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The Ever-Shrinking Personal Computer - How Small Can They Go?

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By Hector Cisneros 

Being a sci-fi buff, I think about technology a lot. I  imagine how it will effect our lives, what will it mean for business, commerce, education, travel -- and yes watching your favorite sci-fi video episode.

Well, recently my eye caught a headline that read, “HP Launches Stream Mini and Pavilion Mini Affordable Compact PCs." These computers fit in the palm of your hand. I immediately sent a picture of the computer to my business partner, Carl Weiss, telling him that soon we will be able to make anything a smart device. Carl wrote me back saying he has a piece of Tupperware bigger than this new PC.

Keep in mind, we don’t sell any kind of hardware, but we love technology. And this brings up my most important question. Just how small can functional computers go in the next five years? Peppermint box size? Matchbox size? In this article, I explore the ever-shrinking personal computer, how they will be used and where they will take us. So strap yourself in and turn on, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” so that you can find the limits (if any) to the ever-shrinking personal computer.

I have been involved with personal computers since their very beginning. I purchased my very first Apple II in 1979. I had already owned several special purpose computers before (chess computer, etc.) and was stoked at what the future would bring.

In the Beginning 

At first, personal computers actually got bigger. As functionality was added (like floppy drives, hard Compaq computer. By the end of the 1980s, the size trend began to splinter with high-powered computers getting somewhat larger and regular small business and personal systems shrinking in size by a marginal amount. The '90s saw this trend continue with the overall size reduction really starting to accelerate with the widespread acceptance of laptop and notebook computers.
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drives, more memory, faster processor and so on) the PC's physical size went up. Portable devices came into being around 1983, with the Osborne One and soon to follow,

The early 2000s saw the domination of laptop over desktops and the emergence of tablets, smartphones and even "phablets" (a hybrid between a smartphone and a tablet). Recently, we've e seen the emergence of Chromebooks and Apple and Android tablets of varying size. Until recently, there were only a few mini size PCs that could actually run full blown Microsoft Windows. Most had a footprint of 10 inches by 6 inches or so, and had very specific limits on processing power, memory and storage.  With HP’s launch of its new minis, we see the emergence of full-powered, small footprint computers by top tier vendors.

HP was Not the First

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Believe it or not, our high tech world had already spawned dozens, if not hundreds, of miniature and micro computing devices that are smaller than the HP Stream. Early smartphones (PDAs) have been around since the early 1990. Today, many smartphones have more computing power than the computers used in the Apollo moon mission space capsules. Today, smartphones run the gamut from ultra-portable, super-thin, do-everything devices to large format phablets that act as tablet/smartphone substitutes. Speaking of tablets, these devices have made huge inroads towards replacing laptop computer systems.

Another area of small smart devices can be found in the medical industry. For example, blood glucose meters have been shrinking in size for years. Ingestible video cameras with tracking devices have been around for quite some time. There is a whole horde of medical devices that use smartphones as "the smarts" in the system, where the smartphone is used to record and store measured biological functions from a micro transmitter device inside the body. Today, health tracking wearables are all the rage.

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When you think of smart devices, you can include everything from watches to clothing, drones, smallCPUs, memory, storage and other computing devices have always been the norm.  But how many are actually full-blown computers that include everything you'd expect in a desktop or laptop system that you’d buy today?
robots, even smart prosthetics come to mind. Let’s face it, miniaturization of transistors,

HP’s New Minis

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HP was not the first to produce small foot print personal computers. They have been around for several years. A quick Internet search reveals small footprint PCs from companies including ASUS, MSI, Acer, Lenovo, Zotac and many more. Some of these are even smaller that the newly announced HP Mini. The smallest of these are still full-featured and with dimensions as small as 4 inches by 6 inches by 1 inch, and can run Windows 7 or 8. Most of these small footprint computers have been used in specialty/vertical markets, which is why most consumers haven’t seen them yet. It usually takes a company like Apple or HP to push a new technology to the consumer market forefront.

Having said that, the new HP Stream sets a new standard for low price and features while at the same
time, being one of the smallest new PCs for sure. It includes a powerful Intel Celeron CPU, 2 gigs of RAM memory, 32 gig SATA solid state drive, Intel graphics, support for two displays, four USB 3.0 ports, wireless integrated Bluetooth 4.0, wireless LAN, wired Ethernet port, HDMI out, headphone out, built-in power supply and comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse. Plus, it comes with Windows 8.1 and a stack of software apps. The dimensions are approximately 5.7 inches square and 2 inches thick. Price tag – around $179.

If you need a little more power, upgrade to the HP Pavilion mini, which comes with a faster processor, twice the RAM (4 gigs), 3-in-1 card reader, 500 gig hard drive (up to a 1 terabyte in its top model), and more software.  Both come with antivirus software and cloud services. Price tag – starting at around $319.

Apple’s Mini Mac is Tasty, Too

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Now, before you think this is an HP commercial, understand HP was not the first to offer a small footprint PC. There have been many white label small footprint systems running Android and Chrome platforms. Also, Apple beat HP to the punch. Its Mac Mini. has been around for some time. The latest version was launched on October 16th 2014. The Mac Mini is a more expensive (starting at around $499) but its a full-powered, full-featured Mac and comes with Apple’s latest IOS. Its footprint is around 7.7 inches square by an inch and half or so. Most Mac users will love this mini Mac because it's essentially a “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” version of a Mac system.

How Small Can These Devices Get?

The actual limit is the size of the connected port you need. You need physical space for video,
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audio, network etc., ports. However the more we move to higher speed wireless devices, the less you need physical connected ports. One day, we will easily have match box-sized PCs. Some futurists have even predicted nano-sized computing devices. I don’t know about nano- sized devices, but they would be cool because you could attach them to most anything, which is where this article started.

Here’s the Rub

So what's the point of all these small footprint systems? These new, small footprint, full-featured
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personal computer systems will allow us to upgrade the smarts of many of our personal devices we currently have at home or in our offices. Want a smart TV? Just plug in a small footprint PC. Want to have your own steaming music or video server? Just plug in a small footprint PC and add software for your specific needs. Need to clear up desk space? These little devices are a pint-sized godsend for saving space and removing clutter.  I don’t know about other people, but I really like the idea of connecting one of these devices to my large flat panel TV to use in my home entertainment system. For the office, the idea that I can have two full screens on my desk with “virtually no desktop PC” is very appealing.

So the next time you go shopping for a new desktop PC, think small -- Tupperware small and/or “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" small -- and save all your desktop space for important things like pictures of your family, your lunch, or other necessities of life.

In this article, I explored the ever-shrinking personal computer and how small, fully functional personal computers are shrinking in size. I explored how they'll change the home and office environment from how we know them today to a new frontier that is more productive and entertaining as well.  Apple and HP are spearheading these new small full features system at very attractive prices.

You can find more articles about computers and technology by entering “those phrases in the search box, at the top of this blog. I also recommend reading the Tablet Wars - Choosing Your Battles is What it Takes to Win the War”, and “When Will Computers Out Think You?” just to name a few.  Thanks for sharing your valuable time with us.

That's my opinion, I look forward to hearing yours.

If you'd like a free copy of our eBook, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century," please fill in the form below and we'll email it to you. Your information is always kept private and is never sold.

Hector Cisneros is COO and director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web To Win" on, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success.”

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  1. Very exciting times - even for us non-techno-geeks. I can't wait to see how small, how smart, how fast, and of course, how inexpensive these will be. Thanks for giving us a peek into the future.

  2. Excellent tips. Really useful stuff .Never had an idea about this, will look for more of such informative posts from your side.. Good job...Keep it up
    latest computer technologies