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my dream portable for 2005


Okay, since I'm tired of waiting for someone at some PC manufacturer to come up with what I really want, and since they don't appear to have developed mind-reading yet, I thought I'd spec it out here, including some quick sketches :) (click on the images to see a larger version).

I often think about what I'd really like in a portable and surprisingly my thoughts have been pretty consistent of late. Before you start saying that this already exists, read through the specs--the devil is in the details!

The basics

To start, I don't want anything that doesn't exist today. It's all a matter of packaging and connectivity. Fairly obvious things that my dream portable should have are:

  • Decent processor, 1 Gig of RAM.
  • (Relatively) small built-in hard disk. A 40 Gig 2 inch platter (like what the iPod has in its drive) will do.
  • High-res TFT (Widescreen would be nice but not necessary).
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, a couple of USB2 connectors, and a couple of FireWire connectors, although I'd be happy with at least one of each of those. Throwing in GSM and CDMA chips for cell connectivity would be a plus. :)
  • Touch sensitive screen (ie., Tablet mode, including display rotation).
  • 2.5 pound basic package, without keyboard, 3 pound package with keyboard, and 4 pound max with the storage & adaptor (I'll get to what I mean by "storage" in a bit). Keyboard should be separate from the machine, connected to it via bluetooth, with built-in trackpoint or similar.
Some issues with this machine is that as you get lighter you need more on the base, which is why in my design the base flips and locks with the hinge to provide support for the screen.

So far I imagine few people would disagree with me, except maybe on the size of the built-in disk. Ah, but here's where what I want differs from what's out there. I separate between base storage and personal storage. Let me explain.

The Key: Storage

Base Storage is what's required to run the OS and applications. It's not your data, it's something that is machine-dependent (mostly) and relatively stable. For this, 40 gigabytes is pretty good for today's needs.

Personal Storage is for my data. These days, when we're running around with tens of gigabytes of MP3s, videos, and such, not to mention the rest of the stuff (my personal data store, not including media, is about 4 gigs), we need a lot more than what portables require, additionally, synchronization between our devices is a nightmare. Data ends up duplicated for no reason. So what I think is that we should decouple our storage from everything else, and that's where things get interesting.

This personal storage device would be reasonably big, 250 gigabytes minimum, maybe reaching into a terabyte by the end of the year on single platter drives (on multiple 3.5 inch platters we're probably there by now). Yes, I know that the idea of "Brick PCs" has been floated in the past, but I don't want a PC on a brick. I just want a drive on a brick.

More on the 'Storage Brick'

So were does the personal storage go in my dream laptop? Look at the back view:

The personal storage unit "docks" into the back. That is, instead of docking the machine into an expansion unit, just dock the drive into the machine!

This approach has several advantages. First, I should be able to selectively synchronize some important data into the permanent storage of the portable, for when portability is more important and I don't want to carry the storage brick around. Second, I should be able to dock the storage into my desktop PC, making it easy to move between machines. Third, using the PC's larger internal storage to automatically sync (i.e., backup) my personal storage brick with the local drive we'd get automatic backups! Yay! :)

Also, by splitting up the machine into more parts, you get more choice in portability. Need to minimize weight? Just take the screen and base unit and use it in tablet mode. Need more space? Plug in the brick. Easy.

What's crucial here is not the idea of portable drives, but the simplicity of "docking the drive" into the portable and into the desktop PC. Alternatively, instead of docking you could do a USB2 or FireWire connection, and handle the integration in software.

If we lived in a perfect world, we should be able to just buy a storage brick from one manufacturer, the base from another, the keyboard from someone else... but that's for later. All the technology required for this already exists. All that's required is the integration work, and, yes, the sync software for the drive dock would be a sticky point, but certainly nothing insurmountable.

Some day...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on January 3 2005 at 9:23 AM

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