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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What the Future Looks Like

Posted by on Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 2:41 PM

Maybe it's just a New Year's hangover, but I always feel let down by the news that comes out of the annual Consumer Electronics Show at the beginning of January. CES is supposed to detail the next year's worth of gadgetry and technology, laying out what the immediate future will look like. And unfortunately, the future usually looks like celebrity fails and wi-fi crock pots. But this year's CES news has brought two visions of future technology that look really promising to me. One of the ideas is a new way of interacting with computers. Another is a concept that should've been in place at the dawn of personal computing.

First is the Sony keynote about LifeSpace UX. This is an upcoming array of products that could eventually turn basically any flat space into a computing workspace using a high-definition laser projector. (The Verge has video of the keynote.) There have been plenty of concept technologies that use projectors to enhance the personal computing experience, and the first company to get the concept exactly right, Sony or not, is going to make a whole lot of money and change the face of technology forever. Touchscreen technology has made computing feel approachable and cozy, like a pet curling up in your lap. Projection technology will make your surroundings feel like they've come to life. It's the next logical step in interaction.

Second is the Christine modular desktop concept from Razer. It's a computer that is entirely modular, so if, say, you believe your device's RAM is insufficient for your needs, you can just buy a new RAM module and plug it in. Same for hard drives and graphic cards and so on. The comments to the Gizmodo post I linked to above are full of people who say that modern computers are already modular, but they're presumably more tech-informed than 99% of the computer-buying public. While it's true that most computers can be modified, most people aren't comfortable with, or simply don't want to bother with, learning the process to get inside the computer and solder new parts into place. I can't believe a tech company hasn't already made this concept real and available to the public: I think people would be willing to pay a lot of money for a proprietary system that promised a future-proof desktop.


Comments (28) RSS

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Uh, solder isn't necessary to upgrade a PC. For the most part it's cards in slots and wire connectors, sometimes a screwdriver is the only necessary tool.
Posted by rhombus on January 7, 2014 at 1:51 PM · Report this
biffp 2
The future of Seattle looks like Vancouver.
Posted by biffp on January 7, 2014 at 2:45 PM · Report this
Or maybe it looks like this:…

( what was that last thingy a Polish(-American) guy gave us?
Oh yeah, Apple computer!)
Posted by sgt_doom on January 7, 2014 at 2:49 PM · Report this
Hey Paul, the modular desktop computer already exists. You can buy parts on Newegg or at Fry's in Renton.

Do you use a Mac? Maybe an Airbook?
Posted by No Excuses on January 7, 2014 at 2:53 PM · Report this
Also, there is no part on modern computers you would ever need to solder yourself. Holy calamity that speaks to insanity.
Posted by No Excuses on January 7, 2014 at 2:54 PM · Report this
Sigh. These youngsters and their computers today...

Why, back in my day, a computer came with nothing and we had to walk 20 miles in the snow, uphill, both ways, to get parts to plug in to all the empty slots....

And there were 100 companies selling parts and drives and circuit boards that would plug right in and mostly work the first time, and the hardest part was reading all the reviews and trying to guess which were the best ones, and keeping your idiot friends from uploading incompatible drivers in an effort to be "helpful."
Posted by Brooklyn Reader on January 7, 2014 at 3:00 PM · Report this
jnmend 7
I thought I already had a modular desktop where the components were easily replaceable.

I can't imagine there's much of a market; people who care about upgrading already do (and will be put off by having to buy specific modules to upgrade things, as opposed to just getting the raw parts), people who don't won't bother. Fucking stupid.
Posted by jnmend on January 7, 2014 at 3:03 PM · Report this
Fnarf 8
Changing RAM today takes a few seconds without even a screwdriver.

Modular only gets you so far. It's not going to get you a new bus or a new IO chip or ICH or, increasingly, even video or sound card, because they're built into the motherboard. You HAVE to upgrade everything at once, because they are interdependent. And no one, not even the hard-cores, ever takes a soldering iron to a motherboard. Even God can't solder a 128-pin chip into a 64-pin socket.

We've had this conversation before with regard to phones. Swap-out modularization is DOA and always will be. That's just not how computers work.

CES is garbage and always has been. Gadgets are stupid. Calculator watches didn't change the world in the 1970s and their modern equivalents aren't going to change it in the 2010s.
Posted by Fnarf on January 7, 2014 at 3:09 PM · Report this
Kinison 9
No mention of the Oculus Rift? That's basically going to re-invent gaming as we know it.

Modular desktop is exactly the same as the component based PC system, in which if something breaks, you swap that broken part out instead of the entire system. It just looks prettier.
Posted by Kinison on January 7, 2014 at 3:12 PM · Report this
Ipso Facto 10
This is sooo suck.
Posted by Ipso Facto on January 7, 2014 at 3:15 PM · Report this
JonnoN 11
Holy crap they've invented the PC!

(I haven't changed my case since 2002. Everything inside has been replaced, mostly multiple times.)
Posted by JonnoN on January 7, 2014 at 3:22 PM · Report this
fletc3her 12
What @8 said.

I would add that modular is just another name for proprietary unless there is a universal standard. Apple's drive modules on the XServe were great, but pricey. Dead easy to use, but for how many times I actually swapped drives around they may as well have just been screwed in place.

The trend right now is actually towards less modularization with the iPhone, MacBook Air, MacPro, and competing phones, tablets, and all-in-ones.
Posted by fletc3her on January 7, 2014 at 3:24 PM · Report this
SchmuckyTheCat 13
Modern hard drive interfaces don't even require the machine to be turned off. The NAS in my closet has drive trays that pop in and out while it is still on.

My laptop has tension snaps that expose the RAM, and that snaps in too. Same with some sort of mPCIe slot where the WiFi is. There is an empty slot there but what would I put in it? This is 5 years old, we're not talking new tech here.

For everything else, USB.

If you think your computer is a closed system, you probably bought a closed system. Let me guess... MacBook
Posted by SchmuckyTheCat on January 7, 2014 at 3:40 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 14
Not really sure I want my surroundings coming to life if I'm at the coffeeshop and some goober is using his projection computer to watch porn.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on January 7, 2014 at 3:50 PM · Report this
Remember, Apple users thing new RAM is a thing that is soldered lol
Posted by Reader01 on January 7, 2014 at 4:02 PM · Report this
Gurldoggie 16
They've got wi-fi crock pots now? I want one!
Posted by Gurldoggie on January 7, 2014 at 4:02 PM · Report this
Posted by Reader01 on January 7, 2014 at 4:03 PM · Report this
The complete lack of knowledge by the writer about his subject is breathtaki... oh, it's Paul
Posted by Reader01 on January 7, 2014 at 4:06 PM · Report this
Paul, what's more necessary isn't electronics we can upgrade component by component, but that we can break down easily for recycling when new technology replaces them, somewhat like the EU End of Life Vehicles Directive.
Posted by palamedes on January 7, 2014 at 4:17 PM · Report this
Fnarf 20
Oh, yeah, and now that I've actually looked at the Razer computer on Gizmodo, I can tell you for absolutely certain that if this ever gets built for retail sale, which is extremely doubtful, it's going to cost ten grand. Half of that is going to go for the eight or so individual module cases (which accomplish...what exactly?)

The next problem comes about when one considers that if you want to upgrade your video card, Razer doesn't make video cards (and if they did they would suck donkey balls). You're presumably going to want to upgrade to the latest GeForce or some such, from a company that DOES make video cards -- but then you're going to have to figure out how to install it in your Razer video module, which is absolutely guaranteed to be more difficult than just installing it in a PC case the normal way. From the looks of them, I don't there's any way to get a high-end video card in those modules at all; they're too small, and they don't have venting for the fans (video cards don't have oil cooling, sorry).

You could probably want until Razer releases a new module with the video card you want in it, but it is unclear why you would want to constantly put yourself behind the curve like that, and also pay a thousand bucks more than everybody else (gotta buy a new module case too, don't you?)

If you DON'T want a high-end video card, like that, then the whole concept of upgradeable modularity becomes moot, because your video card is built into your motherboard.

Future of computing? Hilarious. The dream of a "future-proof desktop is nonsensical on the face of it.

Not too impressed with the laser projector either. A better projector would be nice, but hardly groundbreaking. And you're never going to get really high-def on a grungy pitted painted wall -- and who wants to live in a place with giant blank stark white walls? Once you're off into 4K TV land, you're into the heart of CES thinking, and the heart of why CES is such bullshit.

My prediction: the future is in cheaper, better shitty devices -- crap semi-disposable tablets and phones and laptops, with good software and a much richer network behind them. The cloud, if you will. Not a bunch of hundred-grand megascreens with CEOs standing in front of them.
Posted by Fnarf on January 7, 2014 at 4:45 PM · Report this
Fnarf 21
Oh, and another thing -- the notion that Gizmodo commenters are more tech-informed than, uh, people who know what they're talking about is laughable. People who think their computer is modular because they can swap RAM are stupid. People who think that swapping RAM has anything to do with "future-proofing" are stupider. Please familiarize yourself with Moore's Law and its offshoots, and realize that upgrading from 4 GB to 8 GB is not interesting; what is interesting is upgrading from 4 GB to 4 TB, and I can guarantee that when 4 TB RAM becomes feasible on a mass-production scale, it will use a different slot (you can get a giant server that will hold 4 TB of 32 GB DDR3 modules, but that's impractical for desktop or laptop machines). The next-gen DDR4 RAM modules that will be coming out in earnest this year are 288-pin, up from 240, and will thus render your current motherboard, and all imaginable "future-proofed" machines, obsolete in an instant.

Unless you're just talking about the case. A case is not a computer.

I think I've pretty much exploded the idea of the two most-swappable components of a modern computer, the video card and the RAM, as being nonsensical. What's next? Hard drives? Tell me how many SATA drives you had in your machine ten years ago and we'll talk about future-proofing.
Posted by Fnarf on January 7, 2014 at 5:06 PM · Report this
laterite 22
Building your own PC with standard OEM parts is so criminally easy. I almost couldn't believe Paul would be this enamored of this stupid, stupid modular PC concept, and then I remembered he loved that modular phone idea from a few months back.

To me, the 4K TV stuff is neat, right up until the moment you realize we are still 10 years away from any content provider coming close to being capable of delivering the broadcasting feed necessary to utilize it fully.

Oculous Rift has the potential to be the biggest game-changer out of all the cruft at CES this year.
Posted by laterite on January 7, 2014 at 5:35 PM · Report this
CBSeattle 23
@22 Netflix announced the next House of Cards will be delivered in 4k and that they plan to support it more broadly (while they dump their 3D offerings).

@fnarf I agree about the modularity. That's just silly. Modularity will not be within a device it'll be between devices (so-called Internet of Things).

But the surface/projection stuff is, I think, going to be big. The short-throw projector will make a huge difference. The walls won't be blank because the thing will be projecting your fake fireplace on it and you'll think your house it going to burn down it'll be so huge and clear.

At the moment people just want their TVs/Monitors etc. to be bigger and bigger. If you'd ever tried setting up a 120" projection theater you'd know it is a serious PIA - short throw would make it a breeze.

Turning my table into my "laptop"? I'm skeptical that we'll see anything usable on that front for a long time (and wouldn't you need a white table?).

Posted by CBSeattle on January 7, 2014 at 5:47 PM · Report this
Fnarf 24
@23, none of my walls are white either, nor would I want them to be.

A handful of ultra-geeks want their TVs to be bigger and bigger. The vast majority of the population doesn't give a shit. Look how successful 3D TV was. A bunch of millionaire tech buttholes are interested in watching a 120-inch video of a fireplace on the wall and wondering what is missing from their pointless lives, but not most people.
Posted by Fnarf on January 7, 2014 at 6:32 PM · Report this

A step-by-step guide with no soldering involved. Unless you're making a Macbook there's no reason for glue either.
Posted by ChefJoe on January 7, 2014 at 10:11 PM · Report this
chaseacross 26
I add my voice to the whinging chorus of decrepit desktop PC users who already have a modular computer... It's called a dekstop PC. My first was a graduation gift back in *2006* that I upgraded every other year until it finally couldn't hack it anymore, circa late 2012. I'm willing to bet my new PC will have a similar lifespan, and survive long enough to be supplanted by an implant injected directly into my vitreous humor.

The real trend in "modular computing" is not a computer that has different mods, but the computer itself dissolving into separate devices (a tablet for casual browsing and content consumption, an entertainment box for streaming movies and playing games, and a cell phone for communications). The only thing folks really need a sit-down computer for is work, and if your job demands more serious juice than your out-of-the-box computer provides, then you're already savvy enough to install what you need.

Macs are made for kicking.
Posted by chaseacross on January 8, 2014 at 1:40 AM · Report this
Granted, I'm not in Sony's target market for their projector - but I pay €0.21 per kilowatt hour for my electricity here (yes, that's about 8x the Seattle City Light base rate - we're not swimming in cheap hydro power.)

At that rate, people who aren't in the $40k projector demographic tend to think carefully about what electrical gizmos one really wants running. I think I'll be settling for actual things on my wall that remain visible without consuming energy.
Posted by cheap power isn't forever on January 8, 2014 at 2:24 AM · Report this
The other big mistake Paul is making about this Christine thing is his assumption that it'll have any effect on the wider market. Razor is a manufacturer of high end gaming accessories. So the whole thing is designed with that end in mind. The "modular" thing is as much about controlling heat and cable management in VERY powerful pc's as it is about ease of assembly. For the vast majority of devices that's completely unnecessary, the use case for this is strictly limited to gaming enthusiasts and the professional market. It's going to be extremely expensive, not just because its proprietary and complex. But because its base purpose is to work around the very most expensive componants.

Its also not the first "modular" designed case to pop up. The integrated oil cooling is something I haven't seen, and its a better solution that a fish tank full of mineral oil (cleaner). But there have been lots of case designs over the past 15-20 years that lock components in individual boxes to simplify cabling and cooling. This one is seems to be built around proprietary components (bad for upgrades and "future proofing"), and a clever cooling solution.
Posted by Ryuthrowsstuff on January 8, 2014 at 9:37 AM · Report this

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