need to have speakers in your display or use a Bluetooth speaker set.

At this point, you have the equivalent of a full desktop PC, although one that can be slid into a pocket and carried home or to another classroom. That’s where the magic starts because Kangaroo is like no other PC. It offers the best of both worlds by including a full copy of Microsoft Windows 10 Home software, but unlike other inexpensive PCs these days, lacks a year’s subscription to Office 365.

InFocus adds its unique OSLinx software, which lets you connect Kangaroo with a tablet via a USB cable and run Windows 10 on its display. While you can go between iPad and Windows apps, AVG Antivirus software treats OSLinx as an infectious and potentially dangerous agent; just ignore the warnings.

Once everything is plugged in, Kangaroo looks and acts like any other Windows 10 PC. I used it with a small projector, an Acer 24-inch display and a 48-inch TV to show visual lessons, Web sites and even working with documents using Google Docs online. In all cases, I couldn’t tell that the computer behind it was smaller than a pack of cigarettes, but it couldn’t be powered by the display.

Of all its potential uses, though, I really think that connecting it to a projector for a Web-ready lesson machine is the most useful for teaching. In effect, it can turn any old projector into a connected one for a fraction the cost of a new projector. The OSLinx connection is a little less gratifying because there’s no Android version.

Performance is surprisingly strong with a 702.8 on the PerformanceTest 8 routine of benchmark tests. This makes it about 50-percent more powerful than other Atom-based systems, like inexpensive notebooks and tablets. Its Octane 2.0 score of 3,498 was twice what entry-level computers put out.

En-INTL-TH-Infocus-Kangaroo-QG4-00016-RM3-mncoOn the downside, it gets a little hot to the touch, hitting a peak of 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside, there’s no cooling fan. The system was able to run for about an hour and a half of continuous playback of online videos on a charge, making it adequate for a day of being plugged in during class and unplugged in between.  

Kangaroo has the power to change how computers are deployed at schools. It’s not only small, light and battery powered but at less than $100, Kangaroo is a steal.




$99 including the connection dock

+ Small and light

+ Powerful enough for most schoolwork

+ Can be battery powered

+ Includes connection dock

+ Windows 10 or use with tablet


- No Screen

- Can’t use a display’s USB port for power

Small Wonder

Chromebit dDespite its size, Asus’s Chromebit CS10 has the extraordinary power to turn any display, from a classroom monitor to a projector, into a connected computer. At $85, it is the cheapest and best way to computerize a classroom.

Available in blue, silver and orange, Chromebit CS10 is about the size of a small candy bar, making it hard to believe that the 4.7-inch long device holds a full computer. It fits into a pocket so Chromebit can go where you go, but is powerful enough to breathe online life into any monitor.

As is the case with the company’s Flip convertible Chromebook, Chromebit is powered by a quad-core Rockchip RK3288-C processor that runs at 1.8GHz. It has a skimpy 2GB of RAM and 16GB of solid state storage. If that’s not enough, you get 100GB of GoogleDrive online space for two years.

To get it to work, plug it into an HDMI port of a projector or display, plug its included AC adapter into a wall outlet and the system starts up. There’s neither an on/off switch nor an LED to show it’s running. Chromebit has been designed to always be on, but its power use drops to zero when idle. Hit a key or tap the mouse and in a few seconds it’s back.

There is one potential set-up snag: audio. If the display or projector doesn’t have built-in speakers, you’ll need to use Bluetooth to drive a sound system. It worked fine with a Logitech Mini BoomBox. Still, it’s a minor inconvenience.

Even when it was working hard serving up videos, Chromebit only used 5.3 watts of power; when it was idle, the draw dropped to 0-watts. This adds up to unbelievable estimated annual expenses of just 75 cents, assuming its used for 6 hours a day during the school year and electricity costs 12 cents per kilowatt hour. Of course, you’ll need to pay for the display’s power, but this is by far the cheapest computer to use in the classroom.

The system has an integrated graphics engine that puts out full HD material, and it looked just as good on a 23-inch Acer monitor as on a 48-inch Samsung display and an Epson BrightLink projector. Behind the scenes, it runs Google’s Chrome OS, so the selection of software is more limited than a nano-PC like Quantum Access’s Mini PC Intel Stick, which uses Windows programs. There is an excellent variety of school software available, most of which is free.

A big bonus for the security minded (and who isn’t these days) is that Chromebit has a Trusted Platform Module built in. This allows quick and easy authentication with the school’s servers.

Chromebit cThe Chromebit system boots up in about 10 seconds and that’s it. After logging into your Google account, you’re ready to run a lesson, show a Web site or just play with the software. It reacts quickly to commands, connects to a network via its 802.11ac WiFi and has a USB 2.0 port that works with a hub. There’s also Bluetooth built-in, which I used to connect a wireless keyboard and mouse.

It found and connected with a Logitech wireless keyboard on the first try and the system’s response was surprisingly quick for using Chrome apps and the Chrome browser over an 802.11ac network. This is particularly the case for a computer that costs just $85.

It may not be a screamer, but Chromebit delivers more than enough performance to give a lesson, do online programming or just nose around the Web in front of a classroom. It worked quite well with YouTube, the University of Colorado’s PHET science and math simulations as well as the ushistory.org site. With scores of 1,476 and 7,297 on the PeaceKeeper and Octane 2.0 benchmarks, Chromebit is on a par with an inexpensive entry level PC, but well behind the latest generation of iPads.

Oddly with all it can do, Chromebit can’t act as a ChromeCast receiver. This would have allowed it to connect a tablet or phone with its connected display and be a clearinghouse for online and local material. But, the magic of Chromebit is not that it is so small and unobtrusive, but that it can do so much with so little. Just hide it behind a display or projector and you have an online teaching machine.



Chromebit a

Asus Chromebit CS10



+ Inexpensive

+ Small and easy to hide

+ Full HD

+ Runs Chrome apps

+ WiFi and Bluetooth

+ Quick set up


- Needs external power

- Requires keyboard and mouse



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.