Just what is Slabtop?

For those of you who have seen the video we put up (which you can watch here), came from the mailing list derived from questionnaire participants several months back or indeed any other publication, you might still be scratching your head asking "What exactly is Slabtop?". That's okay, I understand, it's kind of an ambiguous one.

Essentially, Slabtop is a case that houses regular desktop computer components, but in a tiny form factor with input/output devices and a mobile power plant (a lithium ion battery pack) strapped to it. It's very much akin to a regular laptop but thicker. One might ask "why on earth would I want this, what is it, 1995?" and that's okay too, I once again understand.

In a nutshell, Slabtop has these goals:

  1. Make a performance class desktop a portable device which can be moved easily from desk to desk without the requirement to be plugged in to AC
  2. Be affordable to build a system in
  3. As upgradable as possible without sacrificing practicality

Still not sure? Here's a lengthier explanation:

Traditional laptops have always been a controversial subject among PC enthusiasts, primarily because they generally cost a lot, have to be replaced fairly regularly and aren't as powerful as their desktop counterparts (though this isn't so much the case anymore). 

What is fantastic about building a desktop is that you can tailor it to your needs at the time of purchase and then change it as you like later. Parts are easy to come by and can be as cheap or as expensive as you like.

Laptops on the other hand often come in a spec given to you off the shelf with few configuration options and are always heinously difficult and expensive to upgrade outside of memory and storage because of their use of proprietary motherboard and GPU components and more recently, are often soldered permanently to the motherboard!

You could argue there's a reason for this; you need to have something custom in order for the components and a suitable cooling system to fit into a small package, but this isn't strictly true. Bar the new wave of "ultra thin" laptops, traditional laptops have always been 30, 40 even 50mm thick, with ample space for right angle low profile slots for any of the vital components in the system (SODIMM RAM, mPCI-E and MXM cards all work this way!) and motherboards can be shrunk to laughably small sizes nowadays which would enable a system designer to comfortably form a case around a standard board.

However for whatever reason, where slot based components have been used in the past, they've never been available for the consumer to buy freely off the shelf, only available for specific models through select boutique system builders or grey market sellers at eye watering prices. And now with the drive for "ultra thin" designs, even these proprietary add in cards are starting to diminish in their deployment.

This means when you spend £1000, £2000 or even more on your shiny new laptop, components which become dated extremely quickly such as graphics cards can become inadequate in as little as a year or two depending on the use case. Your two choices are either settle for the mediocrity of the old part or splash out an equally substantial amount of cash to upgrade to a newer model.

Slabtop skirts around proprietary components which aren't available off the shelf by using standard ones and providing the interconnects to support those components. The small form factor PC market has exploded in the last 5 years and as a result, smaller desktop motherboards and graphics cards have surfaced which provide much of the performance of their bigger siblings while being a lot more compact - Slabtop takes advantage of these advances.

The early design illustrated in the video houses an ITX class graphics card, motherboard and low profile standard RAM along with interconnects for speakers, a keyboard, touchpad, display and battery.

This prototype design is directly between the price of a desktop and laptop while being much more flexible for future upgrades and modifications.

Slabtop definitely isn't for every user; it's considerably thicker than virtually any modern laptop which makes it difficult to hold and walk around with and won't have a battery life anything close to an Ultrabook or Chromebook for instance.

What makes Slabtop so exciting is that it can easily supplement or replace any regular desktop for gaming, editing, workstation oriented tasks where it may need to be moved from one place to another on a regular basis.

For instance, a student moving between their dorm, campus and home can cut out the annoying bulk of any desktop, even SFF systems, with a single device which can do the tasks that they need well.  I'd know about this situation, because I've been living it for the past two years and it's been refreshing using the early Slabtop iteration moving from place to place.

Another example is for a LAN system. Slabtop has a capable GPU and CPU and a quality IPS panel, and in its diminutive form factor and completeness can be instantly deployed for a comfortable gaming experience from any small to medium sized rucksack or over shoulder bag.

It's also great for those with small living spaces who want to maximise use of their living area.

Even more interesting is that Slabtop doesn't even have to be built in a clamshell configuration. Because its panels are so simple and versatile, one could easily remove any combination of the supplementary peripherals to create a VR backpack rig, an ultra small PC with a UPS, a lap PC which connects to an external monitor such as a TV with minimal wiring, the possibilities are innumerable. 

It could even be configured as a regular laptop, where perhaps the GPU is moved out and instead a larger battery utilised, with the only negative factor being its thicker form factor (which doesn't necessarily mean heavy!).

So now you know what it's about, what do you think? Do you like the form factor? What would your use case be? Do you think it's useless even!? We want to know. Stick a comment down below, post a YouTube comment or message us on Facebook or Twitter.

We hope you might catch the #thicknesssickness that we've caught while working on the Slabtop concept and we hope to take it further and take you with us on the ride.

Thanks for reading.