Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Early look at Intel's Compute Cards including RRPs


Whilst Intel's Compute Stick can certainly be considered a success as a mini 'stick' PC the next generation is now on hold and in place is an evolution called the Intel Compute Card which has a different form factor and extended target use. It is expected to be available any time soon and there is already available a wealth of information in terms of specifications and costs.

Basically the compute card takes the compute stick but factors it as a module meaning that it is no longer standalone but dependent on a dock or host device.

Four compute cards are initially planned with three launched this quarter and one for mid-late Q4.


Looking at the specification of the cards in detail


we see the amount of storage and memory has been increased for the cards with faster processors. Why? Because there is no limitation from Microsoft as none of the cards come with a pre-installed OS. According to the technical specifications they will
support the following Operating Systems (64-bit only).
· Windows 10 Home
· Windows 10 Pro
· Windows 10 Enterprise
· Windows 10 Education
· Windows 10 IoT Enterprise
· Some Linux operating systems may be supported. Check with the specific Linux distribution to make sure that support is available for this platform
The card itself is relatively small with a footprint slightly larger than a standard credit card.



The card includes a connector which is separated into two sections: a Type C-compliant portion and an extended portion. The Type C portion supports Type C-compliant connections including video with audio and USB. The extended portion supports video with audio, USB, and PCIe. Power is supplied to the card from the device the Compute Card is plugged into using the Type C portion of the connector.

So you can simply plug in a USB Type C cable and be up and running? No. As mentioned you will need a dock or host device and not just any device as the card uses bidirectional authentication to attempt to authenticate the compatible device and the compatible device will attempt to authenticate the card. The authentication uses digital keys which are provisioned by default during manufacturing for every card and compatible device ensuring they only work with correctly provisioned card and devices.

There is a reason for this other than the obvious commercial 'manufacturer tie-in'. The card will get hot and it totally relies on the host device for cooling because it is designed so that direct conductive contact with the card surfaces provide the best overall heat dissipation. That means because the card is capable of operating within all critical component temperature specifications it will produce surface skin temperatures that may violate typical safety guidelines or requirements. To stop you being the cooling device for the card when you touch it the device must delay the card being ejected if additional cooling is needed to reduce the skin temperature to the recommendation of no more than 55 °C.

Given that the market of Intel compute card is now very much orientated to OEMs, manufacturers, distributors and channel partners it is fortunate that Intel have also launched a commercially available Intel Compute Card Dock.



Essentially you insert your compute card and effectively have a mini PC



that also comes with a VESA mount.



Looking at the specifications of the dock


it comes with a power adapter with a range of interchangeable international plugs together with a two metre/six foot long power cable.

When looking at the cost for each card a key factor to take into consideration is that the card comes with a three (3) year warranty. Given the support that Intel offers including regular BIOS updates and RMA for defective devices under warranty then this obviously comes at a cost which is not unreasonable. Added to the card cost is the dock which only comes with a one (1) year warranty (no doubt limited because of the internal fan). And then there is the OS which for Linux users isn't an issue but for Windows users loosing out on an included OEM provided license for a small supplement might be off putting.

The modular format is certainly going to be advantageous in certain circumstances. From a commercial viewpoint the support aspects of simply being able to swap out a faulty card is fantastic. I can also see a use as a 'Chromecard'. In schools where Chromebooks have been adopted the simplicity of a card and ease of portability for the student seems highly attractive.

But what of the future for the Intel Compute Card? Intel indicated that they would be evaluating the future of the Compute Stick in 2018 and decide if it warrants an update with the latest processors at that time.


Useful resources: 

Manuals and Guides
https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/support/boards-and-kits/intel-compute-card/000024440.html

Technical Product Specifications
https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/support/boards-and-kits/intel-compute-card/000024427.html

Support Links
https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/support/boards-and-kits/intel-compute-card/000023817.html

Support Forum
https://communities.intel.com/community/tech/intel-compute-card/content


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