More than 500 ed-tech companies exhibited at this year’s National Educational Computing Conference in Philadelphia. Here’s a sampling of news from the exhibitors offering hardware and peripherals:

Known for its durable, school-specific audio technologies, Califone has introduced a new line of USB-enabled headsets for desktop and laptop computers. The headsets, which plug directly into the computer’s USB port, feature durable plastic construction, reinforced connectors, adjustable headbands, and replaceable leatherette ear cushions to withstand the rigors of daily instructional use. Califone made the move to USB-enabled headsets after it realized that several computer manufacturers, including Dell and Apple, had discontinued installing conventional 3.5mm plugs in favor of USB ports, because data can be transferred more quickly and efficiently. According to company executives, direct USB 2.0 connectivity offers schools true plug-and-play performance, and no sound card is needed. The USB headsets are supported under Windows 98, 2000, or XP and under Mac OS 9 or X. They retail for between $39 and $53, the company said.

Fourier Systems introduced the Nova5000, a new low-cost computer that aims to put technology into the hands of more students. The computer is battery-operated with a 7.5-inch, LCD color display. It comes with a touch-sensitive screen, USB ports, and runs on the Windows CE.NET platform. Its hardware design includes the integration of Fourier’s MultiLogPRO data logger and easily can accommodate other sensors, making it compatible with science or math mobile labs, the company said. Education pricing for the Nova5000 ranges from $399 to $599 per unit.

Gateway Inc. introduced LearnWithGateway Professional Services, an offering aimed at the education marketplace that includes professional development, software, and curriculum identification. The package aims to help schools in assessment, planning, and technology design, implementation, and support. Gateway also announced its new back-to-school desktop PCs that feature Microsoft Windows XP Media Center 2005, which is an operating system especially suited to digital hobbies such as listening to MP3s, retouching digital photos, or watching DVDs. Gateway’s 831GM, 835GM, and 840GM desktop PCs all come with Windows XP Media Center, 8-in-1 digital media managers, and 64-bit dual cores. In addition, Gateway said it recently was awarded three contracts to supply California’s state government with technology products through a statewide initiative that allows agencies to consolidate their purchasing power and create common computing environments.

Lexmark introduced the Lexmark Color Printing on a Cart product, a color printer with its own on-board power supplies that make color printing possible throughout a school building. Because the printer has optional wireless capability, users can print via the school’s intranet. The device makes it possible for teachers to use color printing, an increasingly desirable and popular printing method, more often and with less wasted paper, Lexmark said.

MPC Computers displayed its notebook charging cart, which features up to 32 charging ports, extensive security options, and connectors for network access. MPC has earned several industry honors for various products, the company said, including the “Best Mid-Market Hardware Solution: Midsize Enterprise Innovation Award” for its DataFRAME 420 storage product. The company also won several awards at the Government Solution Summit in late 2004, including “Best Government Vendor” and “Best Vendor Presentation.”

Toshiba America featured its recently released Portege R200 notebook computer. The Portege R200 weighs only 2.68 pounds and measures less than an inch thick. It comes with enhanced wireless connectivity, a 12.1-inch screen, and newly integrated EasyGuard technology for added security and durability. It also features battery life of up to 10 hours by coupling an optional, high-capacity battery with the existing battery. Pricing for the Portege R200 begins at $2,099.

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