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In the Beginning: A Brief History of Small Form Factor Computers

In the Beginning: A Brief History of Small Form Factor Computers

Jul 17, 2019

There’s a tech maxim that the history of personal computing evolved from the principle of One Computer Per Household, to One Computer Per Person, to, with the advent of smartphones, Multiple Computers Per Person. It’s a pretty extraordinary leap from the days when computers used to be government-only technology that needed to be kept in a room the size of a small barn. Compared with other kinds of technology throughout history, those changes came about at lightning speed. 

EWC Technologies prides itself on being at the cutting edge of computer technology’s future, but sometimes it’s helpful to take a look back at its storied past to know how we got here in the first place. From the quaint and bulky era of the 1970s to the modern era of  powerful and compact NUCs, we present a brief history of small form factor computers. 

Have It Your Way 

It wouldn’t be right to start the story of small form computers without mentioning the first personal computers to start it all. Microsoft and Apple opened the doors for accessible computer technology in the late 1970s, turning cumbersome machines once used for research and complex calculations into household helpers anyone could use and get the hang of. The unveiling of the Macintosh 128k, released in 1982, became that year’s major cultural event—it even took center stage at the Superbowl. This unveiling signified the age of the personal computer was here, and here to stay.

From that point onward, PC technology evolved in inverse proportion regarding strength and size: more powerful processors and tech were molded into increasingly more compact models. Laptop computers weren’t far behind the advent of smaller desktops, and smartphones came swiftly after those. Convenient size and muscular, versatile processing abilities became the name of the game, and consumers were only too happy to partake. 

Still, phones and laptops wouldn’t be able to cut the mustard forever, for what you received in terms of convenience you gave up in terms of power and range of ability. The perfect blend of all three elements: convenience, power, and range of ability, was still waiting just around the corner. 

The Rise of the Small Form Factor Computer 

What we know now as “small form factor” computers didn’t exist as such until the mid-2000s. Back then, “small form factor” computers were frequently referred to as “shuttle form factor” computers. While they pioneered much of today’s small format computer tech, “shuttle form factor” computers weren’t as advanced in comparison to modern-day desktop computers. For example, many of them weren’t optimized for gaming and contained several physical limitations that kept them from being as effective as their other personal computer brethren. The passion to innovate was there, but the technology itself hadn’t quite caught up with it yet. 

It wasn’t until the end of the aughts and into the early part of this decade that small form factor computers began to reach their potential. Programmers and designers began to develop PCs of this sort into a multitude of subcategories and experiment with the different roles they could provide in a user’s life. From “nettop” computers that offered a low price point, high power, and fast internet access while sacrificing some of the more complex duties of the personal computer, to home-theater boxes that put the fidelity of your living room setup into a tiny cubic package, the potential for the small form computer seemed to grow broader by the week. 

Now that the technology caught up with the imagination, small form factor computers still needed one last push to turn them into a household name. That’s where the NUC came in. 


Alienware NUC

Intel first introduced the idea of the NUC, or Next Unit of Computing, with the “Sandy Bridge” model back in 2009. This version of the tech proved popular, and as developers began to realize the possibilities of the technology the NUC slowly but surely became powerful enough to compete with even the most advanced desktop computers. The goal of having all the power and versatility of a tower PC with the portability and user friendliness of a laptop—all with the level of customization typically afforded only to DIY rigs—was finally within reach. 

NUCs are currently leading the pack when it comes to small form computers, and there’s no sign that this is going to change anytime soon. Whether it’s a model crafted for  tackling the business needs of an expanding company or a pint-sized heavyweight you can rely on to run the latest and greatest video games, there’s almost nothing a traditional desktop PC can do that these units can’t handle as well, at a fraction of the cost and with exponentially more customization options than ever before. 

Infographic of NUC Timeline

Get Your Hands on a NUC Today 

But why settle for reading about the history of small form computers when you could become a part of it right now? EWC Technologies is at the vanguard of the NUC computer, and we’re willing to send you a free demonstration of our products so you don’t have to simply take us at our word.  Get in contact with us today and see how you or your business can start making the most of your endeavors with the small size and simple strength of one of our NUCs. 

If you have any questions about our products,  take a look at our FAQ. If you want to stay up to date with news, opinions, and more regarding the world of NUCs, keep up with our blog and make sure you never again find yourself out of the loop. If you have anything you’d like to say about our condensed history of the small-form computer, leave a comment right down below. And for fast, strong, convenient and cost-effective computing solutions for you or your business, stay right here with us at EWC Technologies today.

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