The Intel Compute Card is tiny. It has a motherboard, memory, storage, wi-fi radio, and can even pack Intel’s latest Kaby Lake processor. Yet it’s only about with size and thickness of a few credit cards. You insert it into any dumb monitor and instantly have a computer as powerful as your laptop.
When I was first told about the Compute Card, I expected something a little smaller than a Raspberry Pi, with exposed circuit boards and ports, but this tiny computer is housed inside a thin case of metal. It can be dropped in a pocket or forgotten in your backpack with ease. And as far as Intel and many of its partners are concerned, the Compute Card is the future of computing.
What’s really extraordinary about the Compute Card isn’t its minuscule size, but its consistency. No matter the specs of the Compute Card it will always the same 5mm thick device with the exact same port (as yet unnamed, but its similar to a PCI Express bus). Which means a smart fridge built with a Compute Card slot can instantly be upgraded. The same goes for a smart hub or smart TV—The Compute Card will allow you to make these devices smart again when their brains become obsolete after a couple of years.
The size of the thing could also make it easy for people who split their work between a home computer and work computer. Instead of lugging home a 2-plus pound laptop you can just pop the Compute Card out of one dock, take it home, and pop it into another, with all your files, processes, and settings remaining unchanged.
But it’s going to be a while before everyone in your family owns a Compute Card. The uber-tiny device was built in collaboration with Foxconn, a major electronics manufacturer (and as of recently, the owner of Sharp), and will first be appearing, not on the back of your monitor, or slotted into your phone, but inside Sharp displays, like those giant ones you see at malls and hotels and schools.
Sharp and Foxconn are thrilled at the development of the Compute Card, with Foxconn Executive VP & General Manager Mark Chien telling Gizmodo he expects to see it not just in Sharp products, but in other Foxconn devices such as smart vending machines and Foxconn’s own automated factories.
But Foxconn’s involvement doesn’t just mean more automated factories and cool Sharp displays. Foxconn builds the products for nearly every single major computer manufacturer in the US. Apple, Dell, Lenovo, and HP all have their products pieced together in Foxconn factories, and Foxconn’s enthusiasm over the Compute Card will absolutely trickle down to those mega-corporate customers.
The Compute Card will be launching later this year, with major announcements promised at Computex in Taiwan in May. There’s no word on pricing, and Intel stresses that although anyone can buy a Compute Card when they’re available, you will still need to build the dock to power the device and cool it, and that will likely be outside the realm of possibilities for your average tinkerer.