It 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.
While 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.
If 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.
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.
On 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.
+ 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
Despite 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.
The 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.
+ Small and easy to hide
+ Full HD
+ Runs Chrome apps
+ WiFi and Bluetooth
+ Quick set up
- Needs external power
- Requires keyboard and mouse
Whether it’s a desktop computer for a teacher, a computer lab or the front office, no desktop delivers more value for the money than Asus’s Zen AiO Pro family. At $1,000, it is the best equipped all-in-one on the market with an available quad core Intel processor, high-end graphics and the latest USB 3.1 connectivity. That’s an aside compared to the system’s superb 23.8-inch display that can show 4K resolution and the system’s six speakers.
Acer recently showed off its new PCs and the U5-710 all-in-one manages to deliver an enviable mixture of style, performance and size. The system is just 1.5-inch thick, yet packs in an Intel sixth generation Core i5 or i7 processor, all the ports you could ever want and a 3-D camera. Its 23.8-inch touch screen not only can show full HD material and respond to 10 individual touch inputs, but the system can be ordered with high-performance Nvidia GeForce graphics hardware.
The latest Windows 10 systems from Lenovo show a focus on thin, light and innovative desktop and ultra-portable PCs. To start the Home 900 Education system is an all-in-one design that picks up where the Horizon left off with a built-in battery and pull out leg that allows it to be used anywhere. It has a beautiful 27-inch HD screen that responds to up to 10 touch inputs so it can be thought of as a huge tablet. Available for $1,500, the Home 900 is high-performance all the way with has a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state storage system as well as an Nvidia GeForce 940a graphics chip with 2GB of dedicated graphics memory.
Meanwhile, the Yoga 900 has slimmed down to 0.6-inches, making it one of the thinnest notebooks anywhere. The key to its versatility is that its hinge allows the screen to rotate 360-degrees so that it can be a tablet, traditional keyboard-centric notebook or bet set up to display material to a group. It weighs in at 2.8-pounds and will sell for $1,200 with a 13.3-inch screen that can rival Apple’s Retina display at 3,200 by 1,800 resolution. It comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state storage system and JBL speakers.
The latest workstations from HP not only fit into tight spots but are priced only slightly above standard desktop computers. Take the Z240 SFF, for instance. It is small enough to fit on a shelf next to a row of books or attached to the back of a monitor, yet has the latest Intel Core i processors and will accommodate future Xeon chips. It can hold up to 64GB of RAM, has high-performance graphics options and the SFF case has an integrated M.2 slot for adding ultra-fast flash storage and not take up one of the system’s PCI-e connectors. Everything has been built for access with a clever places to grab the system, a swing-out hinged drive cage and a replaceable dust filter up front. Pricing starts at $880.
Tablets are great for when you need to move around, but there’s nothing like the comfort of a big screen computer, keyboard and mouse on a desk. That’s exactly what an all-in-one desktop PC can do for a classroom, library or study hall. Rather than specialty items, all-in-ones are now mainstream with a variety of new ideas and designs. They all come with Windows 10 and show the latest thinking in putting it all on the desktop.
To start, economy is the watchword when it comes to HP’s ProOne 400 G2 AIO. It starts with a 20-inch screen that delivers 1,600 by 900 resolution and can be ordered with or without touch. Inside is a fourth generation Intel Pentium or Core i processor, which should make it one of the most powerful PCs at school. A big security improvement is the inclusion of HP’s BioSphere that can protect the system’s BIOS from break-ins. It comes with the choice of a small easel stand (at right) for when space is of the essence or one that lets you adjust the height and viewing angle of the screen from nearly vertical to nearly horizontal. It will be out in October for $680 for a non-touch version.
Acer’s Z3-710 has a 23.8-inch touch screen that can be tilted to accommodate a variety of users, from the smallest third-grade to a hulking high-schooler. Powered by a Core i5-4170T processor, the all-in-one comes with 6GB of memory, a 1TB hard drive and a DVD drive. The $750 system looks like a winner with an aluminum stand, sleek profile and Intel’s RealSense stereo cameras.
In the meantime, Asus has been busy with all-in-ones as well, and its Zen AiO S Z240IC is a head-turner. The system is built around an aluminum skin and has a touch-sensitive 23.8-inch ultra- HD display at a stunning 4K resolution that shows the entire sRGB gamut. It can be stocked with a variety of sixth generation core processors and a high-performance graphics board for heavy-duty work, like video editing. With six speakers at its disposal the Zen AiO will sound much better than other desktop PCs and comes with WiFi and Bluetooth built-in.
Easily the biggest of the four, Lenovo’s Ideacentre AIO 700 has an impressive 27-inch ultra-HD resolution touch screen that can make everything look great. It has both HDMI-in and -out ports so that it can send images to a projector or be used as a stand-along monitor. It won’t be out until the fall and there will be AIO 700 models with AMD and Intel processors. The system has an HD Web cam, dual microphone array and Intel’s RealSense 3-D camera for digitizing real-world objects. Pricing will start at $900.
We all know that small, rugged and easy to maintain Chromebooks are taking the classroom by storm with a variety of inexpensive models, but if you think big (really big), Chrome works on the school desktop as well. LG’s Chromebase 22CV241-W packs a lot of classroom computer into a small price tag.
Because it’s a self-contained all-in-one system with a built-in screen and speakers, the white and silver Chromebase requires about 5 minutes of set up time. You’ll likely find that it takes longer to get it out of the box than to get it plugged in and working. You will need to screw the base into the screen, though, which requires a small Philips screwdriver. Unfortunately, the stand wobbles.
It takes up 20.9- by 7.5 inches of desk space and is 15.6-inches tall. The gorgeous 21.5-inch screen will be a big step up for most computer labs, library kiosks and study halls. It shows full HD resolution and can be customized to suit just about any room with adjustments for gamma, brightness and contrast.
The screen can also be set to Reader Mode, which reduces its blue cast to decrease eye strain when working with black characters on a white background. The only thing it lacks is a touch option as is the case with Acer’s more expensive Chrome-based desktop.
Inside, the LG Chromebase is a dual-core Celeron processor that runs at 1.4GHz and has 2GB of RAM. Unlike many other Chrome-based systems you can get inside and add or replace things like its memory modules. It comes with 16GB of built-in flash storage and includes 100GB of online GoogleDrive space for two years; after that it costs about $2 a month.
Rather than minimal ports, the LG Chromebase is equipped like a desktop with wired Ethernet, 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth built-in. There’s also an HDMI connector for using the system as a monitor, three USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 ports and an audio jack. The screen has a handy clip in the back to neatly route cables into and out of the system.
On the downside, you can’t use the system with a projector or an external display, so it might not be so good for instruction to a large group. You also can’t read the contents of an SD card. I was able to use a generic SD card reader, though. Its USB ports worked fine with an external hard drive, memory key and for charging a tablet or phone.
There’s a Web cam and microphone up front for video conferencing and Web logs as well as a pair of 5-watt speakers that sound rich and full but don’t quite get loud enough to fill a good sized classroom. It has both a volume control on the monitor’s frame as well as one on the included wired keyboard; the Chromebase comes with a matching mouse.
It all adds up to a mid-range system that was able to start in 6 seconds, compared to roughly 10 seconds for most Chromebooks. It scored a 2,616 on FutureMark’s PeaceKeeper benchmark and 368.3 miliseconds on the Sunspider set of tests, which is roughly twice as powerful compared to Dell’s Chromebook 11 Touch and slightly behind Acer’s Chromebook 11 C740.
When it’s running the system uses 41 watts of power, which drops to zero after an hour of being idle. If the system is used for 10 hours every school day during the year and idle the rest of the time, it should cost roughly $8.10 a year to run, assuming that power costs the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour.
With a 1-year warranty, the LG Chromebase is priced right for schools at $350, but if you shop around you’ll see it for under $300. One of the least expensive desktops around, LG’s Chromebase combines the power of a desktop with an excellent screen at the right price for schools.
+ Inexpensive desktop system
+ Includes wired keyboard and mouse
+ HD display
+ 100GB of online storage
+ Good assortment of ports
- Unsteady stand
- No touch screen option