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!