Intel mostly missed the boat on smartphones, but the company is trying to establish a firm foothold in the ever-broadening marketplace for connected appliances and other smart things. Intel's latest effort in this arena is its new "Compute Card," a small 94.5mm by 55mm by 5mm slab that includes a CPU and GPU, RAM, storage, and wireless connectivity.
The thinking with the Compute Card is to separate the smarts of various computers and appliances—all-in-ones, smart TVs, fridges, digital kiosks or signage screens, commercial equipment—from the rest of the hardware. You might want to keep a TV around for the better part of a decade, but the processing hardware inside it could start to feel slow three or four years in. With the Compute Card, one could simply eject the old card and slide in a new one instead of replacing the whole thing.
Intel hasn't given us specific information about the specs and speeds of its first Compute Cards, but you can expect the fastest ones to approach the performance of high-end fanless laptops like Apple's MacBooks. Intel told us that processors with a TDP of up to 6W could fit inside the Compute Cards, which covers both low-power Atom chips like those that powered early versions of Intel's Compute Stick to full Core M and Y-series Core i5 and i7 CPUs like the ones you find in laptops.
Intel says that the card uses a variant of the USB-C port called "USB-C plus extension" to connect with the systems it's plugged into. That connector gives devices direct access to the USB and PCIe buses as well as HDMI and DisplayPort video outputs. The company considers the Compute Card to be a replacement of sorts for the Compute Stick, which Intel says will probably disappear from its roadmap in 2018 or so.
The issue with the Compute Stick from Intel's perspective is that its input and output ports were unnecessarily limiting—it could only connect to HDMI ports and could only accept a limited number of USB inputs. The Compute Card can be slid into a wider variety of enclosures that can use all kinds of ports and display interfaces, and Intel says the Card will also offer a large array of performance and storage options, unlike current Computer Sticks.
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While these cards could conceivably solve the hardware end of the problem for some smart devices, the software side is still a big question mark. As x86-based PCs, Intel told us that the Compute Card will be able to run Windows and Linux and any other operating system you can currently run on a low-end PC. Depending on the operating system they use, it may still be up to OEMs to provide software updates for Compute Card-based appliances, and they'll also need to figure out the best way to reload that software on new Compute Cards if users try to upgrade them by themselves.
Intel will be revealing more information on specs, availability, and pricing in June of 2017, and the cards themselves will be available in "mid-2017." Intel's Compute Card partners, including Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Sharp on the computing side and Seneca Data, InFocus, DTx, TabletKiosk, and Pasuntech on the commercial side, will all be making their own announcements and releases separately.