Computer: Printed Circuit Board
Universal Plug n' Play Motherboard   (+1, -2)  [vote for, against]
Stick it anywhere you can find room for it

Computers have, over the years, been advancing rapdily in the amount of computing power they have, more or less according to Moore's Law. This leads to a great turnover rate in the investment into actual hardware. How many computer motherboards, CPUs, power supplies, cases, and indeed entire systems have you gone through in your personal quest to keep your PC reasonably speedy with newer programs? Take a look at your current PC and note that it has pretty much the same basic setup an IBM 802860-based PC would have had 22 years ago, except now it's newer and faster and shinier. There's no reason not to have a computer that doesn't need so much replaced on it to be upgraded. For example, if I want better or faster video, do I just replace the video chipset and video RAM chips? No, I have to replace the entire video circuit board and all of the electronic components attached to it. Wonderful waste of resources, don't you think? Even things on the new card that are the SAME as on the old one have to be replaced, as one entire unit.

So I'd like to propose a half-baked idea that certainly seems feasible in my mind, at least insofar as home computers might go, and possibly for a lot of other electronic applications.

We already know that you can make a row of PCI slots and it (usually) doesn't matter which PCI slot you insert your new PCI card into. Why not just carry this notion to an extreme, and simply have a board that's basically a giant LIF socket? Here's the catch:

There'd be ONE main chip between the power supply and the rest of the board, which itself would be computerized. It would act as a "CPU" of sorts for the purposes of establishing power and data lines to peripheral devices on the LIF and would have tons of switches in it to make this possible. ANY pin on the LIF board could potentially be a power feed, and it would depend on COMMUNICATION between this main chip and the peripheral chip to establish what pins are for what purpose, and a check would be made at every power-on so that if configuration has changed then it won't fry a component by accident.

The upshot would be that you could just design individual CHIPS with all of the stuff onboard that they need to communicate with the main chip. No more wasted resources buying entire new cases and motherboards and cards and stuff, now you can just buy the chip like you normally would when upgrading a CPU. And no more having to buy another motherboard because new chip design X has one more pin than old version design! Because of the fact that any pinhole on the board can correspond to any pin on the chip you plug into it, you can plug any chip in any place and orientation it will fit, with the exception of CPU/RAM/Video chips which would have to be at least within a particular proximity to one another, but areas for these could be marked off in color on the board. Heck, even peripheral ports could be made to plug in like this, so when a new type of monitor connector comes with your new video chip kit, you just unplug the old one and plug in the new one!

I may be coming back and filling in a lot more detail on this and a couple of other ideas that I have which correspond to this one (related to keeping line distances and distances between certain components short).
-- Size_Mick, May 15 2006

I'm not sure I understand why these things couldn't also be plug-in modules (clock, chipset, etc.). I understand that distance between components affects speed but I don't see why a re-usable circuit board couldn't be made. Certainly they are capable of putting rather a lot of hardware all into one chip these days (look at sound chips, modem chips, and other types that no longer even have a capacitor or anything on their circuit boards -- just the chips and a resistor or two). The CPU proximity to video/RAM/I/O chipset is the only thing I could see that would make this a problem, and I'm working on some design ideas that might make this easier (tough part is where to make all the heat go).

I'd almost agree with what you say but I can look at a 386 motherboard and see a similar layout to that of any new motherboard, insofar as where components are situated in relation to one another, and strongly believe that this idea is feasible.
-- Size_Mick, May 16 2006

It would be nice, but I don't really see this working as long as the technology is sill evolving so fast. As bigsleep was saying, a lot of the changes are correlated and there's a reason the new chips use physically different pins: it's to make sure you don't try plugging parts that wouldn't work together.

Take memory, for example. To get things to run faster the new motherboards run at a higher frequency and they need memory chips that can handle the higher frequency. Also, the way the CPU talks with memory changes with every new generation (RDRAM, SDRAM, DDR, ...). If the CPU was built before the new memory was invented, there is no cost-effective way the CPU can possibly talk to the memory.

And that's just one example. These things change all the time, and making everything compatible with everything would be very difficult; the trend today is in fact the opposite: bundle more things together because as computers get cheaper, people have less incentive to just change parts instead of the whole thing.
-- Chvorthq, May 16 2006

Lol phlish! No no no, everyone, you don't seem to understand -- I'm not saying you don't need to upgrade chipset/rtc/memory/cpu etc. to match each other properly. Each part will still have compatibility requirements to operate, just like in current systems. I'm just trying to point out that a universal motherboard could be made so that only the chips themselves need to be replaced, not entire boards, and that such a motherboard could be made "smart" so that the orientation of the chip and its general location are at least relatively unimportant. The other point was that in fact things haven't changed for a lot of different components in a PC, yet we still wind up replacing them when we need to replace other bits. Waste, waste, waste, and confusion to boot!
-- Size_Mick, May 19 2006

Correct me if I'm wrong but wouldn't this end up making a computer roughly four times the size of a regular one?
-- harderthanjesus, May 20 2006

//Correct me if I'm wrong but wouldn't this end up making a computer roughly four times the size of a regular one?//

No, since most of the bits that normally would be soldered on a circuit board would be instead integrated directly into the related chips, since the motherboard itself would essentially be just a giant socket. The whole concept requires making new hardware to accomodate, but peripheral devices and software would be, for the most part, compatible.
-- Size_Mick, May 23 2006

random, halfbakery