TI demos split-chassis PC design

Texas Instruments (TI) has a solution to the problem of hot and noisy computers: split them into two parts and move the hottest and loudest components off the desktop and away from the user.

The idea of a split-chassis computer is not new. For example, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Intel developed a concept PC in 2001 that consisted of two components -- a computing component and an end-user interface -- linked by a USB 2.0 cable up to 5 meters long.

However, the split-chassis design demonstrated by TI at the Computex 2004 exhibition here uses a PCI Express connection up to 4.3 meters long that offers greater throughput than a USB 2.0 link, said John Byrum, an applications engineer at TI.

"The big advantage is PCI Express is mainly software," Byrum said, noting that Windows XP and other operating systems see the cabled PCI Express connection as an internal bridge between two PCI Express controllers. "There's no extra drivers you need," he said.

By comparison, a USB 2.0 link would require the installation of special drivers.

TI's split-chassis design would allow a vendor to produce a PC with two main parts: the computing component and a smaller I/O (input/output) component. The I/O component would contain memory card readers, an optical disk drive such as a DVD-ROM drive, a hard-disk, IEEE 1394 ports and USB ports for a mouse, keyboard and other peripherals. The design demonstrated at Computex still requires that a monitor be connected directly to the computing component.

Another benefit of the design is that the I/O component could be made in a very small form factor, Byrum said, enabling PC vendors to reduce the desktop footprint of the computer and tap into the growing demand for computers that take up less space on the desktop. The design could also be applied to home-entertainment PCs, enabling users to locate the noisy computing component away from the living room where it could distract from listening to music or viewing movies.

TI demonstrated its split-chassis design at Computex using a 2.2-meter CAT6 (Category 6) cable to link the computing and I/O components over a PCI Express connection. The cabled PCI Express connection would allow the computing component to be placed away from the user, where the heat and noise generated by the system would not be a distraction, Byrum said.

The split-chassis concept shown by TI at Computex is still new and requires further development but the fundamental design is sound, Byrum said, noting that vendors, in particular HP, have shown an interest in the concept.

Computex runs through Saturday.

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