Intel Loves Exponential Trends: Shrinking Mini-PCs

Subject: General Tech, Cases and Cooling, Systems, Shows and Expos | September 12, 2014 - 11:20 AM |
Tagged: idf, idf 2014, nuc, Intel, SFF, small form factor

A few years ago, Intel introduced the NUC line of small form factor PCs. At this year's IDF, they have announced plans to make even smaller, and cheaper, specifications that are intended for OEMs to install Windows, Linux, Android, and Chrome OS on. This initiative is not yet named, but will consist of mostly soldered components, leaving basically just the wireless adapters user-replaceable, rather than the more user-serviceable NUC.

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Image Credit: Liliputing

Being the owner of Moore's Law, they just couldn't help but fit it to some type of exponential curve. While it is with respect to generation, not time, Intel expects the new, currently unnamed form factor to halve both the volume (size) and bill of material (BOM) cost of the NUC. They then said that another generation after ("Future SFF") will halve the BOM cost again, to a quarter of the NUC.

What do our readers think? Would you be willing to give up socketed components for smaller and cheaper devices in this category or does this just become indistinguishable from mobile devices (which we already know can be cheap and packed into small spaces)?

Source: Liliputing

Digital Storm Releases the Bolt II: Steam Machine!

Subject: Systems | January 7, 2014 - 02:08 AM |
Tagged: CES, steam os, Steam Machine, Steam Controller, small form factor, dual boot, Digital Storm, CES 2014, Bolt 2

Today Digital Storm has announced the Bolt 2 small form factor computer.  This little number is marketed as a “Steam machine”, and for very good reasons.  This particular number packs in quite a punch in a very small space.

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The custom designed case has a very effective and logical layout.  It really is quite small, but it is very strong and robust.  It can handle a micro-ITX board, multiple drives, and a dual slot graphics card.  The system I saw was decked out with a GTX 780 Ti along with the Intel i7 4770K.  It includes Digital Storm’s proprietary lighting and cooling module which of course controls the lighting… and cooling fan speed for the system.

Cooling is primarily based on the Corsair H100i dual fan unit.  This portion takes air from one side/top of the case (depending on orientation) and then vents it through the rest of the chassis.  The graphics card takes air from the other side of the case and routes it out the back.  This cooling solution allows a fair amount of overclocking to be attempted by the end user, but it does have limitations as compared to a larger system with more airflow.

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The design utilizes a 700 watt power supply, which is pretty impressive considering the space constraints that Digital Storm has to deal with.  A lot of work with partners has allowed them to include this very small unit with a pair of 30 mm fans at either end.  One would expect such fans to produce a LOT of noise.  This is happily not the case.  The design is good enough, and efficient enough, that at higher loads (including overclocking) it stays very quiet.

The system is very accessible, far more than most would expect.  Anyone that has worked on an older small form factor case will testify as to how annoying and contorted setting up hardware (or swapping it out) can be.  Digital Storm again took their time with the design to make sure that installation and the changing of components is as simple as possible.  A person armed with a screwdriver can get to any major component in a few seconds.  Swapping out the video card would take the amount of time of removing four screws, unplugging the power, and making sure not to rip out the PCI-E 16X ribbon connecting the card to the board.

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Prices for the unit start at $1500 and go above $2500, depending on component choices.  When Valve finalizes the Steam OS and has it ready for prime time, Digital Storm will be including the Steam controller with the build.

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Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer:

What is a HTPC anyways?

Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series?  Catch up on them here:


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Continuing with our series on Cutting the Cord and building your own HTPC, we move beyond the "Assessment Phase" we discussed in part one and into the realm of actually building your own Home Theater PC with Windows 7 Media Center.  In Part 2, we walk through our hardware picks for our HTPC.  But before we dive headlong into that, I need to get something off my chest.

 My Experience: /rant on.  When I first planned to write this article, I thought it would be interesting to write a new HTPC building guide soon after Windows 8 was released in order to spotlight Windows 8 Media Center.  While I initially had some concerns with Microsoft’s choice of separating Media Center from Windows 8 itself, and some other issues I heard rumor of, my own experience attempting to build a Windows 8 Media Center would push this long time Microsoft fan to the limits.  Long story short, I spent nearly two days working up the article and building a Windows 8 Media Center only to come to terms with the fact that Microsoft has so jacked with some of the key features of Media Center in Windows 8 that I can’t recommend anyone use it.   With that being said, I had to start over from scratch, rebuilding my HTPC with Windows 7 and doing a complete rewrite of the article.  I want to thank Microsoft for showing us that they care more about cramming the Metro UI down our throats than they care about the passionate Media Center community that has rallied around and supported them these many years.  Anyways, /rant off and back to our previously schedule HTPC building guide.

 The market is currently littered with all manners of bringing content to your television set.  There are devices that help you manage your current cable/satellite television subscription such as TiVo, Xbox with Verizon FIOS, Xbox with Comcast XFinity, or even the Google TV .  There’s devices out there that give you access to additional features above and beyond your television viewing such as the Apple TV, the Roku, or the Boxee Box.  There’s even a slew of “Smart TV’s” and Streaming Sticks that will turn any TV into a Smart TV that are loaded with applications to overlay content or get access to other services.  For the hardcore DiY crowd, there’s also some other options to build your own devices with distributions like MythTV or XBMC (Xbox Media Center).

 

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With so many new boxes, devices and options hitting the street just about every day and it’s easy to get lost in the flood of options.  Luckily Veronica Belmont’s Mega Set Top Box List is still being maintained and has some great information to help you weed through the mess.

 

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With so many options, many of which are $100 or less, you’d think that building a $500-$700 Media Center PC is overkill.  Unfortunately many of these devices will not do everything you want them to do and I’ve not found anything that combines all the capabilities and functions I wanted into a single package as good as Windows Media Center (though the new Boxee TV Box might be a new contender on the block.)  Building and running your own Media Center offers the flexibility and power all in one package to meet every scenario you could throw at it.  You’re not stuck waiting for some developer to get around to writing new firmware or applications to add in support for what you want.  If you can View, Read or Watch it on a Windows desktop, then you can most likely get it working directly through Windows Media Center.  I still don’t understand why Microsoft hasn’t licensed or even produced their own device with their excellent Media Center UI. 

 

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Read on to dive headlong into our HTPC build!

Small Form Factor Intel NUC PCs coming in October for under $400

Subject: General Tech | September 15, 2012 - 09:16 PM |
Tagged: ssd, small form factor, SFF, nuc, Ivy Bridge, Intel, htpc

Earlier this year, Intel showed off a small motherboard and processor combination that piqued the interest of many enthusiasts and attendees. The rather oddly named Next Unit of Computing (NUC) PC was originally intended to power digital signage, kiosks, and embedded systems (car PC anyone?). However, in response to the interest shown by enthusiasts, the x86 chip giant has decided to bring the super-small form factor computers to retail.  

The Next Unit of Computing PC’s main attraction is its small size: the motherboard is tiny, measuring a mere 4” x 4.” For reference, the mini-ITX standard is a 6.7” x 6.7” motherboard, and VIA’s Pico-ITX form factor boards measure 3.9” x 2.7.” In that respect, the NUC is not the smallest PC that you can build, but it will be the fastest – and by a significant margin thanks to the bundled Ivy Bridge CPU.

While i3 and i5 editions were allegedly designed, currently Intel is only bringing the i3 to the retail market. Specifically, the CPU powering the NUC will be an Intel Core i3-3217U Ivy Bridge processor, and it will be soldered onto the motherboard. That particular CPU is a 1.8GHz dual core/four thread part with 3MB cache, and Intel HD 4000 graphics (there is no Turbo Boost functionality). Not bad for a small form factor PC!

Intel SFF NUC Computer.jpg

Image credit: PC Pro.

The boards will have two SO-DIMM slots for RAM, an mSATA port for an SSD, and a mini-PCIe slot for a Wi-FI card. Intel is making two versions of the NUC motherboard that will differ only in IO. One motherboard will have 3 USB 2.0 ports, 1 HDMI output, and 1 Thunderbolt port. The other board will have 3 USB 2.0 ports, 2 HDMI outputs, and one Gigabit Ethernet jack. Intel believes that the Thunderbolt-equipped model will be more popular with consumers while the Gigabit-Ethernet and dual HDMI model will be used more by businesses.

Intel is reportedly sourcing several chassis designs for its custom form factor motherboard (there are at least two cases at present), and you will be able to build out a barebones system with one of the custom cases, integrated heatsink, and power supply. Additionally, when spec'ed out with the Intel i3-3217U CPU, 4GB of RAM, Wi-Fi card, and a 40GB Intel SSD, the company expects the entire NUC computer to cost around $399 in the US. The parts will be available for purchase in October, according to Engadget.

Hopefully, we will see OEMs take this form factor and make something cool with it. It's not clear which specific OEMs will be first to bring pre-built systems to market but they should be coming in the future.

Personally, I’m a big fan of small form factor computers, and despite the odd “NUC” name I’m excited to see where Intel takes this platform. If you were looking for a small but powerful computer to drive your next project, it might be worth keeping an eye on the NUC. What do you think of this sub $400, approximately 5” (with case) PC?

Read more about SFF and HTPC components at PC Perspective.

Source: Engadget