The few, the proud, the best
The GCN Lab picks the best half-dozen products from among the hundreds reviewed in 2008, and selects one as the Best Products of 2008
IT’S BEEN QUITE a year for government information
technology products. In 2008, we saw advancements in everything
from servers to Global Positioning System devices to
Although the GCN Lab reviewed hundreds of products in print and
online, less than 30 received Reviewer’s Choice designations.
Of that elite cadre, a few stood out above the rest. The following
are six products — plus one — we think really advanced
their technology categories or went way beyond the call of duty and
are worthy of serious consideration for implementation at your
In addition to the top six, we reveal the overall top product
for 2008, which is truly the best of the best for the year.
GCN Lab Best Product of 2008: Supermicro SuperServer
WE REVIEWED THIS product as a Web server but, truth be told, it
could perform any server function quite admirably. Its 1U rackmount
chassis would allow any network administrator to find room for
The SuperServer made use of its limited space better than any 1U
server we have seen. With four 3.5-inch drive bays in the front and
three fully accessible PCIe slots in the back, it almost seems as
if Supermicro has mastered interdimensional space to get everything
The drive bays and expansion card slots highlight another of the
SuperServer’s strong suits — upgradeability. There also
is room for a good amount of new memory modules before the existing
ones would need to be replaced. All these factors mean that the
SuperServer could last you quite along time.
A computer is arguably only as good as its performance, and even
in this department, the SuperServer did not disappoint. It did very
well in benchmark and file transfer tests.
And it is definitely the best we’ve tested for Web page
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, we
arrive at the price. Supermicro quoted us a price of $2,973, which
was $1,000 less than its nearest competitor. Usually at that price,
you have to give up something, but with the SuperServer you
We rated the Supermicro SuperServer SYS-6015W-NTRB the overall
best product of the year because of its power, upgradeability and
especially price. It would be a good choice for any network
administrator who needs a Web server or, in fact, any kind of
server. It is the best product we reviewed in 2008.
Supermicro, 408-503-8000, www.supermicro.com
6. Smart Technologies SB680 Front Projection
WHEN YOU’RE MAKING A presentation to a group, whether
it’s a classroom full of restless teenagers or a group of
soldiers preparing for battle, the last thing you want is any sort
of whiteboard malfunction.
That’s one reason we ranked Smart Technologies SB680
interactive whiteboard at No. 6 on our Best of 2008 list.
The SB680 is sturdy and easy to use.
The SmartBoard and its pen tray use infrared sensors and analog
resistive technology to detect the pen’s position on the
The SmartBoard’s pens, or styli, are inkless, and get
their cues from Smart’s Notebook software and the infrared
sensors embedded in the pen tray and board.
There’s nothing special about the styli. With other
whiteboards, the styli have wireless capabilities; if you lose
them, the whiteboard won’t fully work. Not so with the SB680.
Replacing all four Smart styli costs about $13, but in a pinch, you
could use dry-erase markers such as Expo markers.
You can even use your finger instead of a pen, by clicking on
the on-screen palette of pen colors and tools that comes with the
And did we say the SB680 was sturdy? A SmartBoard actually took
a bullet in Iraq and is still operating.
You never want to fumble with the whiteboard in front of your
audience, and for $1,999, the SB680 offers everything you need to
give a confident presentation.
Smart Technologies, 703-516-7627, www.smarttech.com
5. Polyscribe Control Content Environment
SOMETIMES THE BEST technologies use existing structures in a way
that nobody else had thought of. This is the case with the
Polyscribe Control Content Environment.
CCE makes e-mail almost completely secure, a great feat given
how the medium is almost completely unsecure by nature.
How does it work? All data for a protected e-mail resides on
servers at Cambridge Systems, the company that built the
technology. As such, it’s not suitable for topsecret data,
which can’t be outside an agency’s direct control.
However, there are thousands of sensitive e-mail messages sent
every day — such as human resources data or internal memos
— for which using CCE would be appropriate, protecting the
data more than any internal system probably could.
CCE-based e-mail is viewed through a link, so the person who
posted the e-mail message can easily track who and how many people
have viewed the file. It can also be designed to display only once
for each user or to display a watermark that will mark the document
no matter where it resides.
An actual e-mail message is sent to the chosen recipient, but
it’s basically just a note explaining how the CCE system
works with a link to the e-mail itself. In addition, the data can
be encrypted using the Advanced Encryption Standard, which would
require a password for viewing.
At $80 for a year of service or to send 100M of data through the
CCE system, it can be just what the doctor ordered for sensitive
e-mail messages that need extra protection.
Cambridge Systems, 703-435-5110, www.camsoftinc.com
4. Trimble Nomad 800LE
THE TRIMBLE NOMAD 800LE handheld computer can do almost
anything: monitor longitude, latitude and wind speed; take pictures
and video; scan bar codes; link wirelessly to the Internet; play
your favorite songs; send e-mail messages; read your handwriting;
and make a mean spaghetti carbonara.
OK, we made up that last one, but it wouldn’t surprise us
if the Nomad 800LE could also cook. Its versatility is why we
ranked the Nomad at No. 4 on our Best of 2008 list.
And it’s a tough device, meeting the Mil-Std 810F standard
for drops, vibration and temperature extremes. We put the Nomad
through the rigorous GCN Lab tests for heat, humidity and drops,
and it passed them all brilliantly.
The bright yellow Nomad weighs about 21 ounces, including a
rechargeable battery, so it didn’t weigh us down. It was a
little bigger and heavier than the average BlackBerry personal
digital assistant, but the Nomad could do plenty of things a
BlackBerry can’t. The lithium ion battery lasted just fine
throughout the week we spent testing the Nomad.
At $2,499, the Nomad is a bargain if you consider what it would
cost to buy a separate Global Positioning System, PDA, MP3 player,
tablet PC, digital camera and scanner.
Trimble, 541-750-9200, www.trimble.com/rugged
3. Belkin N1 Vision Wireless Router
AS THE WORLD WAITS for the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers to finalize the n amendment to the 802.11
standards for wireless networks, the information technology world
can’t afford to sit still.
The latest reports say finalization will occur in November 2009,
but network administrators need secure, high-speed wireless access
for their users now.
Fortunately, companies such as Belkin are stepping up to the
The Belkin N1 Vision is a draft n wireless router that can
easily be set to function as an access point. In addition there are
four gigabit local-area network ports so it can function as both a
wired and wireless router.
We really like the sleek, science-fiction look of the N1, which
includes a large liquid crystal display that can show at a glance
the device’s status.
Various displays can be selected, from a network status screen
that shows how many users are connected to an upload/download
The N1’s security was top notch, with up to 128-bit
encryption and all of the nowstandard authentication formats.
The device is also able to deliver some of the fastest transfer
rates in the market, even through our rather tough indoor/outdoor
Belkin sells the N1 Vision for $150, which is an even greater
bargain than when we reviewed it.
Although this router may have a science fiction look, and the n
amendment finalization is still far off, the N1 can make your fast,
secure, long-range wireless network dreams a reality.
Belkin, 800-223-5546, www.belkin.com
2. Olympus Stylus 1030 SW
BACK WHEN THE exclusive world of rugged computers started to
expand into fresh areas, cameras were the first products to make
the jump. But the early models tested in the lab were heavy bricks
that could still be broken if subjected to the stresses of the
Mil-Std 810F requirements.
Olympus has washed away those old models with the Stylus 1030
SW, a camera that not only looks just like the consumer equivalent,
but exceeds 810f standards. Plus, it can work underwater.
Even reviewed as a typical digital camera, the $399 Stylus 1030
SW is impressive. It’s a 10.1-megapixel model that could
rival film cameras in terms of quality. And if you like to frame
your shots using the LCD screen, the Stylus 1030 SW comes with a
2.7-inch LCD that uses a new hypercrystal technology that makes
images on the screen look like your photos will.
Along with passing the shock portion of the military tests, the
camera withstood water pressure down to 33 feet. We snapped
pictures underwater and left the camera there for 24 hours.
Afterward, it was fine. Above or below the water, it’s our
No. 2 choice for best new product of 2008.
Olympus America, 978-468-8944, www.olympusamerica.com
1. Oki Data C5550n MFP
OKI DATA HAD a lot of competition when it came into the lab for
our annual multifunction printer roundup. We tested every component
it had, including the fax, scanner, and color printer, against not
only our rigorous standards but also against competitors.
Many MFPs specialized in one area, such as print speeds or color
quality, but the C5550n did very well in all areas.
It was beaten in specific areas by more specialized MFPs but
finished second or third in every category. It’s just about
exactly what you want in an MFP: a wellrounded device that can
handle anything you throw at it.
The C5550n had no flaws and quite a few ease-of-use features,
such as preset buttons that let you print documents on different
sizes of paper. One button converts legal documents to letter size
and another goes in the other direction, expanding letter- size
documents fit on legal paper. And almost all commands are executed
with a single button. The C5550n also was relatively fast, printing
our 30-page text document in 1 minute, 24 seconds and the 30-page
color one in 2 minutes, 17 seconds with good accuracy.
The $1,499 price tag put it over the top as the No. 1 new
product in 2008.
It may not be as flashy as some other technologies, but in
government, almost nothing gets done without ink hitting paper. And
the C5550n is ready to serve.
Oki Data Americas, 800-654-3282,