John Nicholas of Highland Community College says all-in-one PCs are easier to manage and troubleshoot than standard desktops.

May 16 2011

All-In-One PCs Make the Lineup at Highland Community College

By moving to all-in-one PCs, colleges save space and headaches.

By moving to all-in-one PCs, colleges save space and headaches.

Over the past few years, the IT staff at Highland Community College in Highland, Kan., became increasingly aware that the college's computer labs were in need of an upgrade. Students appreciated the lab service, but from a management perspective, keeping the area neat and clean was a challenge.

John Nicholas, the college's director of information technology, says it was hard to overlook the wires hanging everywhere and poles hanging down through the ceiling for power. The solution was deploying all-in-one PCs from HP.

In addition to saving space for organizations, the technology in all-in-one PCs has matured to the point where they offer the same types of features as standard PCs, but in a smaller form factor, and with desirable add-ons such as backlit touch screens. What's more, pricing has come down to the point where they are just a bit more expensive than standard PCs.

"Not only do they eliminate a lot of the wire issues we had, but because there are fewer parts, there is less that can go wrong and they are easier to troubleshoot," Nicholas says.

Highland Community College made the move to all-in-ones last August, when the college received a grant from the Kansas Board of Regents. Nicholas and his application support technician spent a few months exploring options, finally settling on HP TouchSmart 600-1120 all-in-one PCs. The units feature touch displays, built-in wireless connectivity and a wireless keyboard and mouse. They also have integrated webcams and built-in microphones.

The IT team at HCC installed about 20 of the units running 64-bit Windows 7 in one of the college's tech labs in August 2010. The benefits were so clear that the team expects to outfit another tech lab this coming August when the Board of Regents grant is renewed. If the grants continue, Nicholas says he would like to add the equipment to six regional campuses throughout northeast Kansas.

In addition to space savings and ease of management, Nicholas says he is impressed with the units' solid engineering, performance and quality, and hopes to use them for at least three years before having to replace them.

"Even the sound was great with these all-in-ones," Nicholas says. "The students could easily use headphones without needing to crawl underneath the desk to plug them into the CPU."

It is just those types of space and wire considerations that are leading more organizations to consider all-in-one PCs.

"With an all-in-one, it's as easy as plugging one cord into the wall," says Bob O'Donnell, vice president of clients and displays at research group IDC. "If it has Wi-Fi and a wireless keyboard and mouse, that's the only cable you have. That makes physically setting up the devices incredibly easy."

O'Donnell says he's not surprised that some colleges are using all-in-one desktops in tech labs.

"Space can be at a premium in a lab environment, and all-in-ones are much more space-efficient than traditional PCs," he says.

In the Lineup

Responding to the demand for more efficient, easier-to-manage devices, just about every PC manufacturer in the market today has at least one all-in-one PC in its lineup.

In general, all-in-one PCs have large LED backlit display screens (anywhere from 18 to 24 inches) with 1080p screen resolution, many of them being touch screens. Backlit panels typically consume less power than standard panels and don't use mercury.

Most all-in-one PCs have Intel or AMD processors (single, dual and even quad core), and most come standard with up to 16 gigabytes of DDR3 memory. Hard-drive sizes range from 320GB to more than 1 terabyte. All have video cards, along with integrated webcams, DVD drives (mostly Blu-ray) and internal speakers. Many also have multicard readers and TV tuners. They also feature multiple USB sockets, along with WLAN and Bluetooth connectivity. Wi-Fi is at least 802.11g, but some have 802.11n. And most units come with wireless keyboards (some with built-in trackpads) and mice.

Although the all-in-ones have many standard features, there are some differences among the products. Some HP TouchSmart desktop models, for example, have 60-degree reclining screens, and the Lenovo C100 is just 2 inches thick. Over time, industry analysts expect the all-in-one market to grow, partly because they are packed with numerous features, but also because standardization is expected to drive prices down. Intel recently announced that it will standardize components for all-in-one PCs, partially to make them more affordable. The effort is aimed at standardizing the motherboard of all-in-one systems, as well as its form factor.

A Practical Application

The annual power savings per unit delivered by the Lenovo ThinkCentre M90z all-in-one PC; more efficient processors and power management software contribute to the savings

SOURCE: Lenovo

For Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., using all-in-ones in its three new training labs made good sense. Each of the labs is outfitted with 20 Lenovo ThinkCentre A70z units. They will be used over the next three years to train staff in all administrative departments to use the university's new ERP system. The new software is replacing most of the legacy applications in use today, such as finance and human resources.

"When we were deciding what type of computers to put in our new training rooms, we knew that space might be an issue, so considering all-in-ones made a lot of sense," says Donald King Jr., Ball State's assistant vice president for information technology for strategic and fiscal management. "We don't have to put base stations on the floor, and we couldn't put them on the desktop with the displays because it would cause the displays to be too high, blocking the view for training purposes."

King also says that because the compact units have fewer moving parts, maintenance and troubleshooting are easier. Once the ERP training concludes about three years from now, King expects to use the ThinkCentre PCs for online testing labs. He says students will use the units during proctored exams; the units could possibly go into general university labs as well.

All-in-One PCs as Versatile Kiosks

Although many colleges and universities use all-in-one units in lab environments, others are experimenting with them as kiosk replacements. All-in-one PCs, especially those with touch screens, are cost-effective alternatives to traditional kiosks.

"In a college environment, all-in-ones would lend themselves to a student union in an open area, where people could get information, find out where things are around campus, and get admissions information," says IDC's Bob O'Donnell. "And unlike traditional kiosk solutions, which can cost thousands of dollars, you can get all-in-ones for under $1,000. So there is clear economic benefit."

There are other potential uses as well. All-in-one units can be used in student libraries to find books, for pay-per-use Internet access in open areas, as job-search tools in a student job center, for buying tickets to campus events, or even to access menus in dining halls around campus.

<p>Dan Videtich</p>

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