About this blog Subscribe to this blog

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.

A

En-INTL-L-Infocus-Kangaroo-QG4-00016-RM1-mnco

Kangaroo

$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.

 

A+

Chromebit a

Asus Chromebit CS10

$85

 

+ Inexpensive

+ Small and easy to hide

+ Full HD

+ Runs Chrome apps

+ WiFi and Bluetooth

+ Quick set up

 

- Needs external power

- Requires keyboard and mouse

 

 

The Best for Less

Asus all in oneWhether 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.

 

Next Step All-in-One

Aspire_U5_2Acer 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.

Yoga Time at Lenovo

YOGA_Home_900_EDUCATIONThe 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.

05_Hero_Shot_Win10_GoldMeanwhile, 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.

Power at a Price

HP Z240 SFF Workstation InteriorThe 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.

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