At their Computex 2017 keynote, Intel officially launched the latest attempt to make modular computing work. The Compute Card, first announced earlier this year at CES, is shaped like a credit card (but thicker) and can turn something like a monitor into a PC in seconds. It’s awesome in theory, but history tells us Intel’s fighting an uphill battle here.
Let’s get into that theory, because it’s a nice one. We all have to use tons of different devices now, and tech companies have come at that problem from a lot of different angles. Apple and Google use software, focusing on syncing data across devices to make life easier for users. Intel is using hardware, giving you one mini PC that you can put in your pocket and take with you anywhere. The Compute Card is just that kind of mini PC, containing a chipset, memory, storage, and network connectivity.
There’s another benefit — easy upgrades. Imagine having a laptop with a Compute Card that you could pop out, replacing it with a new card with a better processor — beats the laptops we have now, which are increasingly difficult to upgrade or repair.
Thing is, neither of these ideas have worked in the past. The pocket PC idea has been tried a lot — most recently with all the USB stick PCs we were seeing a couple years ago. Those didn’t catch on, and the Compute Card has an even steeper hill to climb. While the USB standard was universal, the Compute Card will require its own connector and slot. Intel has gotten a few hardware partners like LG and Dell on board to make Compute Card shells (like displays and laptops), but it’s all going to be a hard sell. To actually benefit from having a pocket PC, you need to have machines compatible with it in all areas of your life. Schools and businesses are slow to adopt anything, and expecting consumers to buy a bunch of Compute Card-compatible devices seems like an expensive ask.
Unfortunately, while the upgrade angle is attractive, there’s reason to think that might be doomed to fail, too. Samsung tried this with their smart TVs in 2013 with the announcement of their Evolution Kits. Subsequent smart TVs were supposed to have modules on the back that could be swapped out to improve hardware performance over time, but Samsung quietly abandoned the idea only a couple years after they introduced it.
We don’t yet know how much the Compute Cards will cost, although we’re sure that will vary based on the specs. Intel plans to ship the Compute Cards in August, so we should know more about pricing soon. They’ll be available with Core i5, Core m3, Celeron, and Pentium processors, all with 4 GB of RAM. The Core cards will have a 128 GB SSD, while the Celeron and Pentium cards will have 64 GB of eMMC memory.
Check out more of our Computex 2017 coverage right here!
Disclosure: Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA), an organizer of COMPUTEX, covered our travel expenses to attend COMPUTEX 2017. All thoughts and opinions are 100% our own.