Intel Shrinks Sandy Bridge to a Very Small Form Factor

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Intel showed off a new motherboard form factor at a pair of recent shows that’s even smaller than the mini-ITX form, which could put some serious computer power into consumer devices.

The board was shown at both PAX East and Intel’s Platinum Summit. According to the Swedish hardware enthusiast site SweClockers.com, it’s called the Next Unit of Computing, or simply NUC, and measures in at 4 x 4-inch, or 10cm x 10cm. The mini-ITX is 17cm x 17cm, making the NUC 65 percent smaller.

The demo unit was based on Ivy Bridge, although given its size and the lack of a heat sink, it will probably use an ultra low-voltage Core i3 or i5. The board showed two SO-DIMM slots (the kind used in laptops) and two mini PCIe headers. There was also one Thunderbolt, HDMI, and USB 3.0 port.

The images and report make no mention of storage and there was no visible SATA port. Of course, given the size and potential for mobility a compact mSATA solid state drive (SSD) would be a likely storage solution. The design was a prototype though, so that could change.

A spokesman for Intel said this technology is expected to be introduced in the second half of this year and is aimed at the digital signage segment and use the “Third Generation Intel Core processor,” which is the Ivy Bridge generation. “At this time, we aren’t commenting further including speculating what other applications might benefit from this technology,” he said.

Digital signage is basically smart displays, but that could also mean smart TVs, a new area for TV vendors and one Apple is long rumored to be targeting. “One of the more interesting opportunities would be in smart TVs, where you could either bolt something like this on to the back of a dumb display and turn it into a smart display or include it into a TV and turn your TV into a pretty smart all-in-one computer,” said Nathan Brookwood, research fellow with Insight 64.

Most embedded systems use an ARM design, which is fine for an iPad, but a smart TV would need more, argued Brookwood. “This would give you a smart TV that could run Windows 8. Of course, something like this could add several hundred dollars to the cost of the BOM [bill of materials] for such a device,” he added.

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