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All-in-One for Less

ImacIf everything about Apple’s 27-inch Retina 5K iMac appeals to you, except for the price tag, it just went on mark-down. The $2,500 model that includes a 3.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive now sells for $2,300. This model now has a cheaper cousin that goes for $2,000 and is a step down with a3.3GHz processor. Both have the same spectacular ultra-HD screen and AMD Radeon R9 M290 graphics with 2GB of its own memory.

DIY All-in-One

Hide it mac miniIt’s an open secret that you can build your own all-in-one computers by strapping a small computer, like Mac’s Mini, to the back of a monitor. More often than not, people use Velcro tape to attach the two, but there is a better way. Hideit’s $40 mounting bracket lets you screw a Mini in to the back of a display. The Mac Mini hardware is made of sturdy 16-gauge cold-rolled steel, has holes that line up with the screen’s 100 millimeter VESA mounting hardware and the Mini slides right in.

 

Teaching Machine

RL85_White_gallery_02What’s small, white and able to turn a projector into a teaching machine? Acer’s Revo One RL85 is called an entertainment PC, but don’t let the name fool you, it is a computer that puts the emphasis on interactivity and value. At just 6.1- by 4.2- by 4.2-inches, it’s hard to believe that the RL85 has a full Windows 8.1 PC inside. There’s a good assortment of ports as well as an SD card reader on top and an LED light below.

RL85_White_gallery_05 It can turn any lesson into a multimedia extravaganza with surround sound, 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth built in.  With Acer software, any phone or tablet can be a remote control for the computer, allowing teachers to roam around the room. It’s only available in a white, but the best part is price. There're several models, from a $250 version that includes a Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM and 60GB of solid state storage all the way up to the top of the line configuration with 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive and a 2.2GHz Core i5 processor for $580.

 

The Chromebook That Stays Put

Acer Chromebase DC221HQThink Chromebook and you think of small notebooks that excel in size and price, but Acer has an excellent alternative for those applications that don’t require mobility. How about a Chrome-based all-in-one desktop with a 21.5-inch HD display that can respond to 10 individual touch inputs? Based on Nvidia’s Tegra K1 quad core processor, the Chromebase system can work with all online and offline Chrome apps and comes with two-year’s worth of 100GB of online storage. It has a great assortment of ports, including HDMI-out, USB as well as 802.11n WiFi and Bluetooth. In other words, it can fit in just as well as a library research system, an email kiosk or even in a computer lab.

 

 

Desktop Redux

B27cxVeWaL8KmRUA_500To those who say that with the proliferation of tablets and notebooks, there’s no place in a modern school for desktop PCs, I say, look at the Asus M70AD. It’s a desktop system that exudes power, has all the creature comforts that schools need and has a secret when the lights go out.

Sure, tablets and slim notebooks are good for general everyday tasks, but the M70AD is a powerful machine capable of doing the heavy-duty work at a school or district. Just as appropriate for an in-house programmer or using CAD software as it is for teaching a graphics- or video-editing class, the bottom line is that the M70AD is for those who require a system that is more robust, powerful and dependable than the typical school notebook.

On the downside, at 17.0- 6.9- by 16-inches, it is a lot of computer. The slanted silver tone tower case has a lit on/off switch, pull-down door for drives and front ports. It comes ready for schoolwork with a wired keyboard and optical mouse.

On top there’s a thoughtfully designed tray for a phone or tablet. It not only includes a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip for instant connections and printing, but has a Qi-compatible inductive charge pad so that you’re device will never run out of power.

Hrl74c4FVbR8Dp9a_500Inside is one of the most powerful and best equipped systems around with a quad-core 3.4GHz Core i7 processor that can run as fast as 3.9GHz when it needs to. In a world dominated by machines with 2- or 4GB of RAM, the M70AD has 16GB of 1.6GHz RAM chips as well as a 1TB hard drive that’s assisted by 8GB of solid state flash storage; it’s the rare PC these days that includes an optical drive. If its $1,100 price tag makes you balk, Asus has a detuned version with a Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM for about $800.

Its forte is video with an Nvidia GTX 650 graphics accelerator board that has 1GB of its own video memory. It can also take up to 3GB from the system’s memory banks for a total of 4GB of available video memory, making it perfect for demanding graphics, video and scientific work. While the system can deliver 4K resolution, I only used an HD monitor and a W-XGA projector with the M70AD.

It also has something that the others don’t: the system’s 300-watt power supply has a built-in Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). The system can run for about 10 minutes without any external power, but after a minute cuts off the graphics so the display goes blank. Still, it’s enough time to safely and gracefully shut down the system without losing a bit of student or testing data. The best part is that the UPS is all automatic.

You can get inside the case without resorting to picking up a screwdriver and there’s a good reason to do it. There’s a lot of room for future upgrades like changing or adding hard drives and PCIe cards.

One of the best connected PCs anywhere, rather than one or two USB ports, the M70AD has a total of eight, two of which use the faster 3.0 spec; there’s are a pair that are up front for use with a memory key or portable hard drive. It also has a flash card reader (for Secure Digital, CompactFlash and Memory Sticks) as well as a pair of PS/2, HDMI, VGA and DVI video. This system has a wired LAN port as well as 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth built-in.

T8dmDU5SYomaIkRZ_500Its audio can blow traditional computers away. Inside is Asus’s Sonic Master hardware and software and the system has audio jacks for a surround sound system.

It all adds up to phenomenal power that puts most desktops to shame. It scored a 2,808.2 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8, putting it in the upper echelon of school computers and roughly four-times the performance potential of the typical PC. It not only puts out smooth video but worked well with CAD images and scientific modeling like the University of Colorado’s PHET and NASA’s Eyes Mission simulations, making it a great classroom demo machine.

Even when it is using all its computing potential, the system stayed cool ro the touch and uses about 110 watts of electricity. This adds up to an estimated power bill of about $25 per year (assuming it gets used for six hours for every school day and electricity costs 12 cents per kilowatt hour, the national average).

In addition to Windows 8.1, the M70AD comes with some cool programs, like Fingertapps Instruments (for music lessons) and 32GB on Asus’s online WebStorage system for three years. The Asus Manager consolidates the most important configuration items – from BIOS and driver updates to setting up the power scheme. The system includes a 1-year warranty.

If you need a high-performance system that doesn’t have to move from room to room, the M70AD puts power in its place.

 A

YnDIYCbyUS2L486j_500

Asus M70AD

$1,100

 

 

+ High performance

+ Good assortment of ports

+ NFC pad with inductive charging

+ Built-in UPS

+ Powerful Graphics

+ Top configuration

 

- Size

- Price

 

 

Warp-Speed Computing

HP Z840 Workstation with HP Z27i Display lowIf your computers are lagging when it comes to video editing, computer-aided drawing and math computation, think about a workstation, like HP’s Z family. This kind of power doesn't come cheap, but the typical school might need one or two workstations or at worst a lab room full of them. Equipped with either Nvidia Quadro or AMD FirePro graphics, Intel Xenon processors and ultrafast DDR4 RAM chips, the Z440, Z640 and Z840 workstations sell for $1,299, $1,759 and $2,399. There’re also portable G2 workstations with 15-inch and 17-inch screens that sell for $1,500 and $1,750.

Deskbound Chrome

Acer Chromebox CXI Top Angle ViewForget about the Chrome platform only being available in notebooks because Acer’s Chromebox CXI family plants it firmly on a desk, library kiosk or common room. Powered by an Intel Celeron processor, the CXI comes with 2- or 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space. Still the system is tiny, can be attached to the back of a monitor and has a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) built in. It comes with DVI and HDMI monitor ports as well as four USB 3.0 connectors. It should be available before school starts in most places for between $180 and $220 with a keyboard and mouse included.  

 

 

Power on the Desk

C560 aAnyone who tells you that the desktop is as dead as the dinosaur is either misguided or lying to you. Inexpensive desktop PCs are everywhere and often make a compelling case where performance counts for more than portability.

Take, Lenovo’s C560 Touch, an all-in-one system that is not only a good value but can put desktops and notebooks to shame. At 17.8- by 22.6- by 6.1-inches, it is a bit large, particularly for a system with a 23-inch screen. That’s because there’s an extra 0.7-inch rim around the display as well as a half-inch screen frame.

The mid-range configuration that I looked should provide all the power any school task requires with a Core i3 4130T processor that runs at 2.9GHz. It, however, lacks Intel’s TurboBoost variable speed technology and vPro security enhancements. On the other hand, the C560 is top shelf with a generous 8GB of RAM, a 1TB high-performance hard drive and up to 5GB of online capacity with Lenovo’s Cloud Storage service.

One of the best equipped systems around, it includes a 720p Web cam and a DVD drive that can create discs as well as play them. The system has Dolby Advanced Audio, a set of built-in speakers and Lenovo sells a matching pair of external speakers for $30. 

The configuration that I looked at is sold at Best Buy for $765. It’s not only a good value, but Lenovo also sells a stripped down model for $700 with 4GB of RAM and a similar non-touch version for $615. The company also has a higher performance model for $829 that uses a Core i5 processor and includes a 2TB hard drive.

C560 bThe C560 Touch comes ready to teach with a matching keyboard and mouse. It takes just a few minutes to set up. All you need to do is screw on its dull silver base. The stand’s legs look more like sculpture than something purely functional. On the downside, the system doesn’t have VESA mounting holes for wall-mounting the unit, so it will be deskbound.

The center of attention is the system’s 23-inch HD display. It shows 1,920 by 1,080 resolution, uses Intel’s HD 4400 graphics engine and has 32MB of dedicated memory. It can use up to 1.76GB from the system RAM for a total of nearly 1.8GB of video memory. It, however, lacks a Windows key under the screen, although the included keyboard has one.

Rather than a capacitive multi-touch display, the C560 Touch has an infrared system that can interpret up to five independent touch inputs. The screen is recessed, which can make some touch moves awkward, but it works reliably, regardless of whether it is touched with a finger or a generic stylus. Unfortunately, the screen wobbles a little when it is tapped.

The display can’t be raised or lowered to accommodate different size users, but it can be tilted from 85- to 115-degrees to get to a comfortable angle. It isn’t able, however, to get to a full horizontal orientation for small kids to finger paint on the screen, though.

Below the screen on the left are LEDs that show the computer’s activity and whether the WiFi radio is turned on. The right side has adjustments for volume and screen brightness. It was able to deliver 203 candelas per square meter of brightness, which is a little dull for a desktop system but is on a par with a good notebook. On the downside, its color balance is slightly off with greenish yellows, but for most teaching situations, like interactive Web sites and online curriculum, it should be fine.

C560 cThis is the system to get if you need a good assortment of ports, such as in a computer lab or science room. While it lacks a good old VGA connector, the system has an HDMI plug for using a projector or external monitor. There’s also a pair of USB 3.0, four USB 2.0, microphone and headphone jacks; it has a wired LAN port as well as a full-size SD card slot.

The C560 Touch goes against the grain for all-in-one systems because it can be opened, cleaned and upgraded. All you need to do is slide the lower half of the back panel off to expose the system’s memory chips, hard drive and DVD drive.

The system is very powerful, particularly compared to what it is likely replacing. It scored a 1,820.4 on Passmark’s PerformanceTest 8 suite of tests that checks out all the system’s major components, and the system should be able to keep up with just about any school activity. Even when it is running full blast, the system only uses 36-watts of electricity, less than one-quarter what the typical four-year old desktop consumes.

It all adds up to annual operating expenses of less than $9 if it’s used for 8 hours every school day and is in sleep mode for the rest; I used the national average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity.

In addition to Windows 8.1, the C560 comes with a slew of software aimed at children and education. In the final analysis, the C560 is one of the best values around that combines low operating expenses and the ability to get inside with high-performance. In other words, it can change your mind about desktop computing.

A

C560 d

Lenovo C560 Touch

$780

+ Good value

+ Touch screen

+ High performance

+ Low operating expenses

+ Access for upgrades and repairs

+ Includes wired keyboard and mouse

+ Good assortment of ports

 

- Size

- Screen doesn’t fully tilt

- No Windows Key

 

 

Mac All-in-One Bargain

HeroAt $1,099 the latest Apple iMac represents a price drop of $200 from the previous budget model. The 21.5-inch screen can show full HD resolution and comes with Intel’s HD Graphics 5000; the 27-inch iMac still costs $1,800.  It has a dual-core Core i5 processor that can run as fast as 2.7GHz, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. It may be more expensive than comparable PC all-in-one computers and not include a touch-screen, but it a good way for Mac-centric schools to fill up a classroom or computer lab with computers.

 

 

ISTE UPDATE: Macs on the Cheap

Mac to schoolGot a school full of Macs, but not enough money to replace the old and broken ones? Mac to School refurbishes Macintosh computers for schools and makes sure they’re ready to handle the Common Core assessments that will be part of most educational plans. To make sure that they are ready for this level of instruction, Mac to School’s refurbished computers now meet the requirements set down for CC assessments. All desktop systems have at least 1GB of RAM and can work with Apple’s OSX 10.4 operating system while MacBooks come with at least 2GB of RAM and OSX 10.7 or higher.

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