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THE “MODERN” COMPUTER INDUSTRY is now a little more or a little less than 50 years old, depending on when you pinpoint that the computer age took off. Over that time, computers have gone from large metal boxes two times larger than a desk to metal boxes that sit on or under a desk. Then computers needed more computers to support them, so they made computers in rack-friendly shapes. With a big battery and a little hardware ingenuity, those boxes could be taken on the road. And as users became more mobile, computers became more portable, and so on. Today we have computers the size of a thumb drive that are infinitely more powerful than those that used to be two times larger than a desk.
It may be surprising, but nearly every one of those “types” of computers still exists today. Computer form factors are the electronic equivalents to “walkers” in the hit show The Walking Dead. The guts change; none of them run Intel 8088 processors anymore, of course, nor do they have 640K of RAM, 5.25-inch floppy drives, or 2400-baud modems. But the form factors continue on.
I can’t think of a single form factor that is now extinct. Even if there are one or two examples (extra credit to the first reader to email me with one), it’s rare, and that’s because the PC is the most malleable computing tool ever created. Form factors rise to address wants or needs. As the insides evolve, the ability to address new wants or needs change, but the original want or need doesn’t go away.
As computing power shrinks and new forms are developed to better address specific needs, the number of computer form factors will continue to grow. Channel pros who push hardware solutions should make a point to keep on top of the different kinds of computing devices out there. Personal computing is rapidly being expected to be just that: personal. Businesses will be expecting their specific wants and needs be addressed by hardware forms best suited for the job. To help, let’s brush up on some of the different PC and server form factors still in use today.
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