Low cost laptops for schools

Yesterday, I wrote about the different products that are creeping out into the market, which offer the chance to change your model for ICT provision in school, and to make a rapid shift to ICT-enabled teaching and learning for all pupils. Later on, one of my colleagues came and asked me for a bit of advice - basically, how do you choose - what are the compromises that have to be made when choosing different options.

So, in case you have the same question, here's my quick-and-simple take on the choices & compromises today:

Choosing a low-cost laptop



Screen Size



Larger, high resolution (eg above 8” and 1024x768)

Easier to read & don’t lose all of the screen to menus

Battery life reduce

Smaller, lower resolution

Longer battery life

Okay for web surfing

Not a replacement for a full PC/laptop

Battery Life



High capacity battery

4 hours is enough to provide use for a whole school day (assuming it is not on all the time!)

Weighs more – can students carry it always?

Lower capacity battery

More practical to carry everywhere, because of weight

Need to allow students to recharge battery during day

Operating Systems




Fast boot

Cheapest (no operating system cost)

Doesn’t match pupil experience at home/school

More difficult for school to manage holistically

Windows XP

Familiar, and fits your existing ICT infrastructure.

Allows you to manage security and software holistically

Not the latest version, and may not match what students have at home.

Windows Vista

Matches home PC and gives pupils the most up-to-date experience

Requires more powerful laptop

This isn't intended to be an exhaustive list - it's just the list from the top of my head today.

Even as I look at it now, I can see how it can be improved - for example I say "Fast boot" as a Pro for Linux, but then I never switch off my laptop running Vista - I just use sleep mode all the time, whenever I move between meetings, or take it away from my desk. This means I can start it back up almost instantly, and it comes back in the same state I left it. So it means if I've started an email, I can finish it later, but can switch off my laptop in the meantime as I carry it around. It also means I don't leave it switched on, draining the battery, when I'm not using it, because it only takes a few seconds to reboot.

What do you think?

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