Intel’s Tiny PC May Signal Desktop Future (Video)

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Out on the show floor, Intel Corp.’s John Deatherage is busy showing off these extraordinarily small motherboards. Inside each one isn’t the low-performing Atom processor that you expect – rather, it’s a much higher-spec Core i3 dual-core CPU. It’s really quite charming.

In the video above, you can see Deatherage discuss the hardware aspects of the platform. It’s important to note that Intel isn’t in the business of selling a complete system, and they’re not going to be changing that anytime soon. What they will build, however, are boards. This will be an Intel-branded motherboard, and it’ll feature a Core i3 CPU soldered down inside. You can’t upgrade the processor on these guys, but some sacrifices have to be made to get things down to this level.

There are two SoDIMM slots on the board, so you can pack it full of cheap laptop RAM, and two mini-PCIe slots so you can add a small SSD and a wireless card. Around back are a couple of USB 2.0 ports (one on the other side) and either Gigabit Ethernet, or a Thunderbolt port. Intel mentioned that while this is still very much in the early stages, a SKU for the developing world markets would probably include Gigabit, while a SKU for mature markets (North America, Europe, etc.) would likely eschew Gigabit for Thunderbolt. The former includes two HDMI ports, while the latter has only one.

Intel Next Unit ComputingIntel Next Unit Computing

In addition to the boards, Intel has worked with an unnamed manufacturer to produce chassis for the new systems. When an OEM or ODM buys the boards, they’ll get the chassis, too, as Intel didn’t want to make the resellers have to source their own. The chassis are high quality, too, made out of some really nice plastics. The black one represented the more affordable SKU (Ethernet), while the red one was made for the more expensive one (Thunderbolt).

Despite the small size, there’s still a fan crammed into the box along with everything else. The fans come with the board, because Intel didn’t want a manufacturer to come up with a thermal solution that was insufficient. When the next-generation Core architecture, Haswell, launches next year, Intel is hoping that they’ll be able to create a version of this platform that is completely fanless.

Intel Next Unit ComputingA passively cooled PC with this much power would be a neat device. Entirely solid state, there would be no moving parts anywhere in the unit. That opens up a number of possibilities, such as placement in an environment that would require sealed units (fast food restaurants, factory floors), placement in cars and other moving platforms – you get the idea.

Intel hopes that the project will be successful enough to launch future iterations of the technology. Planned revisions currently include units with Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs, among other improvements.

Deatherage said that while the primary target was resellers and OEMs/ODMs, there would more than likely be a boxed version for the DIY crowd. The current target MSRP for a complete system (which would include memory, flash storage and a wireless card, in addition to the CPU) is $399. A boxed version would very likely come in at no more than $300.

Currently, availability dates are still up the air, though it will be launching later this year.

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