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Nano PCs: pint sized powerhouses, that say the PC isn't dead

The PC isn't dead. It just got smaller, faster -- and  is  now  a palm-sized thing, stuck behind the  screen!
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, August 20, 2014: As smart phone screens become bigger, as  laptops become thinner and lighter,  as tablets  try and mimic   a few desktop  functions,  industry experts  have started   writing a large 'RIP' over the PC.   And they are  wrong.  The PC isn't dead. It just  got smalle -- in fact , so small that you no longer see it on the desktop: it is  now stuck  on the back of the display. Honey, I've shrunk the PC!
Forty years after the birth of the  personal computer as we know it today, say hello to  its  new  pint sized  avatar  variously called  thin PC, mini PC, nano PC or  boringly -- thin client.  Intel  has come up with its own mouthful of a name: NUC or Next Unit of Computing.
The leader in stripped-down PCs was N Computing,  a 10-year old California company that pioneered the concept of  the  virtual desktop, where one  full-featured  server PC,  fuelled a number of  "zero clients",  or  sparsely  fuelled  terminals each with its own display. It has  recently  launched  a new concept of hosted thin PCs or Desktop as a Service (DaaS).
In India two domestic players have   successfully adopted the  ultra-thin PC concept and  each created  a family of  lean, mean, compute machines:  VXL Instruments from Mumbai and  RDP Workstations  from Hyderabad.  Last month VXL launched  the K-series  of ultra thin  Linux desktops  which  use a very efficient ARM processor  consuming less than 4 watts of power.  RDP  offers a wide choice of  mini PCs  fuelled by Intel and AMD chips,  which run Linux or a Windows  flavour.
The Macau-based Zotac commands a steady market in India for its Z Box mini PC. Like all   machines in this category, the basic PC  is a compact, fan-less  box,  on which you have to "build"  the  PC to your needs. I have been using a Celeron-based  Z Box for  2  years now.  I had to  pay extra for  getting it fitted with a  500 GB hard disk, and loading  Windows  software. It comes with a host of  connector options, including 6 USB ports, a HDMI port as well as audio, video and monitor pin-outs.  I used my old keyboard and mouse, so  I spent less than Rs 10,000.  Like all  mini PCs, it comes with fixtures so that you can attach it to the back of your flat screen monitor. The latest Z Box Nano,   includes a 64 GB hard drive and   is pre-loaded with Windows 8.1.
Foxconn, better known as a components manufacturer, has recently brought its BT Series of   three  Nano PCs to India.  They run on  dual or quad-core Intel  chips,   offer a combo of USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports,  support full HD displays and come with 8 GB of memory.  They cost  between Rs 10,750 and Rs 14,600 depending on the main processor.
Another  brand better known for motherboards and graphics cards is Gigabyte. They are bringing their  "Brix" series of  ultra compact PCs in kit form to India this month. This PC is   -- literally --  just   a  handful and  is  powered by 5th generation Intel core processors or their AMD equivalents. However the top end of the series like Brix Pro, could cost Rs 70,000 or more.
Intel has shrunk the  PC to a  10 cm-by-10 cm  board  for its NUC series with  a  variety of processor  and memory options  and  costs  Rs 9000  to Rs 30,000. They have   put in technologies like RapidStart, where the PC can be switched on or off  like, a switch (Well almost -- your Windows  software can still slow you down!
Finally last week, Asus  has moved the PC away from  traditional  PC software: the new  CN 60 series  - 'Chromebox' -  uses Intel chips, is pre-installed with  16 GB solid state memory and    runs Google's Chrome OS.  Three models are priced from Rs 21,000 to Rs 58,000.
These Lilliputian PCs are proof that   innovation often comes in deceptively small  packaging.  Say hello  to  a new era of   do-it-yourself, mix-n-match PC making!

 




    


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