The recently-announced Chromebooks are going to take a little getting used to: A notebook entirely dependent on the cloud doesn’t exactly reek of permanence. If you’re on board with at least some elements, then Xi3’s new ChromiumPC modular computer (also known as the 5 Series) might be enough to at least pique your interest. The company announced the product May 20 – the world’s first desktop to run Google Chrome – and may be paving the way for similar machines to begin making use of the Chrome OS.
The device is an aluminum chassis with three small interconnected boards – the processor module (houses the CPU and RAM), the primary I/O module (responsible for external communication ports), and the secondary I/O module (Ethernet, video, and power connections). These three units combined replace the traditional motherboard
“The Xi3 Computer Architecture is designed to support any x86-based operating system, including Windows, Linux, Unix, and other open source-based operating system. Although we’ve been promoting, discussing, and working on modular computers for some time, we feel the market is now for a desktop computer with a cloud-based operating system like the one offered by Google,” says Xi3 president and CEO Jason A. Sullivan. He notes that as more of the consumers’ software, documents, and applications can remotely remain in the cloud, the next logical step is for OS to do the same.
So you don’t want to commit to Chrome? You don’t have to. Sullivan explains that switching your operating system requires nothing more than replacing one of the I/O modules inside your computer. More basically, this means if a user wanted to upgrade from the simplicity and implied limitations of a Chrome-based OS, it would allegedly be very easy to install Windows OS. Xi3 hasn’t released details on all the 5 series’ components, but given that it’s touting the ability to use different operating systems, it must be Windows-compatible. As far as hardware goes, we only know it’s a measly 4-inches cubed and has a power consumption of 20 watts and a dual-core processor. There are six USB 2.0 ports and three reconfigurable audio connections.
The ChromiumPC’s “general availability” begins this July 4. “Since the Xi3 Computer Architecture allows owners of the Xi3 Modular Computer to declare their independence from the built-in obsolescence of other computers, we felt that American Independence Day would be a great day to begin selling the 5 Series model of the Xi3 Modular Computer.” Pricing has not been released.
Given the hype – both skeptical and enthusiastic – surrounding the release of the Chromebooks, there’s definitely some market interest in a desktop running Chrome OS. There are plenty of valid reasons for introducing the unit: Cloud-computing (despite plenty of reasons proving it’s perhaps not as sophisticated and dependable as we’d hope) is continuing to gather attention, users, and company dollars, and the ability to customize the 5 Series’ OS is definitely an attractive feature. That said, we feel it’s important to think about the majority of desktop users who depend on the machines to do what their notebooks can’t – namely, run large, power and memory-sucking programs and applications and store important, large files. Attaching the 5 Series to a Chrome OS risks isolating consumers wary of the cloud.