Intel’s been offering a line of tiny desktop computers as part of its NUC (Next Unit of Computing) initiative for a few years. And Intel’s not the only company shrinking the desktop PC.

Gigabyte, ECS, Dell, Lenovo, Zotac, and others offer compact desktop computers with Intel or AMD processors and support for Windows, Linux, and other operating systems. And that’s not even counting the growing number of Chromeboxes.

But Intel thinks there’s room for the market to grow… by shrinking. The company’s looking ahead toward next-generation mini PCs which make today’s NUC systems seem big.

idf mini pc_01

In a session at this week’s Intel Developer Conference in San Francisco, Intel outlined some of the things PC makers need to consider when building tiny desktops.

First there’s less space for traditional components such as hard drives or even full-sized ports, so little PCs are more likely to use flash storage and embedded memory.

idf mini pc_08

This can make it harder to upgrade a mini PC than an old-school desktop… but leaving out some legacy ports and other features can also help drive down the price of these little computers making it easier to replace them every few years rather than upgrading.

Intel figures the bill of materials for a typical mini PC today comes in at around $100, while future models could cost just over $50 to make (although they’ll probably sell for closer to $100).

idf mini pc_06

While I’m a fan of allowing upgrades as a way to make a system last longer and reduce the long-term carbon footprint, there’s less material and fewer components in these little machines… which means there’s less e-waste to recycle or trash when it does come time to upgrade.

Intel also suggests device makers consider thermal constraints of these little PCs by building fanless systems with passive heatsinks and low power processors such as Intel Atom chips. This goes further to reduce their carbon footprint.

Ultimately Intel figures we’ll see tiny desktops as small as 4.6″ x 2.8″ x 1.26″ which are fully capable Windows, Android, Chrome, and Linux computers in the not too distant future. Those systems would be about half the size of a current Intel NUC device… and if Intel’s right, they could cost half as much to build. Hopefully that’ll also lead to a street price that’s about 50 percent lower.



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12 replies on “Intel prepares for even smaller (and cheaper) mini PCs”

  1. Intel, there’s already an ultra-small form factor
    available. It’s known as the smartphone.

    My biggest problem with all these devices is that
    they use liliputian ports, necessitating buying new
    cables just to connect these devices to other legacy
    devices. Things will get even worse if these things
    will use proprietary breakout cables, which are all too
    easy to misplace.

    I especially hate using microSD_C instead of full size
    SD_Cs. The micro cards are fingernail sized and a
    bear to insert and remove.

    1. Can I easily install Linux on my smartphone, and plug in a keyboard and mouse?

      It requires the same proprietary wiring setup that you are already complaining about.

      1. I do see the small, cheap Win8.1 tablets as possibly better alternatives, and certainly more flexible alternatives given that you can easily carry them around and use them without any attached devices.

        I have a 64GB Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet. Great machine, runs Win 8.1. I picked it up refurbished on ebay or $199, otherwise could cost around $300. This is at least the equal of the IBM X200 (Core2Duo 2.4GHz) notebook that’s still my main machine, except for connectivity options. I could easily run Linux on it in a VM.

        Cables for using the Venue 8 Pro as brains of a desktop setup are an issue, but a solvable one. Plugable — and I expect other companies — are coming out with a dock targeted at the Venue 8 Pro (which has idiosyncratic charging issue), which will also work with any computer that has a USB2.0 port. The dock adds 4 USB 2..0 ports, ethernet jack, audio in/out, and DVI/HDMI/VGA:
        https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/plugable/plugable-pro8-docking-station-with-charging-for-ve

        Plugable’s special V8Pro dock won’t be available until November or December, but you can get very similar setup right now, and just as clean a “1 cable connection” by buying the special charging/data cable recently made available by Dell ( http://accessories.us.dell.com/sna/productdetail.aspx?c=us&l=en&cs=19&sku=470-ABES ) and attaching that to a current dock of Plugable’s: http://www.amazon.com/Plugable-Universal-DisplayLink-1920×1080-High-Speed/dp/B002PONXAI

        The solutions above allow for a one cable USB2 connection to the dock whether you’re attaching a notebook or tablet, or switching between them.

        1. Ha, not an “IBM X200” that I have; of course it’s Lenovo. And it’s a few years old, definitely not super-fast anymore, not cutting edge. But Dell V8Pro is just as fast and both are plenty fast for me.

    2. Your comparison fails because most Smart Phones can’t run anything resembling a desktop OS… Most ARM devices don’t support the easy installation and use of GNU/Linux (Desktop) distros… Let alone running Windows…

      Besides, if these become popular enough then we’ll start seeing docks offered for them… Like a TV/Monitor you can simply plug one into and convert into a All In One PC, etc…

    3. I think that’s sort of like an 1984-era IBM salesman complaining that a Mac was worthless because you couldn’t attach a punch-card reader and a high-speed line printer to it.

  2. I’m hoping for some interest in UMPCs. Too bad I seem to be part of only a few people who want UMPCs running desktop Linux and Windows OS’s. I do hope for physical keyboards and mouse pointers (maybe an optical thumb mouse). Don’t really care about the added bulk and less reliability due to moving parts.

    There’s that DragonBox Pyra in the works. Too bad it has a target release date sometime next year. While they’ve learned a lot from the Pandora, it’s not my ideal choice. I especially don’t like the joysticks (I’d prefer to remove them and just have a single thumb mouse). Then again by the time the Pyra ships, it may be my only choice. Of course, I still have to see how that SoC they chose performs for the things I want to do.

  3. As much as I like dev boards, I would say for general purpose computing there is such a thing as too small. Keeping some standards, like SO-DIMM, SATA, etc. makes for a machine that can be easily specc’ed out and later upgraded. Going to soldered-on everything makes for a disposable PC…

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