You can mix-n-match memory and storage to custom-build your own ultra compact PC
Bangalore, July 6 2015: In an earlier era, Dell pioneered the concept of custom-built PCs where you chose a combo of memory, storage, operating system, monitor size -- and they assembled and shipped the PC to your specification. Alas, those days have gone, to be replaced by a new take-it-or-leave-it era of limited choices. If off -the-shelf PC options don't please you, there is only one way out: Grab a screw driver and Do It Yourself (DIY). In the bargain you can build a lean, green and fanless compute machine, tailored to your needs -- and so compact, you can stick it on the back of your monitor.
Intel has made this route popular by creating what it calls the Next Unit of Computing or NUC PC -- a kit-form ultra compact PC which you can configure and assemble.
Possibly the biggest name in such compact PCs is the Taiwan-based Gigabyte, whose BRIX range of DIY options is one of the widest in the industry. They have just launched 3 models in India -- and I have been tinkering with two of them for a week now.
The BRIX PC kits come in a handy palm-sized case which is full fledged PC -- with a choice of processor, WiFi antenna, power cable and pin-outs for USB3, HDMI, mini display port, headphone and ethernet. The bracket to mount the box on the back of a monitor is also provided. What you need to buy and install is the DDR3 memory -- up to 8GB --and either Hard Disk Drive or Solid State Drive in 2.5 inch size or one of the new mSATA drives up to 1 TB. The display drivers are provided in a CD but you have to provide the operating system. If you load Windows 8.1 now, you can soon upgrade it for free to Window 10. Otherwise you can opt for one of the free Linux flavours. I had my assembled BRIX, up and ready in 15 minutes. But it takes another hour to load the OS from the installation CD.
Once you remove four screws and remove the cover, it is fairly easy to mount the HDD, SSD or mSATA disk drive and insert the memory modules into one or both slots provided. You will need to attach an external DVD/CD drive to the USB port to load the OS of your choice.... and find a suitable display. Extremely light HD displays can be had for less than Rs 5000. By my rough calculation, a 500 GB SSD drive and 4 GB of memory will set you back around Rs 15,000 and the Windows 8 OS will cost around Rs 7000.
The entry level GB-BXBT-2807 BRIX costs Rs 10,500, while the GB-BXi3H-5010 and GB-BXi5H-5200 are priced Rs 23,000 and Rs 32,000 respectively. The difference is in the processor which ranges from basic Celeron to Intel Core 5 with graphics. Even the basic model supports full HD displays while the two pricier models support 4K- UHD. Indeed, there are hardly any ready made PCs yet, that are 4K ready -- and if you own a 4K TV set, the BRIX might be the only practical way to feed your home theatre with UHD content. I think the true strength of this DIY PC might be as a home multimedia hub: it can drive two displays at the same time.
Spec for spec, the Gigabyte PC kits may end up costing more for a complete system than many off -the- shelf PCs. But for the little more you pay, you get something tailored to your needs. The envious taalis you earn when you casually tell your friends , "I built it myself" -- well, that's a bonus! --Anand Parthasarathy