Technically, most desktop PCs are modular — you can open the case and replace memory and storage, add a graphics card, maybe replace the processor, and swap out various other components.

But Intel is showing a new platform that would make it even easier to swap out parts. Sort of.

AnandTech reports that Intel unveiled a new platform that’s currently just called “The Element” at an event in London.

Here’s the basic idea: customers would buy a backplane with PCIe slots and slide in the components they want to use.

One of those components would basically be a computer-on-a PCIe card that features the processor, memory, storage, and even a cooling fan.

But you could also add a graphics card, additional storage, or other hardware to the board by adding separate PCIe cards. And if you want to upgrade the memory or storage, you could open up the “element” card to get at its insides… although to replace the processor you’d probably need to buy a whole new module.

What benefits are there when compared with a traditional desktop or server? Basically you could buy a chassis and backplane once and swap out components on an as-needed basis. Keep your case and/or backplane indefinitely, but buy a new module every few years. It might or might not be cheaper than buying a whole new computer. It’s probably at least a little more convenient.

This whole project, which comes from the same folks at Intel who are responsible for the NUC line of mini computers and the Intel Compute Card (RIP), is still a work in progress at this point, and there are plenty of details to be finalized — like what this thing will actually be called.

But Intel Intel seems to be targeting the enterprise space initially, with the first real-world hardware shipping to OEMs in the first quarter of 2020. According to AnandTech the platform could expand to the consumer space sometime after that.

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14 replies on “Intel unveils a modular PC platform that could launch early next year”

  1. Now, if I could buy a POWER9 or ARM64 based desktop and add this card in for native x86 support, or even how the older DOS compatible Apples worked, this could be a gamechanger for moving towards secure computing to help make the transition easier.

  2. Intel is intensionally killing the desktop/workstation market for home/SOHO users, and it’s not a new strategy.

    You can’t get compatible hardware componets for a 3yrs old Intel x86 based desktop/workstation. If you want to upgrade you need to buy the Processor-Mainboard-DRAM set totally new. Which will compell you to spend a minimum of USD150! at which one can buy a full featured (infact more capable) ARM based Tablet.

    You’re in good luck if you’re able to run a 10yr old Intel based desktop/workstation (impossible without Linux/BSD) & get your work done.

    Now tell me why should I spend so much on Intel??….!!

    Till now my hope is on Intel because of their FLOSS support. 🙂

    1. Because tablets don’t work in a lot of corporate environments. They have their place, but not for the average worker. An accountant isn’t going to manipulate huge spreadsheets on a tablet, or an engineer isn’t going to be doing CAD on a tablet. Get real.

      Even most cheap places replace their PCs more than once every 10 years. Most places I’ve worked for are typically on a 5 year cycle. Many are even using laptops and docking stations to simplify the process. Got a hardware problem? Swap it out.

      Or even using thin clients with VDIs. Keep all the hardware centralized, virtualize the desktop, and users need a minimal piece of hardware to connect. If you need more resources, add to the cluster. Someone needs something beefier? Grant them more resources, and maybe have a GPU pool for those that need it.

      You’re even seeing this with gaming now. Services like Stadia, GEForce Now, etc. If one’s willing to pay a subscription fee and has a decent internet connection, you can play high end games on a crap computer.

      Beefier systems and hobbyist computers are becoming more niche products, as are desktops. PCs are disposable. Most people can get away with a $500 laptop and it’ll meet most of their needs. When it dies, replace.

      1. You are missing the point. The COST of upgrade, specially if you are looking at the developing/underdeveloped countries.

        My question is why should I use Intel based system? If I am a Home or Small Office Home Office user!!

  3. As stupid as this sounds to most people familiar with the concept of building a PC, this is actually a great idea for enterprise customers. Don’t think of it as “dumbing it down”, but rather “making it actually feasible to upgrade computers by a small IT team”. If you have an office with 100 PCs per IT staff, at 3 PC upgrades per hour, that costs 33 hours. PC upgrades are almost never done in most corporate environments.

    1. I dont see how this will alleviate that at all. It will help for Azure, AWS and the like. But most corporations use thin clients. Where do you see complete systems at desktops for something like a call center? And as others pointed out, we already have a modular system that is the PC. This is more vaporware that will never be sold.

  4. So they want to dumb down DYI PC building? Like it’s not simple enough?

    1. “Intel seems to be targeting the enterprise space initially” could imply that the whole point of this is for better servers, particularly those expecting a high number of clients. Several of the computer-on-card connected to a single backpane might work better as a cluster than other methods, but also possibly worse than others.
      I don’t think consumers would see much if any benefit, unless it turns out to be possible to plug a computer-on-card into an ordinary motherboard and have it work somehow.

    2. Just imagine a new computer motherboard layout.

      At the centre is the GPU, which can be taken out/replaced.
      Surrounded on four sides are slots to place your GDDR memory sticks.
      And around those sticks are 8 Slots to place-in individual CPU chiplets.
      Surrounding the CPU chiplets are individual flash storage (like UFS).
      On two sides of the storage are ports for input and output.

      That makes for a neat layout for a laptop and console. And would make it quite dense and easy to pass information from the storage to the processor to the memory and to the gpu block. And if companies wanted to make it more efficient, they could essentially do the same and stamp these out as SoC’s to boost efficiency for phones and tablets, but would remove the modularity of it.

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