Friday, June 17, 2005

Wacky Idea of the Week: The Cordless PC

As I have been looking around to upgrade my home computing infrastructure, I've come to the conclusion that nothing out in the marketplace today satisfies my needs. The raw computing power and functionality I can get out of a desktop PC is really good but there's no way in the world I can live without internet access right next to me. After all, how am I going to be able to Google something that pops into my head when watching TV, or check e-mail every 5 minutes, if I have to walk all the way across to my desktop?

Laptops are very good in terms of portability (my laptop habitually sits on the coffee table in my living room) but what about all my functionality then? I don't really want to lug around a big fat machine with a DVD writer, a giant hard disk and the works. Moreover, a high-end laptop is likely to set me back by far more than I'm willing to spend.

I've decided the right solution is actually a combination of the above two: a heavyweight desktop "server" combined with a "thin client" laptop. (Drawing an analogy with telephones, I've chosen to call it the cordless PC.) The desktop piece will simply be a regular, powerful CPU with all the accessories, which can be stashed away in a corner of my bedroom. The thin client is a laptop-like device but with only an LCD screen, a keyboard, trackpoint, battery and a wireless card/chip. No processors or hard disks. (Well, we'll throw in a graphics processor to drive the display.) We also add a "charging" station to the desktop where the thin client is occasionally recharged.

All the processing happens back at the desktop with the wireless card transmitting all keyboard and mouse events across, and getting the screen data back in return. Such a solution comes with many advantages:
  • I get all the fancy functionality I want (CPU power, big hard disk, DVD and CD burners) without having to lug all of that around in a heavy laptop.
  • I get an extremely lightweight laptop that is super quiet (no fans or mechanical parts) and doesn't generate any heat.
  • I get great battery life (again, no processor or hard disk) assuming that the wireless transmissions can be optimized well enough with the right graphics primitives.
  • It shouldn't be that much more expensive than a regular desktop. I should be able to get one of those thin clients for under $200, a premium I'm perfectly happy to pay.

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