XI3 announces easy-to-upgrade PC

Startup XI3 launches a small desktop in which components can be easily swapped

The XI3 is a modular computer design

The XI3 is a modular computer design

Startup XI3 announced a modular computer with components that it says can be easily repaired or upgraded, which could help users save money and keep up with changes in technology.

The XI3 Modular Computer, a mini-desktop shaped like a cube, can be upgraded by swapping an old board with a new one with the latest technologies, said Aaron Rowsell, chief operating officer at XI3, which is based in Salt Lake City. The PC was shown during a Consumer Electronics Show preview in New York on Tuesday.

The computer has separate customized mini-boards, including a processing board with the CPU, graphics processor and RAM, and a separate connectivity board with video, input and USB connectivity. If a user wants to upgrade a CPU or GPU, the old processing board can be swapped with a new one. Similarly, users can swap the connectivity board to add new display ports or upgrade from USB 2.0 to USB 3.0, Rowsell said.

The PC design is a step away from traditional PC designs in which all components were put on one board. Rowsell said boards based on AMD or Intel CPUs can only be swapped with boards with specific components from the same companies.

The PC's starting price is US$849, which does not include the keyboard, mouse or display. Prices for replacement boards have not yet been set, Rowsell said. For storage, the PC is available with integrated flash storage, or external hard drives can be attached to the system. The computer can be ordered on XI3's website. The PC will start shipping early next year, Rowsell said.

The PC is currently available only with AMD's Athlon processors and includes an integrated graphics processor that can play back full 1080p high-definition video. The PC's boards have up to six USB slots and also can have DVI (digital visual interface), HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) and VGA ports to connect external monitors.

But with fully equipped PCs available for less than $300, the $849 price could be considered expensive. A company spokesman did not immediately comment on the viability of XI3.

It takes a lot of work to put components together in such a small size, and a niche audience of technology enthusiasts could be interested in this product, said David Milman, CEO of computer repair firm Rescuecom.

A majority of PC buyers are not technical people and want to buy integrated PCs at low prices, he said. Many users are also technophobic and unwilling to mess around with components because of the complexity involved.

In some ways, the PC could be likened to Apple products, which are well-designed and carry a premium price, Milman said. The XI3 computer could also find an urban audience willing to pay more.

"If the machine is durable then they will be able to sell them in places where space is at a premium, like New York, Chicago or downtown Los Angeles," Milman said.

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