CES 2011: Hands-on with the Xi3 Ultra-small Modular Desktop (video)

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When Xi3 first came out from their stealth operating mode, the tech industry largely didn’t understand what to do with them. A small company, the 40-member staff is passionate about their unique entry into the computing space, and for good reason – the Xi3 offers a lot of potential in just a little space.

The idea behind the Xi3 is that it breaks up the traditional motherboard into a number of smaller pieces. These add-in boards then snap into the main board (which houses the CPU, for example) via slots at the top and bottom.  Add-ins can offer traditional or custom functionality, depending on the customer.

For most consumers, that means, in Xi3’s eyes, a computer that never grows outdated, that never needs to be thrown out. When users are starting to feel the need to upgrade, they don’t need to buy an entirely new computer – instead, they might buy a new daughter board that has USB 3.0 or LightPeak.

It will be interesting to see how far Xi3 takes their modular concept; while the company has said it will be possible to buy upgrade modules (completely separate physical units that slide into grooves on the metal case’s exterior) that offer substantial improvements to the underlying hardware – one module might contain a 1 or 2 TB hard drive, another might contain a powerful mobile GPU, while a third might add a numer of sorely-needed new ports.

Xi3 CES 2011 Xi3 CES 2011

One such module, the Z3RO concept, was on-hand at the Xi3 table. The Z3RO module, currently being shopped to OEMs and large enterprises, takes the Xi3 modular concept and expands it to include multi-user functionality. Starting with a single Xi3 core, each Z3RO module allows one additional user to work concurrently on a single Xi3. 

At the moment, Xi3 suggests that up to four users can work from one PC simultaneously, though they take care to note that while the experience is perfectly usable, it’s not for power users or enthusiasts.  Instead, it’s designed to allow corporations to reduce electricity usage and overhead by simplifying their networked hardware. 

Like the Xi3 itself, which carries a starting price of $849, the Z3RO module is set to be a pricey addition, with a four-seat unit carrying a suggested $1400 pricetag. The concept shows that Xi3 is targeting commercial and large enterprise clients, who have been using multi-user desktops for years.

The Z3RO is available today in the limited form of evaluation and proof-of-concept units, with general availability scheduled for sometime before the end of Q1.

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