A PC is now a commodity. Much like a vacuum cleaner or washing machine. So what could be so special about RM's new miniPC beyond the fact that it's roughly a third the size of its bigger brothers?
The answer is something that sounds boring - a bracket. This is what will put your new commodity anywhere you want it - on a wall or hidden out of site under a desk. And it’s lockable. The magical bit comes when you apply minimal DIY skills (four screws) to attach it to the back of an RM-supplied flat-screen monitor to create your own instant, all-in-one PC.
The miniPC is RM’s smallest ever computer – 230mm wide x 247mm deep x 74 mm high – and while it might not be quite as small or elegant as a Mac Mini, it offers far greater flexibility and it’s much cheaper, especially as the deal includes a 17-inch monitor (prices start at £433.96).
The basic miniPC contains an RM Ecoquiet 50 that was created, as the brand name suggests, to keep power consumption and noise to a minimum – and it does. But the specification will depend on what the customer requires. The equipment used for this review was a miniPC with 4 Gb of memory, 160 Gb hard drive, Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 processor (3.16GHZ), DVD burner and Windows Ultimate, a package that would cost around £650, and a 22-inch Philips Brilliance 220BW9 flat-screen monitor (£135).
On its own, the miniPC is an extremely useful unit in its own right and was straightforward to set up, as you would expect. It could simply sit on a desk, and has its own stand if required. As with the ubiquitous RM One, it is sturdily built and robust, and has the practical features that you need on shared computers, like front-mounted USB ports and sound in and out.
After using Windows XP on a netbook, Windows 7 was like a walk in the park – easy to use and intuitive. Used for web work, graphics and some video editing for more than a month, this miniPC and Windows 7 did everything that was asked with ease and without a complaint. Not even a single refusal or crash – sad to say, unlike Snow Leopard on the alternative digital workhorse. (You can find out more about how education early adopters of Windows 7 have fared here – including Twynham School which anticipates energy savings of £22,000!)
The revelation with the miniPC came when attaching it to the rear of the Philips monitor. It’s the kind of task where you expect an issue but it was extremely simple, even with minimal DIY skills. You just screw the mount plate to the back of the monitor (a number of models are available with this facility), attach the miniPC, tidy away the cables and power source and secure the housing on top. It was a 10-minute job.
The result was a good-quality, all-in-one widescreen computer. Except this one can be easily tweaked and upgraded, and if one element fails you don’t have to send the whole package off for repair. Of course, many schools will want a smaller screen and RM offers a range.
Product manager Adam Stewart explains the RM miniPC
If it’s simple for an individual to do, it’s easy to imagine what can be achieved where a school is prioritising its learning spaces – a thoughtful implementation will make the PC boxes disappear. The miniPC has clearly been designed with that sort of approach – and capital projects like Building Schools for the Future – in mind. Bulk orders of the mounts, for example, can specify inclusion of the school’s own logo. And all-in-one computers have already demonstrated that they can bring significant savings on furniture in new-build and remodelled schools.
As a single purchase the miniPC is an attractive option, but when it comes to big projects the variety of options will certainly catch the eye of those looking to drive hard bargains at the BETT 2010 show in Olympia, London, in January.
PC boxes have never been anything to get excited about. In fact they are usually unsightly and have been a prime cause of cramped working spaces with dismal ergonomics. RM’s miniPC goes some way to obviating that problem – and the smart users are going to recognise that this is a PC box that knows its place - not seen and not heard!
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 4.5
Ease of use 4
Value for money 5
Small form factor Ecoquiet 50 PC (roughly one third the size of large enclosure), that can be used standalone or mounted to any surface or the back of flat-screen monitor to create an all-in-one computer. Prices start at £433.96 (online) for a model with Windows Vista (or Windows 7 or XP Pro SP2), Intel Atom Processor 230 (1.60GHz), Windows Vista® Business with downgrade to Windows® XP Pro SP2, 1GB of memory, integrated graphics, 17-inch RM LCD TFT monitor (19-inch monitor available for extra 9 pence!), keyboard and mouse.
The mounting bracket is an additional £20 (for wall/desk) or £35 for mounting on back of monitor.
You can fnd out more about the RM miniPC on the company's stands – D60 and C60 – at the BETT Show at Olympia in January (13-16). And at RM's space at Olympia 2.