ASUS Avalon concept PC merges desktops and DIY with cable-free mindset

Subject: Graphics Cards, Motherboards, Systems, Shows and Expos | May 30, 2016 - 08:04 AM |
Tagged: crazy people, concept, computex 2016, computex, avalon, asus

If you expected Computex to be bland and stale this year, ASUS has something that is going to change your mind. During the company's Republic of Gamers press conference, it revealed a concept PC design it has been working on dubbed Avalon. The goal of this project was to improve on the fundamental design of the PC; something that hasn't changed for decades. ASUS wanted to show that you could build a platform that would allow DIY machines to be "more modular, easier to build, and more tightly integrated."

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The result is a proof of concept design that looks more like a high end turntable than a PC. In reality, you are looking at a machine that has been totally redesigned, from the power supply to motherboard and case integration to cooling considerations and more. ASUS has posted a great story that goes into a lot of detail on Avalon, and it's clear this is a project the team has been working on for some time.

The brainchild of Jonathan Chu, the Avalon concept takes a notebook-like approach to desktop design. The motherboard is designed in conjunction with the chassis to enable more seamless cooperation between the two.

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The first example of changes to Avalon is something as simple as the front panel connectors on a case. Connecting them to your motherboard is the same today, basically, as it has ever been. But if you are the manufacturer or designer of both the chassis and the motherboard itself, it is trivial to have the buttons, lights and even additional capabilities built into a specific location on the PCB that matches with access points on the case. 

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Re-thinking the rear IO panel was another target: making it modular and connected to the system via PCI Express means you can swap connectivity options based on the user's needs. Multiple Gigabit NICs a requirement? Done. Maximum USB capability? Sure. Even better, by making the back panel IO a connected device, it can host storage and sound controllers on its own, allowing for improved audio solutions and flexible data configurations. 

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ASUS even worked in a prototype power supply that is based on the SFX form factor but that uses a server-style edge connector, removing wires from the equation. It then becomes the motherboard's responsibility to distribute power through the other components; which again is easy to work through if you are designing these things in tandem. Installing or swapping a power supply becomes as simple as pulling out a drive tray.

This is all made possible by an internal structure that looks like this:

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Rethinking how a motherboard is built, how it connects to the outside world and to other components, means that ASUS was able to adjust and change just about everything. The only area that remains the same is for the discrete graphics card. These tend to draw too much power to use any kind of edge connector (though the ASUS story linked above says they are working on a solution) and thus you see short run cables from a break out on the motherboard to the standard ROG graphics card.

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The ASUS EdgeUp story has some more images and details and I would encourage you to check it out if you find this topic compelling; I know I do. There are no prices, no release dates, no plans for sampling yet. ASUS has built a prototype that is "right on the edge of what’s possible" and they are looking for feedback from the community to see what direction they should go next.

Will the DIY PC in 2020 be a completely different thing than we build today? It seems ASUS is asking the same question.

Source: ASUS EdgeUp

May 30, 2016 | 09:38 AM - Posted by Mad_Dane

Unless they make an upgrade path with motherboards which fit this case, well then it looks like a huge waste of money, looking at all that aluminium makes me think this case will be in the 1000 USD ballpark.

I really like the swappable I/O part tho, rest is pretty meh it's basically just a bunch of riser cards and the length of those makes me worry about latency.

May 30, 2016 | 10:46 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I like the idea of fewer/no wires and of swap-able I/O are these actually problems that are holding us back? This mostly this feels like it solves a problem more for the mobo manufacturers than consumers.

Consumers have a fair bit of choice for I/O now, but that's because manufacturers are making dozens of different motherboard variations for each new chipset. That's probably expensive, or at least more expensive than creating a single motherboard with a few large I/O busses that anyone else could then create modules to talk to.

A company as big as ASUS could try to standardize these things, but it will be a hard sell to get all the rest of the industry to follow suit. Again, what's the net benefit that raises shareholder value?

May 30, 2016 | 11:08 AM - Posted by Jann5s

To me the main gripe with the ATX standard is the limitations for GPU placements. However, flexible pci-e cables seem to fix that really efficiently. The avalon concept seems nice, but not at all constructively building a standard that other vendors can unite behind. Ergo, I fear it will go the way of the BTX.

May 30, 2016 | 11:31 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This thing looks straight up 90's hi-fi.

There is definitely room for a new motherboard format though, we could have tiny PCs right now, lord knows the demand is there. Put the CPU socket on a GPU size board, with a GPU style cooler and a single or double L-shaped connector for a GPU which sits parallel to it. RAM slots and connectors on the back.

May 30, 2016 | 12:23 PM - Posted by enjoyfebruary (not verified)

Weird, I was just thinking about this concept the other day. What would an entirely new motherboard design entail? I like the direction that Asus is going but I think the idea needs a few more design iterations to be viable to customers.

May 30, 2016 | 03:15 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

IBM PC Junior?

June 3, 2016 | 12:44 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yes.

May 30, 2016 | 06:02 PM - Posted by Art K (not verified)

Not gonna do make it! It breaks the very concept of DIY flexibility and imposes too many restrictions. It is oriented towards a mass market at the expense of adaptability to special needs or innovations - not at low volume requirements.

For example, the limited set of "one size fits all" back panels do not permit customization: The "workstation" has only four USB ports and no way to add more. A keyboard, mouse, printer and external storage and you're done. To add a scanner, external video, or whatever you are either SOOL or must add a USB hub. A USB hub just moves the rat's nest of cables to outside of the case. Current cases have multiple slots which allow adding extra USB port connectors (or any other type of add-in).

Only high volume components and add-ins would be available for these systems. Legacy niche adapters will be obsolete and not replaced as not being economically viable. (PCI adapters/slots, anyone?) The current ecosystem is based upon the standard ATX/mATX/µATX form factor plus up to seven functionally open-ended case slots and is supported by thousands of independent companies. A small company like ASUS is not going to displace that ecology. Even IBM, when it nearly owned the PC market, tried and failed with their PS/2.

The Avalon concept disregards the entire ethos of gamer DIY system builders. They go to great lengths and take enormous pride of their unique customizations. Witness the view panels in cases, colored fans and cables, detailed wiring harnesses, etc. Snapping a few standard parts together inside a bland hi-fi looking case has no emotional appeal or sense of accomplishment.

May 30, 2016 | 06:05 PM - Posted by navyman9

I like the concept. Less wires the better. anyone whos had their hands inside a computer knows the wiring is a pain to work around. ive had to disconnect several wires just to get to one thing.
Like the looks. If the price is reasonable, ill buy one just to
explore the insides.

May 31, 2016 | 09:02 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Not so sold on most of the concept, but DO WANT that card-edge modified SFX-L PSU.

May 31, 2016 | 11:45 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yes - release it , i am tired if the wires....

We can have both worlds...

Thanks

May 31, 2016 | 01:50 PM - Posted by MRFS (not verified)

I think the overall concept of such modularity has a LOT of potential.

What comes to mind, immediately, is an opportunity to isolate a region of DRAM with support for upcoming Non-Volatile memory technologies e.g. here's a sequence that becomes very do-able:

Power On Self Test
DEL key / enter UEFI BIOS
select FORMAT RAM option in UEFI menu
format RAMDISK with C: drive letter
install OS to C:

Think back to triple-channel Intel chipsets: I can foresee 3 separate "banks" of memory slots, 2 of which continue to support quad-channel access to volatile DRAM, while the third bank supports NVDRAM technology.

See, in particular, the photo of the "internal structure" above.

The DRAM slots on top can continue with current DDR4+ volatile memory, and plug-compatible riser (downer?) cards can be exchanged for a variety of reasons e.g. capacity expansion, speed improvements, and most importantly to host a bank of Non-Volatile DRAM.

Now, do a simple "thought experiment": what can we expect from the sheer densities of 48-layer Nand Flash chips that are now rolling off assembly lines?

Then, extend that line of logic to future NVDRAM e.g. Intel Optane, Everspin ST-MRAM, etc.

Those "Dog Fish Fingers" afford a massive amount of empty "real estate" to populate with future NVDRAM memory technologies.

FWIW, that's what I saw in those photos.

Congratulations to ASUS for showing thoughtful leadership and valuable experimentation.

May 31, 2016 | 05:55 PM - Posted by lott11

What I saw that is wrong.
There is no additional expansion, the same PCI port limitations by the CPU, 16 port 30 if you go to the top of the line in CPU.
Are we ever going to loose PS2 ports.
And a USB port limitation is limited 128 units per port, so why can we have more then 8 USB outlets per PC.
They just kill mods for quite a wild, have to wait for new cases and extension boards.

Now the good things.
May be now we can integrate HTPC with Stereo system in one box, maybe, possibly, I would hope.

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