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What Is the Future of Computers if All Parts Are Soldered?

The trend of soldering components directly to motherboards, known as integrated design has been growing a little too fast for some repair shops to catch up with in recent years, especially in laptops, tablets and even some desktop PCs.

While you might be angry at the thought of all of your future phones, laptops and tablets being harder to repair and device manufacturers copying Apple’s ways of soldering every internal part, this method doesn’t only have disadvantages.

Advantages of Integrated Design And Soldering *Everything* to the Motherboard

Smaller form factors: Soldered components allow for thinner and lighter devices.

Improved reliability: Fewer connectors also mean fewer points of failure. Sometimes it means that as long as the manufacturer built the device properly you’ll just not have to repair it that much in the first place. Sometimes that’s not the case though, it’s highly circumstantial.

Better performance: Direct connections can reduce electrical resistance and improve signal integrity.

Power efficiency: Integrated designs sometimes have better power management and longer battery life. Just take a look at comparisons between Apple’s Macbooks battery life compared to everything Windows based. Yes, I know there is a x86 and ARM based CPU argument to be made there as well on top of battery capacity and soldering stuff to the main circuit board.

Manufacturability: Automated assembly can be more efficient with soldered components.

The Negative Stuff About Soldering Parts

Limited upgradability: You as a simple user can’t easily replace or upgrade your components without having a specialized workplace with all the fancy tools. Sometimes even having those won’t help you in the case of stubborn and purposely-built-to-be-difficult parts.

Increased repair costs: Repairs will almost always require replacing the entire motherboard.

Shorter device lifespan: When one component fails, the entire system will need to be replaced.

E-waste problems: Difficulty in recycling or repurposing individual components will make us all regret this method in the not so distant future. Imagine the mountains of phones, PCs, tablets and more that will clog the landfills.

Future Problems

Modular designs: Some manufacturers might explore modular designs that balance integration and upgradability. Some already have actually, both in the phone and the laptop space.

Cloud computing: With limited local storage, there will be more reliance on cloud services for more processing power and storage.

Advanced repair techniques: New methods for component level repair will show up.

Specialized devices: Computers will become more task specific, with hardware optimized for particular uses.

Sustainability challenges: Many giants in the industry will probably be held liable in the future because of the amount of ewaste and product longevity issues that they’re causing knowingly. Don’t be surprised if you hear certain companies getting sued for making their devices extra stubborn to any repair attempt by soldering everything to the main board and purposely destroying our environment just for the endless pursuit of profits.

Performance leaps: Integrated designs will give us some new advancements in computer architecture and performance.

Shift in consumer behavior: You will have to adapt to treating computers more like appliances with fixed lifespans. Or we all just start encouraging (with our dollars) the manufacturers that are offering modular devices. I can almost smell the market starting to fight back against this, and manufacturers starting to sniff the potential.

Market segmentation: A divide will probably grow between integrated consumer devices and modular professional or enthusiast systems.

Software optimization: There will be a bigger focus on software optimization to extend the actual life of the hardware.

Advancements in material science: New materials and manufacturing techniques will show up to fix the current limitations.

Chip Level Integration

System-on-Chip (SoC) designs are becoming more and more popular, integrating CPU, GPU, memory controllers and other components into a single chip.

This will lead to highly specialized SoCs for specific tasks or industries.

The Era of Native Liquid Cooling

Integrated designs will help when it comes to the innovation in cooling technology, including micro channel liquid cooling directly integrated into chips.

This will allow for higher performance in much smaller and compact designs.

Chiplet Architecture

Instead of monolithic chips, some manufacturers are exploring chiplet designs where multiple smaller dies are combined.

This could offer a middle ground between full integration and modularity. There is even an already famous project of a modular consumer laptop called Framework that achieves this pretty successfully and you can actually buy it as a working product. So it’s not just a future promise. Where there’s a market there will always be a manufacturer.

Interposer Technology

Advanced interposers might allow for some degree of upgradability even in super integrated designs.

Silicon interposers or organic substrates could enable *pseudo-modular* designs.

AI Optimized Hardware

Integrated designs will lead to more specialized AI acceleration hardware built directly into motherboards. Intel is already delivering AI integrated chips to the consumer market and we’ll probably see more of this soon.

This will include neuromorphic computing elements that mimic brain structures.

Quantum Computing Integration

As quantum computing develops, we will see quantum coprocessors integrated into traditional computer architectures. Or maybe the power and design of your future computer won’t even be an issue at all? What if we’ll do everything in the cloud and you could run any software no matter how powerful by connecting to a quantum computer as long as you have a fast internet connection?

Biointegration

Future computers will probably incorporate biological components, which would likely require highly integrated designs. This will include bio sensors or even bio computing elements.

There is a university study going on right now that is trying to build a computer inspired by the Japanese art of paper cutting called Kirigami. Imagine a computer with no actual electronics inside. It stores data in tiny cubes and if successful we might even see some mass adoption of this technology in the future. Imagine the amount of energy the world could save if that was to be implemented. Right now though, that technology is barely in development mode and just at a research level.

Self Healing Materials

Research into self healing electronics could mitigate some of the repairability issues of integrated designs.

This can be achieved with materials that can automatically repair minor damage or electrical issues.

Optical Computing Elements

Integration of optical computing components will mean faster data transfer and processing within the computer.

Energy Harvesting

Integrated designs will incorporate advanced energy harvesting technologies to extend battery life or even enable self powered devices. We can already see this in the case of newer Macbooks and the new Snapdragon X ARM based Windows laptops.

Securitization of Hardware

Integrated designs allow for better hardware level security features, which means that overall you will have a more secure computing environment. A great example is Windows 11’s TPM 2.0 requirement which is a hardware component integrated into the CPU. That’s why if you have an older computer you probably already got the message that you can’t upgrade from Windows 10 to 11.

Right to Repair Problems

The trend towards integration is already put to the test with new legal and regulatory challenges from right to repair bodies. The EU is likely to be the first major economic block to do something about this issue.

Right to repair isn’t exactly a law that is a thing in all jurisdictions. It’s actually the exception to the rule. In most of the world the device manufacturer is not forced to give you the right to repair your device or even provide you with original parts to make that happen. But maybe as more and more companies are soldering everything to the main board, certain countries will start implementing more serious laws about this issue.

Subscription Based Hardware

Yes, you heard that right. You could have the most powerful chip and graphics card inside your laptop already but the company you bought it from will ask you for a tiered subscription in the future to access the highest level of performance.

We’ve already seen this concept happen with certain cars from major German manufacturers like Audi and BMW. Even though BMW dropped the plans of a subscription model car, other companies are plowing ahead with the concept. Companies might even move towards hardware as a service models, where integrated computers are leased rather than sold.

Intel at one point even floated the idea of a subscription model CPU. They would sell you the best available CPU they could produce but you could only unlock the top performance by paying for their most expensive tier. In a perfect world if you think about it, this could actually reduce waste significantly but it also gives the company selling you that product more power. We haven’t quite figured out this balance as a society but maybe we will in the future.

Molecular Scale Integration

New advancements will push integration to the molecular or atomic scale, fundamentally changing how we understand the idea of computer components.

Recyclability Innovations

New methods for recycling integrated components will come out like chemical processes to separate and recover materials. This will be one of the most important things about recovering some of the precious metals inside these soldered boards.

If we can’t take certain parts off of the boards we should at least not let the precious metals go to waste.

Standardization Efforts

Large industry companies that can see the opportunity might develop new standards for partially upgradable integrated designs.

Augmented Reality Integration

AR capabilities might become standard in integrated computer designs, with the hardware already built into the motherboard.

Adaptive Hardware

Future integrated designs might include elements of reconfigurable computing which will allow the hardware to adapt to different tasks.

Supply Chain Implications

Highly integrated and soldered designs will lead to more vertical integration in the computer industry, with fewer companies controlling larger parts of the production process. That’s technically a good thing since monopolies are usually anti innovation.

Environmental Sensors

Integrated environmental sensors should become standard, in order for the computers to adapt to their surroundings for the best performance and energy efficiency.

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