Don’t cry for me Argentina if something breaks

ANYONE FOR TENNIS? Big power, little footprint. ANYONE FOR TENNIS? Big power, little footprint.

REMEMBER when computers were huge chunky towers with noisy fans, colonising vast areas of our desktop or floor?

Oh, how insensitive of me: yours still is. Forgive me if I’ve become slightly supercilious now that I have a tiny new desktop toy and have seen the future of computing. 

A complete computer in a cube, it’s barely a CD case on steroids, stuffed with the latest processor, memory and solid-state hard-drive, and it’s light-years more powerful than many computer towers big enough to smuggle children across Checkpoint Charlie.

Welcome to the era of the Mini PC. Albeit a belated welcome, because while the rest of us have been getting on with life the universe and everything, Intel, HP, Asus, Gigabyte and scores of Asian innovators have been jumping on the Mini PC bandwagon. Indeed, the device I am now wooing is already in its sixth generation.

As fewer consumers buy traditional desktops, and with laptops dominating the new computer market, compressing laptop miniaturisation into a hybrid desktop version was inevitable.

Inside these compact cubes is a tightly-packed circuit board, a processor with or without an almost silent fan depending on its power, one or two RAM (memory) sticks, and either your own SSD (solid state hard-drive) or an onboard one, depending on the model and price range.

Mini, or cube, or ‘NUC’ computers (Next Unit of Computing, a truly awful name Intel probably went with because no-one dared to contradict the boss) free your desk of the clutter of a monster machine. They can even be bolted to the back of the monitor, out of sight and reach. 

Less than a €100 buys you a basic Chinese mini (just add a keyboard, monitor or mouse), all the way up to several hundreds for one which could calculate Pi to several squintillion decimal places, make coffee and play an infinite number of cat videos.

They come ready-made, or as so-called ‘barebones’ systems where you choose and install your own memory, storage media and operating system. 

They’re also bought as fancy home theatre media centres, to power in-store marketing displays, and as the ideal solution for workers who ‘hot-desk’ between workplaces, just unplug the cube and pop it in your briefcase.

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