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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.



Asus M70AD




+ High performance

+ Good assortment of ports

+ NFC pad with inductive charging

+ Built-in UPS

+ Powerful Graphics

+ Top configuration


- Size

- Price



A New Vision for Education

Netop Vision MERather than adding onto NetOp’s Vision software, the company has brought tablet technology to the classroom with an all-new Vision Me app. Available only for the iPad, there are separate programs for teachers and students, but there's nothing for Android systems. When it’s set up, Vision Me can not only put the teacher in control of what every student sees on their screens and block Web access for errant students, but can broadcast to a select group or display any student’s display on the classroom's projector.

A big step forward for education, Vision Me’s software is integrated with Google Drive and Dropbox so that items can be stored locally or online. Any assessment can have videos in them and teachers can get an instant snapshot of each student’s progress. The system can be used over vacations as well as the summer break, costs $7.50 per student per year and there’re district-wide discounts.

Sensing Science

Product.gw-ph._hero.001.1280.721Vernier’s Go Wireless sensor system has a new module for pH levels that like the temperature sensor doesn't require a cable. It can not only sense acidity and connect to an iPad via a Bluetooth link, but its output can be graphed with the free iPad app. The software graphs pH level from acid to base, making it perfect for a biology or chemistry lab. It costs $99.

WiFi, the Right Way

AerohiveThe latest version of Aerohive’s ID Manager makes setting up a BYOD environment a lot easier for anything from a traditional PC or Mac to a tablet, phone or even Xbox game machine. The set up emphasizes the self-service approach by providing every new client with a pre-share-encryption key that can be generated from a student list or configured on the fly for a guest. At any time a student can be dropped, for things like an expulsion, or new ones quickly added.

Next Gen iMac

Imac-retina-step1-hero-2014Starting today, there’s a new iMac in town that blows the others away with what Apple is calling a Retina 5K display. The key is that Apple's latest all-in-one computer has a 27-inch display that can show an amazing 5,120 by 2,880 resolution, double that of the old iMac and four-times the number of pixels as traditional HD material. That makes it perfect for image and video work and can even make a regular old Web site look better, but the new iMac has no touch-screen options.

Encased in aluminum, the iMac has a slew of ports in the back. Inside, the system exudes pure power and comes with the latest Mac OSX Yosemite software. You get the choice of either a 3.5GHz
Core i5 or 4GHz Core i7 processor along with up to 16GB of RAM; each system comes with matching keyboard and optical Magic Mouse. The iMac’s graphics have been upgraded with either AMD’s Radeon IMac27-Yosemite-Homescreen-PRINTR9 M290X graphics processor with 2GB of dedicated video memory or the M295X graphics chip with 4GB of built-in memory. You can set it up with either as much as a 3TB hard drive or up to 1TB of solid state flash storage chips.

Despite all these high-performance extras, the new iMac with Retina 5K Display uses one-third less power than the last version of the system, according to the company. On the other hand, price is no object here, because the new iMac with the base Core i5 processor and 1TB of storage starts at $2,499. There are smaller and less powerful models for as little as $1,100, but they have more pedestrian screens.

Freebee Friday: Picture Paradise

FlickrNeed historical photos of the Depression for a lesson or just looking for a certain shot of piles of money for a school fundraising flyer? Flickr has millions of copyright-free images, including at least one to suit your needs. Just set the License terms to Creative Commons on the main page and search to your heart’s content. Many of the images have historical explanations, links to similar ones as well as information about who shot it and often what camera was used. In addition to shots of the first moon landing and Prohibition era-cartoons, there are images of every president, early computers and a whole lot more. In many cases the only restriction is that you give credit to the originator.

Self-Service Set Up

Casper-focus-focus-on-app_800_531_84_1396010603If setting up apps on your school’s systems is killing too much of your time, let the users do most of the work. JAMF’s Casper Focus software can simplify the situation by sending iPad apps and ebooks to a group of students and then recalling them when the class is done. The app can lock a classroom’s worth of screens on a particular site or text, increasing the time spent teaching. The app is a freebee.


One, Two Power Punch

Prd_v30_hi_boomWho says interactive white boards are dead? Not SmartBoard, which now has put together a killer package for interactive teaching by pairing the company’s 77-inch M680V board with its V30 projector. Called the M680viv2, the $1,800 pair can handle two people using it, regardless of whether it’s a teaching pointing at an item or kids doing math problems with markers. The projector puts 3,000 lumens on screen, comes with a three-year warranty and includes a year of the company’s Notebook advantage online service.



Big Ink

HP X585 aAs schools consolidate their office and classroom printing into a handful of large machines, they usually choose a laser printer-copier, but HP has a better – and ultimately cheaper – way. The OfficeJet Enterprise Color MFP X585 not only is faster and less expensive to create a variety of documents, but it is a security king that can save on power.

To start, the OfficeJet MFP X585 is a lot of printer that weighs at least 80-pounds and will likely require two people to unpack and set up. It can not only scan and copy, but fax as well. The printer uses HP’s new pigment-based ink and PageWide technology, which covers the entire width of the page with more than 40,000 jets that spray minute droplets of ink onto the page, rather than moving the jets back and forth over the page. It results in faster and more efficient printing.

The printer delivers 600 by 600 dot per inch documents, but can optimize them to look as sharp as 2,400 by 1,200 resolution for photos. It has a 320GB hard drive and an 796MHz processor with 1.8GB of its own memory. It can handle up to 53-pound paper and 80-pound photo card stock and has a single large paper tray that not only holds a full ream of sheets, but shows how much is inside. HP sells a $400 cabinet that can hold supplies and paper as well as a second paper tray for $300.

HP_LaserJet_Enterprise_MFP_M630HP offers a variety of drivers for just about any system on campus. There’s software for all recent Windows and Mac clients as well as for Linux computers and a variety of network operating systems.

Like most devices in its class, the X585 has duplex printing built in, which can save a surprising amount of paper in schools. It also has a duplex scanning engine with a 50-page sheet feeder. The X585’s flip up 8-inch view-screen can display what’s being printed and used for making configuration changes. There’s an optional keyboard, but it’s only available on the more expensive X585z model.

Out of the box, the printer can connect via a USB cable or wired Ethernet connection. To add WiFi, you need to get HP’s add-on 802.11b, g and n WiFi module; it costs $70. It has the bonus of including a near-field communications (NFC) sensor for printing after placing an NFC-quipped phone, tablet or notebook onto the device. It’s the closest thing to IT magic that you’ll see in a school. 

But, you don’t need a physical network connection to print with the X585. At any time, you can use a mobile device to wirelessly send print orders to the X585. The HP ePrint app is available for Androids, iPhones and iPads although it only works with images, Acrobat files, Web pages and Office documents.

Its success at school is due in part to the X585’s low operating costs. To start there’s neither a fuser nor drum to wear out and replace. In fact, the only consumable item, other than ink, is a tray to catch the excess ink. It should last for roughly 50,000 pages and costs a reasonable $20.

1wntGyUzvneiy2K9CBYV58-30Plus, the X585’s ink cartridges are positively huge, holding 86.5-, 80.5-, 83.5- or 203.5-milliliters of pigment-based ink for the cyan, magenta, yellow or black cartridges. The cyan, magenta and yellow ones cost $100 each and are capable of printing roughly 6,600 pages while the $115 black one can put out 10,000 pages, according to HP’s optimistic forecast. Over the course of three-months of daily use in the printer’s best print-quality mode, it was able to deliver color pages for 6.2 cents and monochrome ones for an amazing 1.2 cents per page. This makes it one of the least expensive printers to use and you can save some more by using one of the printer’s lower-quality modes.

Happily, the printer’s output lacks the annoying shiny quality of laser prints, but the X585’s documents are just as sharp as that from the best color laser printers. Although the ink dries quickly, images that fill most of the sheet tend to saturate it, causing the surface to pucker and wrinkle.

Because it tops out at about 60-watts – about the power use of the typical light bulb – the printer uses a lot less electricity than even the most efficient laser printer. Although it requires a three-prong plug, for those in older schools with antiquated wiring, the X585 won’t dim the lights when it starts up.

For such a complicated device, the X585 was remarkably easy to set up, but it can take about 40 minutes to get the system configured, installed and ready to print its first page. HP will come and install it for you for $440. Once it’s up and running, it takes 23 seconds to pump out its first page and can deliver 26 pages per minute of everything from spelling tests and parental letters to worksheets and report cards.

I printed nearly 10,000 pages on a variety of material – from the cheapest copier paper to card stock and labels – and the printer only jammed once. It was easier to clear the jam from the paper path than with a laser printer because nothing was hot.

HP X585 supplies pageTo make changes or check on supplies, the printer has an extensive collection of data pages that can be displayed on its screen or remotely through its IP address with a connected Web browser. You can also control or tap into the printer’s configuration with HP’s JetAdmin software. In addition to ink levels and total number of pages printed on the current set of ink modules, the system can spit out a variety of reports on its current status and configuration, who’s printing in color and fax activity.

It’s not perfect but still helpful when you’re running out of ink. That’s because a warning appears on screen about which cartridge is near the end of its life but fails to tell you approximately how many pages remain. 

Because it is meant to fit into a school’s digital document flow scheme, HP has what it calls QuickSets. These are established document flow patterns for anything from scanning the day's homework to inputting invoices that need to be paid.

Security is its true calling and can make the X585 as secure as a computer. There are more than 200 built-in security settings and it is the rare printer with a Trusted Platform module and encrypted hard drive. With everything from report cards to social security numbers being printed, this area is often ignored but necessary today.

One big step forward is the use of pull printing, where the person printing a document needs to enter his or her personal code to get the pages to actually print. It cuts down on orphan and accidentally picked up pages and if nothing is printed, the document is automatically deleted from the X585’s hard drive the next day. On the downside, the printer has neither individual output trays nor a stapling finisher option.

The printer comes with a 1-year warranty, but HP can extend it for $130 a year. It may be expensive, but the X585 printer is worth its weight in ink because it can not only cut down on the costs of classroom and office printing but can make them more secure at the same time.


HP X585 b

HP OfficeJet Enterprise Color MFP X585


+ Low per-page costs

+ Security


+ 8-inch display

+ Inkjet technology

+ Printer apps

+ Duplex printing and scanning


- Price

- Slow start-up

- No finishing options


Beyond the Surface

Surface pro 3 edWe all know that the latest Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is the best one yet with a 12-inch ultra-high resolution screen and a snap-on keyboard cover. But it’s less well known that the company is offering discounts on it for schools. There are three configurations available that include the black keyboard cover and range from a Core i3 with 64GB of storage to a Core i5 with 256GB of storage. If you get them for school with a minimum 5 unit order, you save 10 percent.




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