Comparing a modular, all-in-one desktop with a TV settop box may seem odd. But we are moving to a cloud-connected world, and the NVIDIA Shield TV is a no-compromise, cloud-connected settop box close to where we are likely to end up in terms of hardware than the more typical PC or all-in-one.
On the other hand, we aren’t there yet, and a modular solution like the Dell OptiPlex 7070 Ultra – which could be easily converted to a more cloud-focused configuration – might be the best interim desktop choice.
The joint Microsoft/Qualcomm Always Connected PC effort anticipates a cloud-connected future because it uniquely focuses on wireless bandwidth and battery life over performance. The latest addition to this class is the ARM-based Microsoft Surface Pro X. But much of the effort has been on laptop designs, and a lot of us, including me, prefer a desktop solution when we’re in the office. And there are a lot of regions, verticles and job types that better lend themselves to a desktop solution than laptop solution for convenience, cost and security reasons.
Because desktops generally get hard-wired to their respective networks, there hasn’t been much focus on creating a wired version of the Always Connected effort. That’s why I picked the new NVIDIA Shield TV as the comparative platform as settop boxes are by nature cloud-connected devices. And the configuration of the Shield TV is in line with the Always Connected laptops currently in market…with one exception. It also has a powerful GPU which would allow it to outperform an Always Connected laptop PC alternative. That GPU component allows for video up-scaling, which should lower the bandwidth needed for a cloud-hosted Windows session.
NVIDIA Shield TV
This offering is a very small form factor device optimized for gaming, which means low latency and the ability to run some apps locally as needed. These same attributes should provide a far stronger desktop performance, and the ARM-based Windows solution designed for the Always Connected laptop PCs should also run on a product like this.
But while it showcases a likely connected PC future, it isn’t the present because the Shield TV doesn’t yet run Windows, nor does it have the security features needed for a corporate desktop. Think of it as something that should be but, as of right now, isn’t.
[ Related: IT buyer’s guide to business laptops ]
Advantages are low energy requirements, decent performance, low latency and enhanced security (a great deal of malware won’t run on this product).
So, while I believe this is where we are going, this isn’t a viable solution yet.
Dell OptiPlex 7070 Ultra
The Dell OptiPlex 7070 Ultra is an amazing product because it not only is appropriate for the present, but it can embrace the future of the Always Connected PC without having to do a forklift upgrade. (A forklift upgrade is where you pull out the existing product and discard it before upgrading to something else).
At the heart of the 7070 Ultra is an Intel core-powered modular component with integrated Intel graphics. This component is slotted into a monitor stand to create a one-on-one that uses a single cable for power and pretty much looks like a monitor when fully set up.
You configure the 7070 Ultra by picking components like the PC module, monitor and stand that you’ll assemble once it arrives. It took me around 10 minutes to assemble the PC, and I could have done it quicker had I done it before. I’m not a fan of reading manuals or instructions, which tends to slow me down a lot, but not this time as the assembly was intuitive and simple.
But when it comes to changing to a more cloud-focused design, dealing with a warranty or other hardware failure, or if you want a larger monitor, you simply change out the components. You don’t have to replace the entire device.
And one of those changes will be to convert to a more cloud-focused hardware configuration when it comes time for your pivot. You’d do this by simply replacing the PC modules and not the entire solution, significantly lowering the cost of the pivot. And you get the added benefit of less disruptive hardware upgrade and replacement costs as well.
The future is modular
I think the future of the desktop computer is going to be far more similar to NVIDIA’s new Shield TV than any existing PC hardware. This likely future means that at some point, what you are buying is going to become prematurely obsolete. A modular hardware configuration is the best way to mitigate a future hardware change, particularly with an all-in-one design, because you don’t have to replace everything, just the outdated component.
As a result, while the NVIDIA Shield TV may represent a likely future for the cloud-focused desktop, the modular Dell OptiPlex 7070 Ultra may be the most prudent way to assure a cost contained path to that future now.