Jumbo size is best

28th January 2000 at 00:00
Many teachers will no doubt be thinking about buying their own computers following the Government's offer to refund up to pound;500 of the price (providing certain conditions are met, which includes paying income tax on the subsidy and VAT on the price).

The problem for many people will be: what do I buy? One of the hazards of writing about computers is that friends, relatives and friends of relatives often ask you to recommend a machine, which can be tricky. But a friend of mine has a simple answer: go for the biggest numbers you can afford. This means the fastest processor speed (measured in megahertz), the largest amount of RAM memory (measured in megabytes) and the largest hard disk (also measured in megabytes). It's a truism in computing that whatever you have today, it will never be enough for tomorrow.

Which brings me on to the speech made by Michael Wills, minister for learning and technology, at the BETT show. He mentioned the fast-moving pace of ICT and illustrated it by pointing out that 77 per cent of Hewlett Packard's products are less than two years old. There used to be a joke that computer technology moved so quickly that by the time you had taken your new computer out of the box, it was already obsolete. If the current pace continues, computers will be obsolete before they go into the box at the factory.

In an ideal world, all children would have their own computer, but this is unlikely to happen for a long time, if ever. So attention is turning to systems that allow students to share computers.

Tiny is the latest company to offer a PC-sharing system, the SynchroPC. It has a tower PC which houses a 500MHz Intel processor chip, 128 megabytes of RAM memory and a 10-gigabyte hard disk. It also has two monitors an two keyboards, allowing students to use software and even surf the Net independently. The SynchroPC costs pound;849 exc VAT. Tel: Tiny Education 0870 167 3865 or www.tiny.comukbusiness The Homework Elephant site (pictured) is one of the best homework sites I've seen, and is also listed as a National Grid for Learning resource. It offers help, advice, tips and resources on a variety of subjects, as well as listing almost every UK school on the Net, and offering links to other useful sites such as the DfEE's Parents Centre and Ofsted. Users can also consult subject experts or contact the agony elephant with specific problems. You'll find it at www.homeworkelephant.free-online.co.uk They said computers would bring us the paperless office, but when my printer gave up the ghost, I soon discovered that an awful lot of things get printed out from a computer, such as letters, documents, e-mails, web pages and invoices.

I wasn't just paperless, I was helpless. If you're in the market for a new printer, it's worth investing in an inkjet one that offers photo-realistic printing, as it is not much more expensive than a standard colour one. Today's inkjets can produce remarkably good photographic images, although bear in mind that you have to use expensive photographic paper for the best results.

Many shops have pre-printed photographic samples, but ignore these and ask for a demonstration, as it will also give you a good idea about the printer's noise and speed. Photo-realistic printers can, of course, also be used for ordinary black-and-white which can be done on standard printer paper. However, make sure your printer uses separate black and colour printer cartridges or it could turn out to be a very expensive buy.

George Cole


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