Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ripping apart my Dell and meddling around with Gumstix

So over the past few days, I have meddled around with a numerous electronics. Microcontrollers, IMU, breakout boards, CMOS sensors, range finders and a couple of other stuff. I started to wonder, if all these electronics are so small, why is the laptop so big? Below are a few pictures to give you a perspective of how small things can really get and why there really is no reason for laptops to be so huge.

The Dell's internal electronics. I have removed the CD drive and battery and LCD and keyboard and touchpad and whatever other peripherals you can think of that are directly accessible to the consumer. The large silver metal casing you see right beside the intel chip is the PCMCI slot. Surely, that is taking a lot of space and no one ever - EVER- uses a PCMCI card now.  
The intel chip. This chip is directly beneath the wifi and bluetooth card. See the next picture. 
I have added the wifi/bluetooth card here and removed their antenna.
The fan with the heat sink. I have removed the heat sink here to make it clearer.  
The top part of the laptop. The LCD and the upper casing.

This is a Gumstix Overo Fire board with a Gumstix Summit expansion board. It comes with all the ports you can see in the picture. Do not be deceived by it apparently large looks. To get a perspective of exactly how small this board is together with the expansion board, check out the last picture. It literally comes with everything the macbook air has.  
I have separated the gumstix fire board and the summit board here. The fire board goes over the summit board (using the 2 70-pin connectors you see on the summit board)
Just to give you an idea of how big is the laptop.
There are a few reasons why the laptop is so much bigger. 

Firstly, the laptop has a separate GPU for processing graphics. And since there are so many components, there is obviously a larger power management board.

Secondly, the laptop uses a hard drive instead of a memory card(like on the gumstix). In the macbook air, you will recall that they use flash memory for storage which is essentially a fancy way to say that they embedded multiple memory cards onto the main board. In the process, they save a lot of space, a lot of weight and also a lot of energy (the hard drive actually spins as opposed to memory cards). 

Thirdly, you have stuff like PCMCI card slots, a CD drive and a ton of ports (some of which no one use today). The CD drive surely is heavy.

In comparison with the Macbook Air, one reason why the Dell isn't able to last so long on battery is because: 1. the battery requires a casing and 2. the Dell uses a Li-ion battery as opposed to the Li-Polymer battery in the Macbook Air. Li-Polymer batteries have a significantly higher power density and thus for the same weight and same number of cells, the Li-Polymer battery is able to provide more power. 

On a side note: if you are interested to know more about the SAFMC project and gumstix and electronics in general, you can visit my team's project page here.

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