Computers and computing come in ever-changing forms as time goes on. Some are straightforward: tablets and smartphones embody a new generation of digital interface, liberated from the keyboard and mouse. Some are more subtle, like the kind of computing found in a cable box, Roku, or Blu-ray player.
One of the burgeoning new waves offers something like the traditional desktop PC experience, bundled up into an all-in-one portable package. Taking a page from the Chromecast play book, Intel and Google are introducing new computers-in-a-stick: little computers packed up into units approximately the size of a flash drive or lighter. They each have their strengths — the Intel Compute Stick packs a pretty good punch for its size and offers a decent array of ports, while the Chromebit follows the Chromebook approach of low-cost cloud-based clout — but both share the common feature of plugging directly into a television or monitor’s HDMI port. While handy in terms of space and aesthetics, HDMI ports are limited as a power source, and little plug-in computers of this sort generally rely on a USB port for additional electricity.
A new approach to mini-PCs seeks to address that issue while offering a more robust experience overall. The SheevaPlug and Quanta Compute Plug each resemble the bulky block at the business end of a charging cord, but in reality are fully fledged computers. The SheevaPlug presents consumers with a Linux computer equipped with a decent amount of bang, ports for USB 2.0 and ethernet, power consumption of only 5 watts, and a $99 price tag. The announced Quanta Compute Plug boasts Windows 10, HDMI output, two USB 3.0 ports, and a Bluetooth connection for a remote or voice-command headset. While not quite as discreet as the Compute Stick or Chromebit, both “Plug” PCs are no more of an eyesore than the charging device they appear to be. With more power, almost as little need for space, and (in one case) voice control, these handy little computers could be an easy and affordable way to bring the PC experience to one’s living room.