Incredible Feats of Engineering, Except…

The Original Xbox game console was a hulking beast built from off-the-shelf components, solid metal, thick plastic, and hubris. It was cranky and loud, from its drives to its fans. It had a grungy, tone deaf interface. It had some great games. And do you know what else it had?

It had a skinny, two prong power cable.

Y’can call me the Duke

We’ve seen this before. My father’s old Pentium II powered Compaq laptop also utilized a simple two prong power cable. The transformer was stuffed into the hulking two inch thick, seven pound body. (The old days were rough, kids.)

Heck, it was a minor revelation that the Nintendo 64 moved the power brick to the interior of the body of the console. Sure it stuck out strangely and had no reason to be quite so removable but hey! It meant from the console to the wall it was clear sailing.

It’s been a long, lonely road of enjoying this particular industrial design

I’m a bit of a maniac about tidiness and cable management. It comes hand in hand with my many other foibles. But I do think examinations of clever design claims and actual clever designs are not without merit.

Looking back to the Xbox line, the Xbox 360 was heralded as a marvel for packing in gratuitously more powerful hardware into an enclosure that was pounds lighter and occupied a scant two-thirds the footprint of its predecessor. It was also regarded as impressive for running itself significantly cooler than the OG Xbox but we all know how that turned out.

Red Ring of Death
Over 100% Failure Rate

The thing of it was, if you set the console down (and why wouldn’t you, it wasn’t a portable) and looked at it, you realized the achievement was barely one at all. The size reduction of the console was thanks to taking the power circuitry and moving it outside of the console into an in-line brick. This brick was hard wired to sit inconveniently near the console but, due to its connecting cord length, not on top of or behind or, heavens forbid, within. And additionally, the power-hungry nature of the Xbox 360 required that the cord to the wall be thicker.

Quick note: I have no issue with three prong cables. But they are thicker and harder to deal with. Believe me, I understand the importance of grounded electricity. Ask me about the time my house exploded.

So, with respect, nothing was really achieved except the implementation of additional hubris in the insufficient cooling of the launch console models possibly due to, in part, the false safety of moving the searingly hot power transformer outside of the box (and in to its own, completely passively cooled box).

You didn’t make it smaller. You made it two pieces.

This article was inspired by the new Caldigit Thunderbolt 3 docking solution. The Caldigit Thunderbolt 3 dock is a great piece of tech primarily intended to deal with the teething problems USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are having, mostly where the courageous Apple MacBook Pro computing line is concerned. Into this impressively small, sleek, aluminum box is packed five USB 3.1 ports, a USB 3.1 C port, a DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet, digital audio, and a top of the line UHS II SD card reader with Thunderbolt 3 passthroughs offering up to 85 watts of USB Power Delivery to juice up even the mighty 15 inch MacBook Pro. Great tech. It’s a great product. I wish I had one. I wish I had need for one. But, that industry-leading 85 watts of Power Delivery? Where’s that coming from?

Look at that Brick. Look at it.

Look at it. It’s bigger than the Dock itself.

A Dock requiring a brick in the first place is going to require that brick to function. Therefore, it is logically going to be bound to a desk, since it isn’t itself portable. And being not portable, it doesn’t have to be terribly small.

Put the brick in the box. Don’t talk to me about overheating. The brick is not actively cooled. Wrapping it inside that quarter inch of aluminum could only help with heat dissipation. So the box on the desk is a little larger. So what? In fact, not using an off the shelf brick could afford opportunities for miniaturization and optimization so the Dock itself would not necessarily be the exact size of the existing Dock + Brick.

Compaq Armada 1700
Compaq Armada 1700. I Cost About 2,200 dollars in 1990s money and you loved me.

The Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing) is also one of those exercises in mind-blowing miniaturization. Desktop class computing in a four inch by four inch by two inch block is amazing. Fast CPUs. The fastest in SSDs. Gobs of RAM. Great stuff. Biiig bricks. Guys, you’ve already engineered NUCs twice as tall to accommodate legacy hard drives. Use that space for power circuitry instead. NUCs demand a lot less juice than an Xbox 360.

People WILL be more impressed when they unbox a self-contained unit with a phone charger or less of dongle. They will. They’ll buy more of them and they’ll be willing to pay more for them.

I am not a computer engineer. I’m not an industrial engineer. Heck, I can’t even drive a train. But I use this stuff all of the time. I know what these things look like inside and I know how warm they get to the touch. I know the marvels that minds better than mine are capable of. Let’s leave the bricks to the quickly vanishing physical sales venues and start doing some truly miraculous engineering.

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