My PC is full of air and unoccupied slots and bays. I have four 5.25" optical drive bays that I don’t use. The top one houses a DVD burner, but I can’t remember the last time I stuck a disc in it. I moved to Canada over three years ago, and I’m positive that I’ve never purchased a blank DVD in this country.
Half of the expansion slots on my motherboard are set dressing. I only have a dual-slot graphics card and a sound card. In fairness, I use five of my six hard-drive bays—but that’s because I’m still holding on to old drives, including a 320GB WD Caviar SE16. If I were to build a new system today, I would probably need just two 3.5" bays, with one 4TB hard drive in each. Add a 2.5" solid-state drive for my OS and applications, and I’d be set.
I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact, I’m willing to bet the vast majority of PC gamers and enthusiasts out there have just as much empty space in their PCs. Oh, don’t get me wrong; leaving room for upgrades is fine. However, in the age of laptops, iPads, and smartphones, it seems a little strange that we should all have humongous mid-tower PCs full of air.
Over the past few days, I’ve been trying to picture what a modern desktop PC ought to look like. We could redesign everything completely, of course—introduce new form factors all over the place and wind up with something close to perfection. However, I think we can already improve things greatly with a few simple, practical steps:
That’s about as far as I’ve gotten just now, but I’m sure there are other things we could do. And I’m sure you folks have ideas, too.
The broader point, though, is that desktop PCs could use a makeover. With just a handful of good initiatives, and maybe a new standard or two, we could make desktop PCs substantially simpler to build, more straightforward to use, and easier to carry around. Not every enclosure needs built-in cabling for everything plus a dozen front-panel ports, but we should at least offer those options. The easier it is to build a PC, the more people will do it, and the better the industry will be.
Today, Tech Report launched with a new design; we hope you like it. We’ll be adding to it over the coming weeks to create a better environment for everyone. Our…
You could call it giving up, but I’m going to call it reaching a conclusion. I know what I would do differently if I were to make a third attempt…
I have my first µATX now and can live with it but e.g. the graphics card goes over one SATA port. [b
There are fewer spare wires due to his other points like integrated wiring and modular power supplies.
An install from the fastest USB keys is now about 5x-10x faster than the fastest optical discs. And growing year-on-year.
About the whole ATX and mATX thing – much of the industry is already going towards smaller computers. Just look at Dell and their small form factor business “desktops”:
This article completely ignores some market segments that still exist, and that is the folder and the animator.
Some powerful laptops can work here, but heavy or long-leadtime folding or rendering projects are just too hard on them. Even a mid-case system has its challenges for cooling. Big boxes and water cooling is still where it’s at, as far as I’m concerned.
If you can get by with an i3 or an i5 and a 60 GB system drive, then bully for you! But some of us still need big systems with lots of cores, GPU power, memory, hard drives, and power supplies. It’s myopic and even self-centered to think that “the PC” needs a makeover “just because I don’t need the power anymore”.
If the market pushes folders out, it will just take longer to make scientific discoveries. And if powerful machines are one day too expensive or not available, then the little guy will get pushed aside and only the big renderhouses will be able to do animation. I don’t know about you but I think Hollywood sucks now and the best stuff is coming from independents and You-Tube posters.
But then again, history shows that as a society, we usually get what we want, and that goes for everything from politics to crime to how our markets work.
The OP’s hypothetical system had 2x 4GB storage drives and 1 SSD (available up to 1TB in size today).
A well-designed small microATX case can probably dissipate around 500W at reasonable noise levels; that could mean a 120W CPU and a 280W GPU plus incidentals.
The Mac Pro is a great example of a bespoke tiny, powerful workstation (up to 12 cores Xeon E5, 2x AMD FirePro GPUs). How can we build something similar using commodity, standardized parts?
All nice suggestions particularly the extra front I/O. mATX is the way to go for 90% of all desktop uses. I would retain the 5.25 bay for all types of docks, from drive cradles to mSD/USB/eSATA port extenders to a handy drawer for storing small tools, screws and small parts, pistol, etc.
What I’d like to see is an IBM-style console situated on the desktop close to the user. This would house I/O ports and docks while the mATX case shrouded with dust filters sits elsewhere, linked to the console by a single data/power cable. The monitor would stand right behing it, or the case could form the base of a VESA monitor stand. The top would have a dock on which to mount and sync/charge a 7-8in tablet – the tablet could be configured to act as a secondary screen or a touch controller.
My biggest want is to remove legacy ports and features that aren’t needed anymore. Reduces complexity and cost over time. If Intel or AMD or Asus or somebody just said “we ain’t doin’ old stuff no more”, I would be a happy camper. I wish VGA would go away. Multi-memory card readers should just standardize on one format, at most (can always use a USB3.0 reader). Lets only have one type of HDMI or DisplayPort, too, not micro mini and full. Beyond that everything I want to add should be a USB3 add-on, not built-in. 80% of the market should be non-legacy in the next couple years.
VGA is much easier for a chipset to run than a digital format like HDMI or DisplayPort, which I think is the only reason it still exists on motherboards (for when everything else is broken and you need to see the BIOS).
2. I love my 5.25 bays. I put 3.5 and 2.5 (2 or 4 drives) docking stations in them and add card readers/USB ports with them. I haven’t used my internal 3.5 drive bays for years.
3. I bought a good quality external drive years ago and just plug it into a usb port on whatever computer I occasionally need it on. Currently VERY occasionally since I switched to using a thumb drive to install OSes or using Spinrite.
One more thing – dust filters!!! Just give us some cases with good dust filters God damnit. Dust kills electronics and ruins cooling. How hard can it be.
Problem is, as it has always been, cooling. Personally i prefer air cooling and that means space for the CPU cooler and possibly for the GPU as well if i ever want to install water cooling, space which only a few micro ATX cases offer but never completely equal a full sized ATX case. Personally i have nothing to gain from a smaller case. I realize most of the components don’t need a ATX case but i need it for the minority that do need it (CPU and even GPU).
I have a Coolermaster 690 II case and i could fit another one on the desk and another 3 or 4 under or near the desk at close enough distance to reach the monitor. Smaller cases are neat but they don’t offer me anything. What i do agree that needs to be redesigned is the front of ATX cases which have too many bays that will never be used. With an intelligent design the form factor could be reduced, but again, smaller cases don’t offer me anything.
Well D42, I don’t think RAID is a backup solution. You can mirror all the drives you want but they’re still subject to all the usual security concerns, ie. malware, viruses etc. and they’re vulnerable to human error, ie. deleting the wrong file(s), overwriting your just-finished great American novel…etc. RAID is about redundancy not preservation.
As far as external HDDs what’s the point? We backup our files only because we’re sure that all HDDs fail. Trusting a backup to the same medium doesn’t seem too smart to me. It’s certainly better than nothing but I don’t think adding HDDs is a very good solution.
Right now I’m trying to build a gaming machine that can fit under a desk without being 90% air. ATX is so old.
Let’s eliminate flexibility and choice from a platform defined by flexibility and choice? Fuck off and buy an iPad.
Way to completely miss the point. The article isn’t about reducing flexibility or choice, it’s about reducing size while improving ease-of-use. There is no reason for our desktops to be sized to fit 1990’s PC components.
For that matter, I still am highly suspicious that laptops can’t be made modular just like desktops. I think laptop makers keep everything incompatible and tightly integrated to make you buy a whole new laptop when you decide to upgrade.
Just cause 20 years has passed, doesn’t mean the size of the computer would change. There’s a reason why it’s that big. It’s big cause the PC is modular, and as long as tech keeps improving then the need to install new parts will be there.
It’s like the muscle cars from the 70’s. Why do people still love these cars, when they’re clearly outdated? But the room in the engine bay allows for some serious upgrades. Modern car engine bays are so cramped and tightly packed that just looking at them makes me wish I had smaller hands.
In the right hands, an old V8 can be upgraded with new modern equipment. You can add fuel injection, and turbos. It’s the same with a desktop PC. Except you guys seem to want the expandability of a v8 70’s car, but the size of a Prius engine bay. This makes no sense. In practicality, you couldn’t fit a v8 engine in a Prius, and as we know there’s no replacement for displacement.
The replacement for displacement! Well, that and direct injection, high compression, RPMs, and a host of other things that are Illegal In NASCAR And Therefore To Be Shunned.
doesn’t change anything, big displacement with forced induction kills little displacement with forced induction.
forced induction didn’t work before because of cost and complexity and today the increased cost and complexity while equally fashionable for the time is causing the same headaches, small displacement engines with forced induction have little to no torque unless they are onboost, because they are so weak off boost they spend most of their time on it which gobbles up gas.
on the highway it’s a real problem as wind resistance minimizes the advantage, in the city their is a benefit that comes with the reduced reciprocating mass while sitting in stop and go but is it worth the cost and complexity?
small cars while showing exciting fuel numbers aren’t exciting, Dodge Dart 1.4 multi air is a prime example, while the turbo does a decent job the party doesn’t start until 3000 rpm.
Ford’s F150 Eco Boost is a great example of what can be done with a smaller displacement forced induction engine but the benefit of all that work amounts to 10% and is negated by a V8 using an 8spd tranny while the Eco Boost engine costs an additional $1500 on it’s own….. much ado about nothing and if they try to push the engine any further the need for high octane fuel eats up all cost savings resulting in a negative result.
I remember full-height 5.25″ floppy disk drives, and they were huge noisy monsters. Are you saying we should bring back full-height bays in all of our modern PC’s for nostalgia?
Unlike 1970’s muscle cars, old computer tech is only cool in the way that an antique, horse-drawn wagon is cool, to be marveled at what people used to put up with, not for real use.
We currently fit our DVD drives into what I believe (from memory) was originally called a half-height 5.25″ bay. The vast majority of modern PC’s only have zero or one of them being used. These bays are nearly obsolete.
I never had any in my own PCs, but I did encounter a few genuine Shugart 8″ floppy drives at one of my first jobs. [url
reducing size while improving ease of use is a dubious claim at best and their are solid cost & airflow benefits that come with desktops built to fit 1990’s sized components.
aftermarket heatsinks for overclocking and high end video cards are 2 primary reasons why a dramatic size loss would lead to an immediate versatility and performance loss. cost is another reason why while humorous many of the criticisms in this article are near worthless.
p.s. they tried to sell customizable laptops years ago, they’d come with display, keyboard, a larger housing to fit desktop cpu’s if chosen and they were decently priced but instead of selling they got completely ignored because a fully integrated one was cheaper.
I LOVE the Alienware X51 design. I have one. The PS3-like size is perfect, the keys to which are having the power supply external, and having a special PCI-E riser card so the GPU sits vertically. It’s very light and I even carry it and the power supply back and forth with me to work in a backpack, along with my MacBook Air