Custom demonstration console

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Portfolio presentations can make expensive demands on the contractor. This article explores the possibility of creating a portable custom console for interactive audio visual presentations.

Contents

Introduction

Often contractors create makeshift portfolio presentations, or none at all, due to the unknown natures of the interviewers equipment. Although we can usually rely on an interviewer having the following:

  • a standard business PC, with a keyboard and mouse;
  • a TV; and
  • a spare plug.

We are usually not so sure about the details:

  • CD ROM or DVD?
  • CPU speed
  • Graphic card specification
  • Hard drive space available
  • Internet connection
  • Browser type
  • Support for peripherals
  • Audio system

Laptop solution

A self contained solution such as a laptop can cover a lot of these pitfalls while allowing us to output to TV, monitor, or audio equipment if available. However, laptops have certain limitations.

Laptops are expensive particularly if what your demonstrating requires the latest in CPU or GPU technology. They are also needlessly heavy for interactive presentation purposes, they are after all, general purpose computers.

Much of their expense and weight is in components that we probably don't need for interactive audio visual presentations. We can be fairly sure that we wouldn't need the following:

  • keyboard
  • touchpad
  • hard drive
  • monitor
  • battery
  • PC card capability
  • serial and printer ports

On the other hand the following options in a laptop could increase the cost considerably:

  • high speed CPU
  • bleeding edge GPU
  • large fast RAM
  • high speed motherboard
  • audio with surround sound capability
  • DVD ROM
  • game controller support
  • TV / HDTV output

Custom solution

One alternative to the laptop option is to custom build a PC from just the components that we really want. This option is unlikely to be less expensive in a bleeding edge presentation device, but small PC boxes are already available for generic presentation purposes.

The technologies that makes this possible are known as Mini-ITX and small form factor (SFF).

Mini-ITX

A Mini-ITX motherboard usually has embedded CPU, graphics chip, audio, ethernet, and so on. PSU's can be fitted either in a box with the motherboard or as an external power pack supplying DC power to the board through an adapter.

Mini-ITX boards usually aim for quiet running (which is desirable for a presentation device) and low power consumption (which limits the performance you can expect to get out of the device.)

Small form factor

These boards simply smaller sized motherboards. They also often come with embedded graphics chips, although some also offer AGP or PCI slots. These offer a better solution for the bleeding edge presentation.

New Mac Mini

Apple have just released a new version of their Mac called the Mac Mini. It seems to fit all of the requirements I was thinking about - even an external PSU.

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