How Small Is Too Small For Small Cheap Computers?

I have long been a proponent of small cheap computers. They are big enough to do a large proportion of the jobs we need done. Just being small helps them be priced low as does running GNU/Linux.“This tiny base board will be 2.7 x 3.5 cm (1.06 x 1.38 inches). There are RJ45, USB type A for USB host, Micro USB for 5V electronic power in. The base board will have some pins can be linked to other devices and so on.” Is there a lower limit to how small they can be and still be useful?

The example linked below is a bit too small to be a general purpose PC. It would be easy to lose if mobile. It might be easily buried by other stuff in a pile. Also it lacks the RAM needed for many purposes. It could be embedded in a keyboard or mouse to cover some of these issues but it still needs more RAM. It does show that Moore’s Law has about gone far enough. We are at the point where there are few if any benefits to making computers smaller and cheaper. If you can’t afford such a tiny slice of technology, you need to find a more profitable niche in the world’s economy. There could be benefit from increasing the core-count for greater CPU power but already, SoCs are comparable to my quad-core 64-bit monster that idles in my home.

We are at the stage in the evolution of IT where very soon everyone on the planet will be able to afford some IT and be connected to many others. This will change how governments and all other organizations operate. This will flush out ignorance. This will expose outrageous words or actions of any individual or organization to scrutiny. This could be a force for great good or evil but I bet good will win because there are far more good people on Earth and such technology will give the good people a chance to stay abreast of what the bad people are doing. In such an environment it is unlikely that beasts like M$ or the Assad regime could come to power let alone to hold power. A lot of human tragedy may now be fixable long before it reaches a scale too large to fix. The smartphone may well accomplish in a few years what the ballot box took centuries to accomplish. True democracy is easy to squelch when everyone is not connected. That problem is about to be solved.

See AsiaRF, Tiny Linux Mini PC Supports Both Wifi And Ethernet.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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12 Responses to How Small Is Too Small For Small Cheap Computers?

  1. Deaf Spy wrote, “the poor are never a market worth considering. Because there is no money to be had there.”

    Africa and Asia are the poorest continents on the planet but they will be the next couple of billions users of IT and they are getting richer far faster than our ancestors. China has gone from being a land of agrarian peasants and insurgents to being industrial, urban and wealthy in one generation. They specifically chose to industrialize part of China first just to make industrialization happen faster. Every few years they catch up more. Africa is rapidly leaving tribal warfare to create modern nations. Asia and Africa are the next rich and the rate we send money to China is fuelling the fire. Interestingly, China is investing heavily in Africa while DeafSpy is locked in history. Both regions and South America are rapidly gaining independence from Wintel just as they shed European bondage. The latter took centuries. Software Freedom is coming in a single decade. Wintel may remain in business for quite a while but the gravy train is over. Wintel will now have to work for a living in a static market while the rest of the world has decades of rapid expansion before it.

  2. DeafSpy wrote, without relevance, “Surfing the net with a smartphone is tremendously tedious and unhandy. People who consume bandwidth on a smartphone, do not surf the net. They consume services via applications.”

    Many young people can’t even type and have dextrous fingers and superb eyesight. A smartphone is an open keyhole to them. I’ve seen young folks texting at 40wpm (counting abbreviations). They just buzz something and things happen right now. They don’t want to wait for an OS to boot or a hard drive to spin up. They want action now and where they are. They get that with smartphones. My son can take a picture in the bush somewhere and have it e-mailed somewhere else in seconds. What does he want with a legacy PC? He’s an IT guy and only uses a legacy PC at work. He has one at home but rarely fires it up. He’s well-paid and drives a Cadillac. The new PC is the smartphone. In Asia a good percentage of users of the Internet do not own a legacy PC. There’s no advantage for them and lots of disadvantages. They certainly have no loyalty to Wintel.

  3. Deaf Spy says:

    Sorry for the double post, I am a bit too fast with Tab + Enter.

    Surfing the net with a smartphone is tremendously tedious and unhandy. People who consume bandwidth on a smartphone, do not surf the net. They consume services via applications.

    If you had paid more attention, you would have known that searching is also shifting away from browser and Google.com to application-based channels.

  4. Deaf Spy says:

    You might be very right about those countries, Mr. Pogson. But they are nothing but a drop in the sea, so tiny that they are utterly invisible on the global map.

    You see, the poor are never a market worth considering. Because there is no money to be had there.

    In USSR and Eastern Europe communists tried that. They dreamed how the poor will raise and overthrow the capitalism. Well, the poor instead overthrew communism, and became capitalists in turn. There is moral in history, you know.

  5. Deaf Spy wrote, “I deny your fantasy. You deny the facts”

    You quote desktop, tablet and console, ignoring smartphones… Consoles are toys, not general-purpose computers. What page-views are consoles loading repeatedly? Probably friends of M$ that are on StatCounter’s list. Let’s sign up kernel.org, distrowatch.com, and a bunch of others if that’s not a biased sample…

  6. Deaf Spy wrote, “Statistics inevitably show that Linux is no where to be seen in the global picture. Even if one has the benevolence to accept your unfortunate claim and Android is Linux, Android still lingers around the 2%. At the same time, Vista and 8 each have more share”

    There are whole countries where Android/Linux trumps that other OS on client machines. Even in countries which stalwartly believe M$ is the one true way, Android/Linux exceeds “8”. e.g. India where Android/Linux gets 28% of page-views and XP and “7” get 8 and 17% each. “8” is way back at just a few %. Globally, StatCounter shows Android/Linux at 14.8%, hardly nowhere considering Android/Linux is only a few years old. “8” is way behind.

  7. Deaf Spy says:

    It is mostly dangerous to see things no one else sees, Mr. Pogson.

    Statistics inevitably show that Linux is no where to be seen in the global picture. Even if one has the benevolence to accept your unfortunate claim and Android is Linux, Android still lingers around the 2%. At the same time, Vista and 8 each have more share.
    http://gs.statcounter.com/#os-ww-monthly-201305-201405

    I deny your fantasy. You deny the facts.

  8. Deaf Spy wrote, “Linux on small cheap computers will not be in 2014. Neither in 2015. Nor ever.”

    Denial is the first stage of grieving. Our hearts go out to Deaf Spy who has a long way to go. I’ve been using GNU/Linux on small cheap computers for ages. It works. Get used to it. OK, so my most frequently encountered small cheap computer was a P4ish box burdened with XP. The cheapest computer is one you already own… I’ve also used GNU/Linux thin clients extensively, giving users the performance of the server on ancient cheap hardware, saving it from the trash, and new low-powered tiny boxes costing ~$100. They rocked. They were the nail in the coffin of Wintel for many students and teachers who learned there was a better way to do IT, GNU/Linux and FLOSS.

  9. Deaf Spy says:

    And suddenly this (http://www.dailytech.com/Chinese+OEM+Shows+Off+100+Tablet+Running+Windows+81+with+Bing/article35010.htm) happens.
    Linux on small cheap computers will not be in 2014. Neither in 2015. Nor ever.

  10. oiaohm says:

    For building mesh networks items that size will be good. Robert Pogson no they got the single usb port in their. Yes a bit low on the USB ports for my liking.

    Mats and robert USB wifi or ethernet you can all operate as screen. Issue is the chosen chip not large in the ram or speed department make it worthless for a general PC. Even so there are still important usages.

    I hope this beast has proper force program by USB. One of the big problem with modern day routers is they get breached throw them in bin. Not very environmentally friendly. Just like the EU has mandatory requirement for devices to charge by USB we need a mandatory requirement for devices to come with an exposed interface to nuke firmware and make them clean.

  11. Mats Hagglund wrote, “Nothing is too small.”

    We are at the point where it’s hard to connect stuff to the package. That’s small enough. We have wristwatches, for instance. Is there any merit to getting smaller than that? A computer, as a node in a network, has value according to how many devices it connects, ~O(n2). Wireless is pretty good but even then the antenna needs to be about 1/4 wavelength long. The SoC I saw is the size of an RJ-45 connector. That’s probably too small if you want both USB and RJ-45. Then there’s a display. No. Moore’s Law has gotten us to the point where we don’t need smaller stuff except in HPC or servers where computational density could be improved. For client PCs, we are small enough and the price is affordable by anyone. With FLOSS, we are near Utopian IT.

  12. Mats Hagglund says:

    Nothing is too small. What we really need is screen and device for word processing.

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