Interested in producing virtual reality (VR) school material or just showing a virtual field trip to parents? Asus’s VivoPC X is a powerful desktop PC that can do it all. Despite its small size, the VivoPC X has everything needed for this visually demanding genre, from its seventh-generation Core i5 or i7 processor, top-speed memory and 500GB solid state storage system to the VivoPC X’s Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics engine. In other words, it can output anything from stunning VR material to 4K (up to 3,840 by 2,160 resolution) video. It’s been certified by Oculus to work with its headsets and has all the ports you should need. The VivoPC X will be available this spring for $800.
The second-generation HP Sprout teaching desktop has arrived and it outdoes the original Sprout in just about every way. To start, the new Sprout Pro’s 21.3-inch horizontal projected display that can accommodate 20 individual touch inputs so two or more kids and work together. There’s also a 23.8 vertical touch HD display, a 360-degree scanner and an active stylus for drawing or customizing a project. Inside, Sprout has a 2.9Ghz Core i7 7700T processor along with up to 16GB of RAM and either 1TB of hard drive capacity or 500GB of solid state storage and an Nvidia GTX 960M high-performance graphics engine with 2GB of its own video memory. Each Sprout comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse as well as a school-ready three-year warranty.
Tired of having the Apple Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad 2 slide apart from each other as your kids do their work? Henge’s Clique² consolidates them into one unit that stays put. Both the keyboard and trackpad snap into the Clique²’s aluminum base and works just as well for lefties and righties. It costs $59, not including the keyboard and trackpad.
The 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.
The 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.
It 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.
+ Windows 7 through 10 and Linux
+ 3-year warranty
+ Includes mounting hardware
+ Tiny and economical
- Mediocre performance
- No Bluetooth
The 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.
Whether 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.
HP’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.
Every 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.
When 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.
Much 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.
The 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.
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.