Over the last few years we’ve seen small computers get smaller and smaller. The Intel Compute Stick that’s expected to ship within the next month or so looks more like a chunky USB flash drive than a full-fledged computer. But plug it into the HDMI port of nearly any TV or monitor and you’ve got a full-fledged Windows (or Ubuntu) PC.

At the Intel Developers Forum in China this week, Intel is discussing some of the latest trends in tiny computers and providing more details about the Compute Stick… and the devices that might follow it.

idf mini_06

First up, let’s talk a little bit about money. Before smartphones and netbooks became popular, the conventional wisdom was that smaller computers cost more than their larger counterparts because it was expensive to shrink the size of components. But these days small, relatively energy efficient components are pretty commonplace… and smaller devices are often cheaper than bigger models.

For instance, the Intel NUC mini-computer motherboard measures about 4″ x 4″ and Intel says it has a bill-of-materials of around $200. The smaller 4″ x 2.5″ Intel Mini Lake Reference design has about $100 worth of hardware. The 3.5″ x 1.2″ Compute Stick is even cheaper… and eventually Intel figures we’ll see devices in this category that could cost as little as $50 to build.

idf mini bom

Of course, shrinking the size also means shrinking the room for expansion ports, cooling systems and other components. So a Compute Stick necessarily has slower performance and fewer input/output options than larger systems. Intel says the Compute Stick can generate a maximum of 2.2 watts of power, compared with 15 watts for an NUC computer, for instance, or up to 65 watts for a computer with a Mini ITX motherboard and a sizeable fan.

Oh, speaking of fans — it looks like the Intel Compute Stick will be fanless. Those vents in the case aren’t indications of a spinning fan under the hood. They’re just there to help heat dissipate through the case.

compute stick

Intel also introduced a new form-factor at CES in January which the company is further discussing at IDF. It’s a sub-1 liter “socketed” mini PC board.

The new model is a bit bigger than an NUC board, at 5.8″ x 5.5″  but it supports a 35 watt processor… and unlike an NUC, the processor isn’t built into the motherboard. You’ll be able to upgrade the chip in these new systems just as you would with a traditional desktop computer. It also has 2 mini PCI Express slots and 2 SODIMM slots for memory.

These systems would be able to work with Intel Celeron through COre i7 chips.

idf mini socket

Intel is calling this new Socketed mini PC board a proof-of-concept, but it’s a concept that I think will appeal to a lot of people who like the small size of the NUC line of products, but want a little more flexibility.

So what else is coming up for the Intel-powered mini PC space? The chip maker envisions a future where tiny desktops are free from wires. You won’t need to plug in a power cable or use wires to connect to a keyboard, mouse, or display.

idf mini_03

Instead you’ll be able to use Intel WiDi wireless display technology to connect a screen, Bluetooth for a mouse and keyboard, WiFi for an internet connection and printer, and a built-in battery (and possibly wireless charging) to operate without tethering your computer to a wall socket.

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12 replies on “Intel: Mini PCs getting smaller, cheaper”

  1. so that new form factor (“new Socketed mini PC board”) is slightly smaller than (thin) mini-ITX (147×140 vs 170×170), has vertical ports (whyever that should be a great thing to have) instead of a flexible back plane system and does everything else the same way?

    so that’s great innovation! /s

    1. I was expecting something similar to Nano ITX (120mm x 120mm)… 147 x 140 is more of the same and I also don´t like the layout.
      Nano ITX has been around for more than 10 years and now Intel come up with 147×140…

      1. to be fair: nano-ITX is pretty much a VIA-only spec that nobody else ever build devices for.
        You can neither buy Intel nor AMD nor any other, current Devices with that size.

        Afair there isn’t even a good specification about CPU-Placement/Cooling or similar (needed if you want to attach a passive cooling solution integrated into the case). So a new Spec might be a good thing.

  2. Why not just use a back plane system like industry has been doing like… forever?

  3. So I could carry a wireless computer in my pocket…. But then I would need a monitor that supports widi and wireless keyboard and mouse

    1. and, since it uses widi, you couldn’t use it for gaming or desktop-usage. But it’s great for htpc/mediacenter-stuff. Exactly the thing you’d need to be portable!

        1. well, yes… weren’t it for 2 things:

          a) android smartphones bring their own screen/input-devices
          b) i already own a smartphone (and something that does widi on my tv-side, so i’d guess mediacenter is already there), why should i buy another device?

  4. Wow, I really like the idea of the Sub-1L LGA 1150 socket board. Its really going to open up more options for near-NUC size Mini PCs.

    I’m hoping to see some cool cases available for that form factor. Something like a 4-bay NAS case would be cool.

    1. Also I wonder what chipset it will use. I hope it can be at an H97/Z97.

    2. This one got me excited right away. It will require dedicated cooling solutions though, as regular CPU coolers will not fit.

      1. Yeh its really hard to tell by the low res picture, but I don’t see mounting holes for a standard LGA1150 cooler

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