Microsoft has patented a “modular computing device” that would enable people to put together the exact PC components they want, allowing for replacement of certain parts rather than forcing people to buy entire new computers when they want upgrades.
Microsoft applied for the patent in July 2015, and it was published earlier this week, on February 11. One of the patent’s authors, Tim Escolin, is a senior industrial designer on Microsoft’s Surface devices and accessories team.
As the Surface tablet has picked up traction and led to the launch of similar devices from Google, Apple, and Samsung, the Surface brand has become more valuable within Microsoft. It helps that Microsoft has an innovative and exciting executive for the Surface team — corporate vice president Panos Panay. In October, he very enthusiastically demonstrated the Surface Book, the Surface Pro 4, and the Display Dock, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that Microsoft might have his group come out with additional types of new hardware.
Modular hardware, specifically, has been an area of some interest for Microsoft. Microsoft recently came out with the modular Xbox One Elite controller in partnership with Scuf Computing.
At CES in 2014, Microsoft helped promote gaming PC maker Razer’s concept for a modular PC called Project Christine. But two years later, the system is still not available for consumers to buy. This past September, Acer introduced a modular PC called the Revo Build Mini PC for the low entry cost of $225.
Of course, if you build a PC yourself, it is modular in the sense that you can add or remove components, but it’s not very sleek. The device depicted in this patent does look pretty dang cool, and even accessible.
Interestingly, a display is included in the hardware design (unlike the Acer product). The stackable hardware connected to the display using a hinge can contain a removable battery, a processor, a graphics card, memory, storage, speakers, and a wireless communication element. There could even be a gesture recognition component or a holographic projection unit (hello, HoloLens!).
Each of these components can also have housings that are connected magnetically and are swappable.
“In this way, the computing device may be altered and changed readily by a user in an intuitive manner without requiring detailed knowledge of the hardware,” as the patent’s authors put it.
Of course, the mere existence of this patent doesn’t mean Microsoft plans to release this type of hardware. But it does show that at least two people inside of the major technology company have given a modular PC some serious consideration.
Microsoft declined to comment.