Bring on the PC of Tomorrow

Bring on the PC of Tomorrow

Will Smith, the Witch-King of Maximum PCI’ve always enjoyed William Gibson’s cyberpunk novels, not just for their entertaining plots and fantastical settings, but also for the way Gibson describes the fantastic computers of the not-too-distant-future. His descriptions are an indictment of the lazy, assembly-line PCs we all use today.

Gibson’s PCs feature processors, memory, and network connections—all the usual stuff. But in addition to providing storage and processing power, the rigs reflect the unique sensibilities and aesthetics of their users—usually via a unique custom design.

Sadly, the modern real-world PC has the same basic design as the earliest PCs—it’s just been dolled up. Laptops might come in 50 different colors, but they still feature the same clamshell design as the first portable computers, which were introduced nearly 30 years ago. Contrast this with Gibson’s computers, which come in a variety of shapes and materials.
Even our Rig of the Month winners—who are at the forefront of novel PC design—are building machines that use the same basic designs engineers have used since the dawn of personal computing. That’s not entirely their fault, as modders are limited to the hardware they can buy, beg, borrow, or steal. But system manufacturers don’t have any valid excuses. They have access to all the resources that would allow them to develop new, innovative designs.

Let’s look at laptops. Every rig contains the same three user-interface elements: a screen, keyboard, and pointing device, plus all the other hardware that we don’t access very often, the hard drive, for example. Each of these components has different requirements and limitations, so why do we pack them all into the same frame? Your laptop’s CPU, videocard, and memory generate oodles of heat, so why don’t we separate them from the parts you actually use? The technology to do just that is available today, even wirelessly, but no one has put the pieces together.

Desktop design is just as stagnant. Shopping for a desktop PC is like visiting a furniture store that stocks nothing but mid-’70s bachelor-pad designs. Why doesn’t someone build enclosures that go with an antique desk? Why must every PC be constructed of black plastic and chrome? Is there really no quieter, more efficient case design than ATX?

Did the engineers who built the first PCs more than 30 years ago really get it right on the first try? If they didn’t, why are we still using their designs? If my car were designed by the same dudes who design PCs, I’d be driving a neon pink horseless carriage that does 0–60mph in three seconds flat.

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