My Dream Computer lab begins to take shape: Processors

I have been totally absorbed (8-10 hours a day for a week) in purchasing my new dream computer lab. I have learned so much that I simply must begin to share it with you so that you too can learn from all of this sweat and keystrokes. I'm so excited that I just can't stand it!

How I've researched for this purchase

Before I tell you what I learned, let me give you some history for how I did my research. I posted a blog entry about my hardware thoughts, software thoughts, and questions about open office versus Microsoft office. I took that information and created a wiki which several readers graciously helped me edit. What resulted were some incredible comments and great resources.

Although I talked to some other companies, I have worked with Matt Robertson at CDW-G and have been so impressed with him. He is going out of town a couple of days to the Alabama Technology Conference and I hope some of you who read in Alabama will stop by and tell him that he is doing a great job! (The company is great and Matt is A+! He has really had to sweat it out with me and all of the questions I've asked! I have not been an easy sale but he has conferenced in so many experts and folks that it has helped me greatly and he has been the conduit to a great lab!)

It will take several posts to share with you all of this information! In this post I will share what I've learned about hardware and the student workstations I am planning on purchasing.

The only time I ever wanted a D !

The new Pentium D processor (dual core processor), that is!

After my hardware post, one of my commenters, Daniel Palmer said:

Looking at your Student PC specs….
• you really should consider Dual Core processors they seem to be the current roadmap for Intel and AMD. They do not create as much heat and they are more energy efficient.
• As for 64 bit… I cannot really say that 64 bit is really that important especially in a classroom setting. Assuming Windows XP will the OS of choice then the XP 64 Bit edition is feature in-complete according to Microsoft. Microsoft Office will run but there are key pieces of that fail such as a Spell Check.
The wheels began turning and I did some research about dual core processors.

I like to simplify things and have begun to create graphics to explain this to my students in the fall. When I talk about processors, I use the pizza oven example as shown in the following graphic.

How does hyperthreading (HT) work versus a dual processor?

Those who love geek speak, I'm not going to use it here. This is my simple explanation of these two technologies and why I decided to get the Pentium D. I may be oversimplifying for some technocrats out there, but so be it, I don't teach technocrats!

Hyperthreading is (was) great.
If you look at the pizza oven example, what it allowed us to do was have an oven big enough for two sets of pizzas to cook (or two datastreams in one processor) AND it could start cooking one pizza before the other ones finished cooking (pipelining). This was great because it meant that we could put more data through the processor resulting in more that could be done at the same time. However, we met some limitations when running processor intensive things like video and another task running at the same time.

When would I see this in a classroom?
What if you are wanting to have the student do a task on the computer AND record a podcast about how to do that task. I've seen computers choke when this happens.

Let's look at another scenario. With my new lab I am looking forward to having my students record video, edit the video, and add audio. What if they want to do this while LISTENING to a podcast about how to do this? Other processors even with HT probably would have given me trouble, particularly if I was running something like Photoshop.

The Move to Mini

The move to dual core processors is being fueled by the ability to minitiarize. We don't really need smaller microchips, we need more of them so that we can do more on the computer. With this move to smaller processors, some are projecting quad (4) core processors within the next several years that are on the same size processor chip that we see in computers now.

Dual core processors have advantages over hyperthreading in that two data streams can actually be processed at the same time. So, theoretically, you could run video and Photoshop and they would go to different processors and not interfere with each other! Wow!

I was looking at moving to 64 bit chip versus 32 bit and what I found is that I think that the dual core issue is more important. I think that the next thing that makes your computer obsolete will be whether or not you have more than one processor in your machine (a/k/a dual core.)

Amazingly, I have found that dual core machines are not in the astronomical price range. Without releasing any confidential pricing, I will tell you that it is as affordable for me in the end as single core processors and I have not had to break my budget at all! I was so thrilled with my final specs of my machine today that I almost cried.

My hardware:

For my student workstations I am getting the following:
Micron Computers
Intel Pentium D Processor 930 (3.0 Ghz, 2x2MB cache, 800Mhz FSB)
1 GB Dual Channel DDR2 533 SDRAM 2-DIMMs (can go up to 4 GB)
160 GB Serial ATA-150 8MB Cache Hard Drive (7200RPM)
IEEE1394a FirewireCard with front and rear access
Integrated Serial ATA Controller
16x Dual Layer DVD-R/RW +R/RW Combo Drive w/ Pinnacle Studio, Win DVD5, Nero Express
52X Variable Speed CD-ROm in the other bay
Integrated 64MB Intel Video Card GM 950 with up to 224 MB DVMT
Windows XP Pro Service Pack 2
SCM SCR333 Internal Smart Card Reader w/ Active Card Gold 2.2 (I had them add this.)
Integrated Intel High Definition 5.1 Channel Audio
Integrated Intel Gigabit Ethernet 10/100/1000 Network Connection w/AMT
3 year on site service

My peripherals?
  • Inexpensive speakers for the student computers
  • Cyberacoustics speakers for the demonstration computer (for when I play DVD's and use audio I want everyone to hear!)
  • Logitech QuickCam Fusion Web Camera for student computers (I'm really excited about this one, it is an integrated microphone and video unit with some great noise cancelling features. Although I want them doing some video, I wanted to make the ability to do vlogging (video blogging) something that each student could do. This checks out as a great option for that.)
  • For my demonstration computer, the one where we record class podcasts, I am purchasing the M Audio Podcast Factory which has some cool features on it.
  • I'm looking at 19" flat panel LCD's but may end up with 17" due to price considerations.
  • Regular optical intellimice and keyboards. (I looked at wireless but opted to only put the wireless set up on my demo computer. As I looked into this I found that many schools who go wireless end up with missing mice and mixed up mice and keyboards. I have three now and like them, although I have found them to be the source of many headaches as students mix up the mice or make one mouse control three computers just for fun. I'm glad I did a little research on this one and feel good about my choice although I really wanted to get rid of some cables.)

Why Micron?

The price was great! I went with a Micron tower because I am quite partial to them. Every Micron I've ever bought for the school or myself has simply lasted an incredibly long time. Of the 21 microns I bought 6 years a go, all but one are in service! They are still working and will be moved to the teacher's classrooms for those who need Internet and gradebook access for another 3-4 years. (Those Pentium III processors will last for a while if I just leave on Windows XP and do not migrate them to Vista.)

Putting my students in the drivers seat of a dynamic learning experience

I want to move from static creation to dynamic creation of all classroom materials. Goodbye boring typed papers, I want to pull in photographs, edited and created images, student audio, podcasts, videos that they make, interviews they conduct using their iPods, and every imaginable way to make what I teach come alive!

My students are going to be even more active participants on the Read/Write web and I want to partner and participate with other computer science classrooms as we take our learning to the next level.

My classroom has been explosively exciting this past year with Pentium III computers and older technology. I can only begin to think how exciting it is going to be this year with new computers, new software, and the ability to use all kids of media in our lab.

Configuration of the room

I am planning to move the lab from three straight rows to a U shape with a rolling podium in the middle for my demonstration computer. I am purchasing a Polyvision Walk and Talk 1600 with Lightning and Easiteach softwar so that I do not have to calibrate the machine and so I can also capture and share my notes with the class as needed! I am purchasing a new projector so that I can teach with the lights on!

Contentment turns to excitement

I always work to be content with what I have! There is never a time when I have bemoaned the fact that I couldn't do something! I have always been fortunate enough to have experts and resources that help me make things work. But this will be my first time teaching with a completely NEW computer lab and it thrills me to no end!

I have to be content because money does not come around often for computers in private schools. Broken things, buildings, and buses tend to get the capital. But this is my one year in every 5 or 6 that comes along and I want to squeeze every ounce of technology juice out of my money!

Is it really my dream?

This will be my dream computer lab! I am so excited! Yes, by the fall someone will have a newer better one, in fact that will happen when I buy it. But this one will be mine! It will have quality manufacturers who stand behind their promises. It is from a company that I've had a working relationship with for two years with a sales rep that I trust. I'm very excited.

I will tell you later about the server configuration, software setup, and what I decided to do about my applications software. I've also done a lot of research on going wireless on the campus as I want to move to laptops in the near future!

For now, I will go take a bubblebath and relax in the fact that I have given 100% to this purchase, that I have worked, prayed, and researched for hours. I am getting close to cutting the PO and have the support of my administration and curriculum director, they trust me. I among computer technology support/ teachers feel very fortunate to be teaching in such a great school and working with such great folks. We've always said that we may have a small school but we have big minds and that is how I feel right now!

I look forward to sharing with you what else I've learned that has simply blown my mind! Remember, you do not have to have an unlimited budget to get on the new Internet. I did it with 6 year old computers and a decent Internet connection!

The New Internet is fast, easy, and in many cases free but it's still fun to buy new stuff.

Popular Posts