The Frankenstein PC

One of the greatest things about PC is the modularity of hardware. A general PC system will consist of a processor, memory, storage, video card, network interface, power and additional IO devices. Good thing about this is that you can upgrade each component independently based on your needs. Generally all that's needed is for you to pop-open the case, take out a few screws, change a part, put everything back together again and cross your fingers hoping it'll still power-up.

USB has taken this to the next level. You can now get an external hard-disk on which to keep all your files, or an external CD/DVD/BD/Floppy drive, or external modem, external network adapter, etc. This makes the PC even more versatile. You no longer need to open the case to plug in a new device. Which means you can easily take the device and plug it into any PC you want. So you take your portable hard-disk, plug it into your home desktop, copy over some files, put the hard-disk in your bag, take it with you on the train and plug it into your laptop for use on the go. It basically allows for a much higher level of flexibility.

Portable disks are one thing, but the advantage of USB devices is just as great for all the other available accessories. Why buy a PCI WiFi adapter when you can just get a USB one that's about the same size of a regular USB stick and plugs right in the back of your PC? It's easier to install, you can easily use it in a different machine, it doesn't take up any space inside the case, and it doesn't contribute to internal heat, which means you can have a smaller case with quieter fans. This is particularly important for microATX, mini-ITX and pico-ITX HTPC builds. Similarly with a TV Tuner. Why get a large PCIe that may not even fit in one of these small cases, or if it does, will take up the only PCIe slot available, etc, when you can get something like the WinTV-NOVA-TD Dual Digital Tuner USB stick?



Other components can be externalized as well. Such as ripping out the internal PSU and replacing it with one of these.

Again, this will save space inside your case and reduce heat. And even though it's not strictly fully externalized, you could easily take it out and use it in a different case without having to worry about the size form-factor and mount brackets.

So network, storage and power can all be more or less fully externalized. How about the video card? Take a look at one of these bad boys.


You know how you can get IDE/SATA enclosures in which you pop a regular internal hard-drive, and connect the enclosure to your PC via USB? Well this is very similar. You basically get an external PCIe enclosure, in which you pop in any PCIe desktop graphics card, and connect to your laptop via an ExpressCard slot. So now you can beef up any regular laptop with a full desktop GPU for gaming galore!

The solution is not perfect though. Most laptops have an ExpressCard slot, but some don't (mine being one of them), and most desktops don't either. Also, the enclosure is limited to a single-slot PCIe card, and can only supply 84 watts of power, so that limits your selection a bit. It's a step in the right direction though. Imagine the potential of a separate GPU box that you can upgrade independently, and plug in to whatever PC you want to boost the graphics performance. You could use it for gaming on your home desktop, gaming on the go on your laptop, and even take it with you to a friends house or some other public PC on which you can setup the needed drivers. It basically splits the PC and the GPU into two separate devices, like a PC and a monitor (you can plug a monitor into any PC you use, you can get a bigger one for better visuals, etc.).

It's not possible to have a USB 2.0 gaming graphics adapter due to the data rate available. USB 2.0 has a maximum transfer rate of 60MB/s. A PCIe x16 interface has a data rate of 8000MB/s. USB 3.0 will offer maximum data rates of 600MB/s, so an ExpressCard slot is the only interface that can support this at the moment.

In the near future we'll have wireless PCIe too, which will make this even more rad! And after that? Imagine being able to connect all your home PC and mobile phones to your GPU the same way you connect to your router. Or let's go further and externalize the CPU and memory as well. Then every device just has wireless links to generic resource pools. But why stop there? Make these resource pools internet connected and increase global internet bandwidth to GB/s rates, then turn it into a consumable the same as a mobile phone data pack. Want access to a 64-core 15GB processor from any device you have? No worries, that'll be $19.95 a month. Want access to a 16GB GPU as well? No problem, that's an extra $14.95 a month. Will that be Paypal or Visa?

Comments

  1. Wow! It is becoming cliche, but we do truly live in an amazing time! Soon we will be able to go back to the VAX like architecture where our phones are our terminals and we can plug in to the phone any peripheral we might need and all of the non interface stuff will, as you allude to, be subscription and probably virtually hosted. We will funnel everything through our phones as our portal, think Star Trek PADD! Won't that be awesome?!

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