Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The next big thing in computers will come in a pretty cool, rather small package.
Imagine replacing your current 30-pound 16-by-17 inch desktop computer with a new one that measures 4 by 3.6 inches and weighs 1.5 pounds. Well, a Salt Lake City-based company has developed a modular computer that could revolutionize the personal computer industry.
Xi3 Corp. (www.xi3.org) is introducing its new design aimed at reducing energy consumption, while providing the necessary features and processing power needed to operate efficiently in a business environment or at home.
The Xi3 Modular Computer is housed in a small, cube-sized aluminum casing that provides a sturdy, yet versatile enclosure and uses just 20 watts of power, less than 20 percent of the typical 110 watts of the average central processing unit or household appliance.
The space and energy savings could mean millions of dollars to small and medium businesses. Also, the unit is built to last for several years, unlike the planned obsolescence model that is pervasive in today's market.
"We're interested in building products with longevity to them," Jason Sullivan, founder, president and chief executive officer of Xi3 Corp., said Thursday. Rather than disposing of units every few years, the Xi3 Modular unit can be upgraded for about $50 to $100, he added.
Sullivan said when creating the design, he wanted to develop a product that was aesthetically pleasing; easy to repair, upgrade and update; relatively inexpensive to mass produce; adaptable to multiple uses and applications; required less energy to power with minimal manufacturing waste with high recyclability; and housed in a strong, yet lightweight casing.
He likened Xi3's decision to utilize aluminum to house its computer to how canned drinks revolutionized the bottling industry.
"It's like going from a glass bottle to aluminum cans," he said.
As for the "brains" of the unit, the Xi3 board can be quickly removed, modified or replaced and is designed for easy connection to external devices.
Recently, the Xi3 Modular Computer was named by the Consumer Electronics Association as an Innovations Award Winner in the Computer Hardware Category in the 2011 International CES trade show.
The Xi3 Modular's small, lightweight design allows for easy service or replacement, if required, said Aaron Rowsell, executive vice president and chief operating officer. If a consumer has a problem, the unit can be mailed in and given a replacement immediately without any extended "down time," he said.
The malfunctioning units will be repaired and reconditioned to be resold later at a discount, Rowsell explained.
"It brings up a lot of opportunities to not be wasteful and to reuse resources that are available," he said.
The company currently offers eight standard colors, but increased customization possibilities will likely be on the horizon, including specialized engraving and imaging.
"We're finding that companies … really like the fact that we can put their company color and logo on (the units)," he said.
Prices for the unit will range from a basic model for $300 to about $1,200 for a high-end model, with the average unit retailing for around $850.
Rowsell said general availability is slated for early 2011, with other products to be introduced throughout next year.
The company has six U.S. patents as well as several international patents and will be manufactured domestically in each country they are sold.
"American-built for American customers and European-built for European customers," Sullivan said.
He said the company's vision is make the computer accessible to as many people as possible.
"Microsoft was started 30 years ago with the goal of putting a computer at every desk," Sullivan said. "This has the potential of putting a computer in every room, and every car, every truck, (and) every appliance."
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