ICE Computer is developing a modular PC concept called the xPC. Basically it’s a small, phone-sized computer which houses a processor, memory, storage, and wireless components. But there’s no display or keyboard.

Instead, the idea is that you hook up the xPC to a docking station to turn it into a fully functional computer.

Want to use a desktop? Hook up the xDock. Want a tablet? Try the xPad. There’s also an xTop laptop docking station.

ICE Computer xPC

If the concept sounds familiar, that’s because it works a lot like the Asus Padfone — which lets you use your Android smartphone as the brains of a tablet or laptop just by adding a docking station.

What makes the xPC concept different is that it can use an Intel, AMD, or ARM-based procesor, so you could theoretically build a Windows computer around the design, not just an Andorid or Linux system.

Engadget reports that ICE Computer hopes to ship the xPC later this year for between $1– and $250. The desktop dock should be available around the same time, with the tablet dock due out next year.

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12 replies on “xPC modular PC can power a desktop, laptop, or tablet (concept)”

  1. I wonder if IBM had something similar on the drawing board way back when. It seems familiar at least (and not because of the Padphone).

    1. The idea does go back a long way, but the technology is only now really getting to the point of it being practical.

  2. Sounds pretty good to me but I believe the core of the device should be a mobile phone like the PadPhone.

    1. The idea is to minimize the compromise for the other form factors. For example, the padfone adds to the thickness of a tablet and all other dock design considerations have to account for the phone for both docking and keeping it functional for things like not adding or trapping heat around it.

      A module makes it all more simpler, while also means you could upgrade even your phone without replacing anything but the module.

      Along with making it possible to have a different phone design if you prefer and not have to effect the design considerations of all the docks.

      1. Well, looking at the video/picture, they’re a long way from acheiving that. Still they clearly intend on selling it now.
        The module will have to be a lot smaller than that to allow the kind of use you’re talking about (do you imagine this stuff plugged in a phone? It would be enormous.)
        Maybe the concept sounds good, but, for now, it doesn’t look good at all.

        1. Oh, they can make it smaller as the video is still of a prototype for proof of concept phase of development and they’re still about a year away from production.

          Also they seem intent to offer a range of processor offerings and the more powerful ones will of course require larger packaging.

          So module size will depend on what performance ranges they’ll be offering this product. Since the more powerful offerings will require things like fans, etc. and they may not intend for this version to go into anything smaller than a tablet.

          A ARM or ATOM based solution though can be squeezed into much smaller packaging. So the option is there for them to do that if they want to offer something in those ranges.

          Mind though the industry is pushing for even more powerful systems to become SoC’s and we’re only two years away from 14nm products that will more easily fit into much smaller packaging.

          1. “Also they seem intent to offer a range of processor offerings and the more powerful ones will of course require larger packaging.”
            So, that means different sizes and form for docks too. Like how many?
            3 dock-tablets, 3 dock-PCs, 3 dockc-laptops…
            “the industry is pushing for even more powerful systems to become SoC’s and we’re only two years away from 14nm products”
            So, we’re gonna have to change all the docks+the module when we want to upgrade. (Wich could be every year)
            All-in-all this thing is a money sucker that won’t be standardized, practical and is gonne be obsolete pretty quick.
            I’ll just buy an ultra-hybrid and be done with it.

          2. “So, that means different sizes and form for docks too. Like how many?”

            No, it means final size will depend on what range they want to offer as it’ll be one case to fit them all. Though larger simply means they won’t cover small devices like Smart Phones.

            While other companies, it’s unlikely this will be the only one, may choose to cover the smaller devices and offer a range of low power solutions based on either ARM or Intel ATOM only.

            “So, we’re gonna have to change all the docks+the module when we want to upgrade. (Which could be every year)”

            No, not unless they change the dock specifications and/or range of devices they will cover. For this to work they’ll need standardized form factors and dock standards. Otherwise it’ll fail like previous attempts.

            My point though is they are working on standards and we’re only seeing the proof of concept right now. While by the time it does get to market we’ll already be heading towards 14nm products that can fit into smaller packages.

            So they might for example decide to keep it small, only support ARM and Intel ATOM solutions when they first come out and then offer higher end products once they can be squeezed into the smaller form factor and can for example go fan-less to help reduce design constraints.

            For now there are alternatives like Intel pushing Thunderbolt, along with USB 3.0, that’ll allow for fairly standard dock station solutions. It won’t be as compact or neat but it’ll work for now.

            While of course if you only want one basic all in one solution then the hybrids should prove very popular.

            Just keep in mind 5 years from now we may all be using modules instead the way the industry is going.

  3. Wow… The xPad looks good…
    Nah, just joking.

    The problem I see with the one-small-pc-fits-all is that, as a consumer, you’ll need to buy all these docking stations to make it useful/relevant.
    That maybe great for ICE Computer who could make money on these accessories too… But a lot less for us.

    Another is that you’d have to transport a lot of this stuff around.

    So, I think, at least the docks should be -also- sold to businesses (airplane/train/coffee shops/restaurants…) or institutions (like libraries)… Whatever.
    For the product to become interesting, docks should be available EVERYWHERE. I would only have to take this little fella with me, and I could plug it wherever I go.

    Well, good luck with that.

    1. It’s the old argument against this idea, which isn’t new btw, but is normally countered by the idea that you could also save by only have to upgrade the module instead of all your separate devices. So could potentially balance out.

      While I agree that making the dock universal would greatly improve it’s chances but requires the acceptance of a universal standard for docks and that is still pending.

      1. And the universality may be why they are not going for a phone. Observe the issues around Motorola Webtop docks and how each new phone needed a new dock because the form of the phone had changed. Even Apple runs into this with their phones and pads (tho to a somewhat more subtle degree). And this is with products that sit mostly exposed. Fully docking as we see here brings even greater challenges regarding long term usage.

        1. Yes, but they are working on establishing universal standard. So more a question of when rather than whether they can do it or not.

          While design issues are less than existing solutions like the Asus Padfone imposes and whether or not this company decides to make it even smaller it is possible for others to make smaller and thus more practical module designs later.

          This idea will probably kick off in 2 years when we reach 14nm production and what we consider ULV processors can all go fan-less and everything will follow SoC design.

          Mind even this version of the product isn’t expected to market till next year and there’s already signs of designers going for more compact designs like squeezing Core i5 processors into 11.6″ tablets. While next year’s Haswell update will be the first mainstream SoC/MCM from Intel that’ll start making such compact designs more practical.

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