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Is the modular computer closer than we think?

Is the modular computer closer than we think?

Earlier this year, Asus showed U.K. tech site Reg Hardware its vision for the future of the computer (update: our colleagues at ZDNet UK have informed us that they were at the briefing as well). Rather than the typical tower, Asus's Green PC concept design consists of a narrow, power-transferring tray that would accept thin, self-contained hardware plug-ins. The benefits of such a system seem pretty obvious to us: easy upgrading, lots of design possibilities, and portability to name a few. A similar idea followed in the beginning of the summer from a recent graduate of the University of Cincinnati's design program. The Dell XCS, by Matthew Ritter, shares the Asus Green PC's modular concept.

No desktop vendor has shown us an official modular design yet, but we've seen a few products and discussions recently with decidedly modular leanings. Tom's Hardware posted a Graphics State of the Union story discussing the increasing power demands of 3D graphics cards. The author, Darren Polkowski, mentioned rumors that ATI's and Nvidia's next-gen cards would require so much power that they'd need external housings and their own power supplies. Tom's even commissioned a mock-up image of what such a product might look like. Then Nvidia released its Quadro Plex 1000, an external workstation-class 3D processing array. Finally, one of the features we like most about Apple's Mac Pro is the hard drive "sled" mechanism. The drives still live inside the box, and you need to take the side panel off to get to them, but Apple's design makes them exceedingly easy to remove and replace.

We'll need to see some more examples, and maybe a shipping product or two, before we can say that the desktop PC truly is going modular. But seeing as inspired design might be the only differentiator system vendors have left, we think modular PCs would not only benefit users looking for simpler, better-looking computers, they could also help reinvigorate the desktop business as a whole.