Asus dreams up modular PC of the future
Look, ma, no connectors
Exclusive Asus has shelved plans to develop the PC of the future - literally. The Taiwanese vendor's Green PC concept computer, shown to Reg Hardware this week, is just that: a shelf. And some clever wireless connectivity and non-contact inductive power source.
Asus' design breaks the computer down into a series of interchangeable modules. It imagines the machine's hard drives, optical units, memory, processor, graphics engine, network interface, Wireless USB adaptor and so on, shipping as a mix of square full-size boxes and half-size units. To build a Green PC, you just stack as many of these as you need on the shelf-like base unit.
The idea is that all the modules communicate wirelessly to discover what capabilities each can offer, and then start exchanging data. The units draw power from the base through induction.
Markus Wierzoch of the company's Asus Design division admitted the concept doesn't yet exist as a working prototype, but he maintained that if technology evolves the way the company expects it to, building such a machine will be feasible in the future. That said, he didn't provide a date when Asus expects that point to be reached.
It's all a bit science fictional, of course, but inductive power transfer is a reality and has been used to re-charge notebooks and other devices wirelessly. A high-frequency oscillating electromagnetic field in the base generates a current in a receiver built into each component unit. It's broadly the same way a power transformer works, with a primary coil generating a current in a secondary coil, the difference between the number of loops in each coil governing the change in voltage.
The wireless connectivity is possible through something like ultrawideband (UWB), but Asus will have to wait for data transfer rates to get significantly faster before wireless technology can be used to, say, send information back and forth between the CPU and memory.
Of course, there's no reason why, in the near term, the units might not connect physically to the base unit through built in power and data connectors.
Asus also showed us a concept notebook which uses many of the modules that might be included in the shelf system. Standardised form factors would ensure your hard drive could be pulled from one and slotted into the other, for example. It could even double-up as an MP3 player, the company suggested.
It also said it foresees a time when new modules - perhaps even ones acquired on a lease rather than bought outright - will be delivered within half an hour of the order going through, rather like pizzas are delivered today. ®