posted by killermike on Wed 18th Apr 2007 10:07 UTC

"The Machine Itself: Hardware"

The machine itself - part 1 - the hardware

In specifying the machine, let's start from the outside and work our way in:

The form factor

The form factor of the Neomicro is inspired by the classic micro computer form factor; the 'one box' design is ideal for our purposes. A detachable keyboard would only add to the difficulty of setup with no obvious benefits. The professional writer or office worker who needs a full sized, standard keyboard isn't part of the intended market for the neo micro; such a user would be better served with standard office workstation.

Any decrease in the number of components is a win on a machine of this type. Remember, this is a computer designed for the casual user, it might be stored under the couch when not in use.

To take this concept further, I shall specify a built in laptop-style mini joystick in the middle of the keyboard. A graphic designer or DTP expert might need a proper mouse, but again, they are not part of the intended audience for this machine. Along the top of the computer keyboard a row of dedicated function keys, similar to the the multimedia keys on some keyboards or the dedicated applications keys of a PDA.

Although this isn't a modular computer, it will feature expansion/connectivity capability. These expansion ports are placed along the back of the machine.

Internal hardware

A fast processor isn't a necessity for the type of applications that the Neomicro is designed to run. An ARM processor running at 400Mhz would be sufficient for our application. Such a CPU can be paired with a graphics chip-set that features hardware decoding of MPEG and some ARM designs actually come with such functionality integrated into the CPU. For our purposes, beyond a 400mhz CPU to ramp up the CPU speed win us less than adding dedicated MPEG hardware decoding.

Such ARM chips also support fanless operation, which is another design win.

64 or 128mb of main system RAM should be enough for this computer. That might not sound like a lot but by making a careful choice of window manager and software, it is possible to build a usable Linux based machine with 128 megs of RAM. Such a machine would still be a general purpose machine and overkill for this project.

Storage

We will give the machine 1 meg of internal flash based storage. This contains the OS and a small amount of user storage space. In addition, the machine will feature a pair of memory card slots. This provides additional user storage space, while at the same time enabling the user to make his or her data portable.

The second memory card slot increases the connectivity of the Neomicro. As I'll specify in a moment, digital photo management is another possible application for the Neomicro.

The Neomicro shall feature no optical drive. This saves some money and some mechanical complexity. Optical drives also conflict with the 'no moving parts' design goal. Some might argue that the utility of being capable of operating as a DVD player would be a mark in the Neomicro's favour but its worth noting that the DVD playback capability wouldn't get much use if the machine didn't have a remote control. In short, as stand alone DVD players are so cheap anyway, the design cost of adding an internal optical drive is greater than the benefit to utility.

Connectivity

This machine isn't a general purpose machine; therefore, we include the sort of connectivity that is almost certainly going to be used rather than the sort of connectivity that will probably not get used.

  • USB port on back of machine.
  • Two memory card slots.
  • Composite video out
  • Analogue video out
  • Audio L+R out
  • WiFi networking

The USB port on the back of the machine is for connecting devices such as a digital camera.

Unlike a classic microcomputer, we have no need of an RF out slot that connects aerial socket on the back of the computer because most current TVs have at least a composite video input.

Table of contents
  1. "Introduction; What Was Good About It?"
  2. "What Was Good About It?; The Modern Microcomputer"
  3. "The Machine Itself: Hardware"
  4. "The Machine Itself: Software"
  5. "The Operating System; Conclusion"
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