What You Need to Set Up a Simple Computer Lab

Since government introduced ICT as a compulsory subject at A level, computer labs are no longer a fancy investment for schools but a necessity. Whereas some schools have the financial muscle to setup modern computer labs with the latest equipment, not many can afford it. However, there too are many schools with the financial ability but don’t know what it takes to set up one. It is also common for schools to fall in the trap of unscrupulous service providers who will take advantage of a school’s inexperience and setup up substandard labs but at exorbitant costs.

In this article, I give light on what it takes to setup a 21 station computer lab at an average cost using the latest ncomputing technology. This lab, in a Ugandan setting can support a class of 42 students if each station is to be shared by 2 students.

What you need

1.       Full computer set: You will purchase 3 sets of powerful computers with at least a 3Ghz Duo Core Processor and 8GB of RAM. A 500 GB hard disk is big enough to store students’ work throughout the year without worrying about space. You can get such a computer at Extech Ug at SunCity Plaza at around 700,000/=.  At E-zone School of Computing, we use the never failing Dell Optiplex 380 with a duo core processor running at 3.0 Ghz and 8Gb of RAM.

Inside a Dell Optiplex 380 with 2 PCI slots giving you 11 users on a single server.

2.       Thin Clients: Of all thin clients, the NComputing brand stands out for its simplicity. In our case, you will need 6 sets of their latest gadget, the MX-100. Each set gives you 3 extra users and goes for UGX 1,200,000 each. This means that if you installed 2 sets on each of the system units, you would get 18 extra users. You can get these from TINOSOFT Ltd and Intelligent Solutions Ltd who charge in dollars.  However, I have installed a number of the previous and cheaper NComputing model (M300) and also written a simple setup guide for those who may not be familiar with NComputing.

3.       Monitors: Each of the ncomputing access devices will need a monitor. This means you will have to buy 18 extra monitors. My supplier, Extech Ug has a variety of second hand monitors at rates ranging between UGX 100,000 and 3300,000. Your monitor must come with a power cable and screw holes to mount the ncomputing equipment.

4.       Network switch: The ncomputing MX100 works via a network unlike the X550 which connects direct to the system unit. You will need a good network switch in order to reduce latency. However, a simple budget switch will go for around UGX 50,000 or upwards. For this particular setup, an 8-port switch will suffice.

5.       LAN Cables & RJ45: Your NComputing equipment will need a connection between it and the network switch and another connection between the switch and the system units. A good box of LAN cabling (305m) costs around UGX 300,000 in shops along Kampala Rd but will even higher that UGX 400,000 at Chint near Nakasero Market. The quality of the cable depends on the amount of copper in the wire. You will also have to buy around 50 pieces of RJ45 jacks which go for only UGX 500 each.

6.       Keyboards & Mice: Each of the 18 extra users will need a keyboard and a mouse. My favourite supplier and one who has never disappointed is still Extech Ug. USB keyboards and mice go for around UGX 10,000 each. I advise that you buy original second hand accessories and not the new shiny counterfeits. Counterfeits wont last a term while the second hand options can go for 5 years without fading.

Sample illustration of the lab

The 21 station lab we are trying to setup will appear similar to the illustration below. Notice that there is still space in the middle for an additional 14 stations in the middle of the room.

Summary of costs for a 21 seater computer lab.

Below is the summarized financial implication of the lab we are trying to setup

No. Item Qty Rate Amount
1 PC (Tower – Full set) 3 700,000 2,100,000
2 Monitors 18 200,000 3,600,000
3 Keyboards(USB) 18 15,000 270,000
4 Mouse (USB) 18 15,000 270,000
5 Power cables 18 10,000 180,000
6 LAN Cables 2 boxes 300,000 600,000
7 RJ 45 50 pcs 1,000 50,000
8 Cables ties 5 boxes 20,000 100,000
9 NComputing 6 pcs 1,200,000 7,200,000
10 Network switch 8 port 1 80,000 80,000
9 Labour 500,000 500,000
  TOTAL     14,950,000

In many cases though, getting around some of the technicalities may prove problematic. Many service providers have insisted on payment in dollars while their rates are also exorbitant. To counter this, E-zone School of Computing organises free weekend classes on random topics one of which is installing and configuring NComputing devices.

Stephen Dumba
E-zone School of Computing
0752 111 223 / 0772 111 223