Small computers…

I have really backed myself into a pickle this time! It dawned on me that the publishing of timely content using WordPress qualifies me as a “Blogger”. Which means I have finally attained my Dream Job. Yikes! You would think that due to around 104 weeks of meeting newsletter deadlines flawlessly on a weekly basis that simply changing venue/format would not be a big deal. And yet… it kind of is.

On to the topic. I have always been fascinated with small computers. You may think I am speaking of laptops when I say that. Nope. I simply mean a smaller “box” than we are used to. Still plugging in monitor, keyboard, printer, etc. Not overly advertised, but they are out there 🙂 The Mac Mini is a great example. About 8 inches square and maybe 2 inches tall, the size is about that of a personal sized pizza. And it has a very powerful CPU inside, and plenty of RAM (assuming ones adds extra), an SSD hard drive of course, and a whola lotta places to plug stuff in. USB, HDMI and many others. One would never be stuck for places to plug in external accessories.

I spent about 15-20 hours educating myself as to the various strengths and weaknesses of this computer. And two big factors that always arise when small size is a constraint are factors here as well. Quietness and Coolness. A fast spinning fan is noisy and due to the size constraint, there is no room for a nice big SLOW fan, which is much quieter. Also airflow is a factor in cooling. Less air to move around equals less cooling power. Coolness and quietness are VERY intertwined when it comes to small computers.

I did as much research as I could without actually buying one (Fact: I never intended to use it as a MAC, but simply to put Windows on it and use it as my main computer) and once again learned that noise is a subjective measurement when it comes to computers. Some say it is noisy when it gets warmed up, and some say it is super quiet. Without actual experience I cannot say for myself. And in a store it is impossible to tell with all the background noise.

And some say cooling is adequate, and some modify the unit by putting more cooling vents to help with same. One great thing about my current computer is that I built it for both cooling AND quiet. By very carefully choosing all the parts to complement each other and not to put in more hot components than I actually needed. The result is that it can run forever, stay cool the whole time, and not make hardly any sound at all. And so I got to thinking, maybe I could build a better small computer than the Mac Mini. Many have tried, and yet we have never heard of those computers. Hmmmm. It is a very tricky puzzle. Small, cool, fast, quiet. Choose three.

After a few hours of updating myself as to the current state of the art regarding small computers, I concluded that not all that much had changed. Sure, you can get some very expensive computers that are mainly for the mega rich or very specific applications, but not much for the rest of us. And then, off in the distance, as if by magic, a star appeared. With some creative Googling, I learned that little company you may have heard of had just built and was ready to market a VERY small (smaller than I ever dreamed of) computer. That company, Intel. Yup!

It is called NUC, for Next Unit Computing. And here is a link to a great review with some excellent photos. You have to see this thing to believe it. Make sure you watch the video to get an idea of the incredible size.

Will I be selling my beautiful custom machine to get one of these (relatively cheap) units? Not so quick. Because remember, in this case, the multi BILLION dollar company and I, as computer builders, are up against the VERY SAME CONSTRAINTS. And this unit is not quite fast enough for me. And I have no way of knowing if it is cool enough or quiet enough yet. It is, for sure, a very very big step in the right direction. I believe that the next version of this may be for me. And this first version would be just fine for any person who is not a total computer nut.

Why small? Well, haven’t you gotten sick of looking at the big 5 year old desktop hulk of a box taking up valuable floor or desk space? I know I have. Less wires and bulk is one reason why many have moved to laptops when getting a new computer. Even if they never really intend to leave the house with it. And I believe that many offices of any type would like to save space and neaten things up whenever possible. Cheaper than getting a bigger office 🙂 I always notice a company’s computer setup. The same way a roofer notices the roof of every building they enter 🙂

Funny how Intel and I were thinking along precisely the same lines 🙂

Is there a small, cool, quiet computer in your future?

Thanks for reading my first “official” Tech Newsletter Blog Post. I am honored.


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