Will Your Next Computer be Made of Lego Blocks?
Have personal computers gotten boring? How about a snap-together, modular, Lego-style computer? Just pick the components that suit your needs, and snap them into place -- no tools or special skills required. At least three vendors are offering modular PCs. Here's how they work...
Modular Computers (The Lego PC?)
The personal computer market is in desperate shape. Only 281.6 million PCs will ship this year, down 8.7% from 2014, predicts research firm IDC. Next year will see further declines, and hope for a mild recovery in 2017 is tentative.
Part of the problem is a long-standing lack of innovation in PCs. There just hasn’t been anything new to get consumers excited in the past three years or more. So OEMs are trying to generate enthusiasm with all-in-one desktops, 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybrids, and now... the “modular computer.”
A modular computer seals each of a desktop PC’s major components into its own slick package. The CPU and motherboard go into a base unit; a hard drive goes into another unit; an audio circuit board and speakers go into another, optional unit; and so on. Instead of struggling with barebones parts, hex-head screws, bay rails, and color-coded cables with mystifying connectors, you can just snap units together to build any PC you want. It’s as easy as Legos.
In fact, there is a Micro Lego Computer available from TotalGeekdom. The base unit’s footprint is only 5x5 inches and it stands just 4 inches high. It houses either a 1.6GHz Intel Core i3 or 2.1 GHz Core i5 quad-core CPU; a 120 GB SSD; WiFi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, USB 3.0, mini DisplayPort and mini HDMI connectivity.
The $600 i3 model comes with 4 GB of RAM and Intel HD 5500 integrated graphic, while the $730 i5 model provides 8 GB of RAM and a more powerful HD 6000 graphics kit. Both models include a quiet Noctua fan and high-efficiency power supply. For $880, you can have a 3.1 GHz Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and Intel Iris 6100 integrated graphics. You can also order a custom-built system with various CPU, graphic, and RAM options.
Currently, only two add-ons are available. One is an external USB 3.0 drive (blue in the image below); the SSD version can be up to 2 TB, while the HDD model goes only to 1 TB. The card reader and USB 3.0 Hub add-on (red in the image) provides reading/writing of 15 memory card formats, and 3 USB 3.0 ports in addition to the 4 included in the base unit.
Good Looks *and* Brains?
I love the concept. But for me the problem is that it looks like a 9-year-old's Lego project. Fortunately there are some other modular PC offerings that sport a more elegant look.
Xi3 Corp. makes sleek, tiny computers that are modular internally. Essentially, the motherboard has been chopped into three boards. The Processor Board holds the CPU and RAM. The Primary I/O board holds SSD storage and most of the external ports. The Secondary I/O board handles power, video management, and Internet connectivity. Each board can be swapped out for another with upgraded or functionally different capabilities.
The X7A Modular Computer is a sculpted cube about 4.25 inches on each side. Packed into it are an AMD Trinity processor (up to 3.2 GHz); Radeon HD 7660G GPU; 8 GB of RAM; SSD storage ranging from 64 GB to 1 TB; 2 – Mini–DisplayPorts; 1 – HDMI/DisplayPort combo; 4 – eSATAp–III ports; 4 – USB 3.0 ports; 4 – USB 2.0 ports; and 1 GB Ethernet port.
The X7A consumes only 30 watts of electricity. It’s small enough to mount on the back of a monitor, or to toss into a briefcase or backpack. But don't lose it -- prices start at $839.
Acer announced a modular computer system at IFA 2015, Europe’s biggest consumer electronics show. The Acer Revo Build system looks like it will be more at home in the average living room than the Lego or Xi3 designs.
The base unit contains an Intel Pentium or Celeron CPU incorporated in the new power-saving Skylake chipset; 32 GB of SSD; and 8 GB of RAM. Additional modules stack on top of the base unit, connecting via magnetically aligned pogo pins.
One of the add-on modules will be a GPU block that provides high-performance graphics for gaming. A hard drive block will contain 500 GB or 1 TB of storage. Another block will add speakers and a microphone. A wireless charger is planned as the cap of the five-tier system.
The Acer Revo Build will start shipping to Europe in October, with a base unit price of €249 ($276 USD). Acer has not announced a U. S. release date or price.
Modular PCs cost a bit more than their traditional cousins, but for some the extra cost may be offset by the flexibility of upgrades or the ability to snap together a custom-built computer.
Would you buy a modular PC? Why or why not? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 4 Sep 2015
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Will Your Next Computer be Made of Lego Blocks? (Posted: 4 Sep 2015)
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