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Microsoft Patents Hardware Technology

Microsoft Patents A Modular PC With Stackable Components ( 183

Microsoft has patented a "modular computing device" that would enable people to put together the exact PC components they want, allowing for replacement of certain parts rather than forcing people to buy entire new computers when they want upgrades. Microsoft applied for the patent in July 2015, and it was published earlier this week, on February 11.
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Microsoft Patents A Modular PC With Stackable Components

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  • by CajunArson ( 465943 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @11:35PM (#51508839) Journal

    I see a patent publication, which occurs automatically for practically any U.S. patent unless the patentee expressly requests that the patent not be published and relinquishes the right to file the patent in any country other than the U.S.

    As for the rest of the article, I'm not overly interested in the analysis of somebody who doesn't actually know what a patent is.

    • How exactly is this different from what Google has been showing for some time with their plug-together cell phone? I mean, besides all the components being physically bigger.

      • Project Ara has components that plug into a baseboard. This patent covers a stack of components, notably beginning with a hinged display. While it's possible for Microsoft to argue that Ara infringes on some of the claims (namely #19, which lacks the hinged display but covers toolless swappable components), the earlier release of Project Ara's details makes such a lawsuit unlikely to succeed.

        1. A computing device comprising: a display modular component including a housing, a display device physically and communicatively coupled to the housing via a hinge, and one or more display hardware elements disposed within the housing and configured to output a display for display the display device; and a computing modular component including a housing that is physically and communicatively coupled to the display modular component, a processing system disposed within the housing, and memory disposed within the housing, the processing system configured to execute instructions stored by the processing system to generate a user interface for display by the display device of the display modular component, the processing system and the memory being swappable within the housing of the computing modular component.

        17. A modular computing system comprising: a plurality of modular components forming a stackable arrangement one to another, wherein: each of the modular components has a respective housing and is interchangeable into and out of the stackable arrangement in a swappable manner; the stackable arrangement forms a communicative and removable physical coupling between the plurality of modular components; and the plurality of modular components include at least: a processing system housing including a processing system disposed therein; and a memory housing including the memory disposed therein.

        19. A method comprising: obtaining a plurality of modular components, each of the modular components having a respective housing configured to form a stackable arrangement, one to another; stacking the plurality of modular components to form a computing device; and swapping at least one of a plurality of housings disposed within at least one of the respective modular components without using tools, the plurality of housings including: a processing system housing including a processing system within the housing of the at least one of the respective modular components; and a memory housing including a memory within the housing of the at least one of the respective modular components.

      • More like []. Which you can actually buy today! Or order..
      • by jrumney ( 197329 )

        How exactly is this different from what Google has been showing for some time with their plug-together cell phone? I mean, besides all the components being physically bigger.

        Seriously, how is this different than ISA slots? People putting together parts to make the computer they want, whatever will they come up with next?

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) []

        It was cuting edge at the time (1998), but the HP Sojourn should be prior art for this. It was a laptop with a dock (well, multiple docks). The base laptop was thin and light, and didn't have much I/O. You put on the I/O slice, and you have a CD drive, video ports, serial and more. And you can then put on another slice, and expanded battery slice. The ultrabook was expandable to a full desktop replacement (almost).

        And there have been other computers to do the same,
  • prior art? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ihtoit ( 3393327 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @11:39PM (#51508847)


    I know there's a LOT I've missed out, but you get the point. I've been building my own PCs since 1988. All using modular components.

    • PC/104 (Score:5, Informative)

      by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @11:45PM (#51508885) []

    • by Irate Engineer ( 2814313 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @11:52PM (#51508907)


      I know there's a LOT I've missed out, but you get the point. I've been building my own PCs since 1988. All using modular components.

      Yeah, but did you patent the process? No?

      MS will be cracking down on this sort of socialist hooliganism, get ready and assume the position!

    • I am currently building a pc that is including components.

      And I don't want to stack them.

    • by shubus ( 1382007 )
      I've been building PC's since the mid 80's with the above mentioned components. So what's to happen now, Microsoft going to try and sue everybody who builds their own PC's? "Prior Art" isn't going let this fly.....we'll need to see that patent.
    • Re:prior art? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @12:15AM (#51509003) Homepage

      None of those are actually prior art for this patent. They're similar in concept, but don't actually come close to the implementation that Microsoft is patenting. A closer instance would be Project Ara, but even that's quite the stretch to say it would invalidate this patent, as Ara involves multiple components attached to a single surface, and this patent describes stacking components.

      Remember, folks: Patents are specific. Just naming a bunch of similar ideas is not "prior art".

      • Re:prior art? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Scoth ( 879800 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @01:38AM (#51509243)

        I wish more Slashdotters understood this. Patents are ridiculously, specifically specific. I worked for a company that was known for owning several patents in a very specific, niche market and got to take part in writing up some proposals for new ones. I learned a lot about how to make the verbiage both specific enough to fit the idea, but also general enough to try to prevent someone from tacking on "on a mobile device" or "with a specific enclosure" and doing the same. There was also a lot of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what stuck. I didn't work there long enough to have anything granted in my name, but it may still happen.

        All this patent has to do is be sufficiently different from anything else patented to be granted. Doesn't matter that there's something else logically very similar, or even functionally the same, as long as the implementation and specifics are unique. Even if it comes down to "Exactly the same as previous modular computers, BUT WITH MAGNETS!"

        • That's the problem. Just because something hasn't been patented before is NOT sufficient for it to be patented [at least, according to the law].

          They are to be non-obvious to a skilled practitioner in the art of whatever.

          This is pretty much "how can we do Project ARA using full size computer components". The idea that "stacking" is somehow non-obvious is beyond ridiculous.

          Perhaps the only thing that Microsoft should be able to do is submit it as a design patent, so the specific sizes/shapes of how these co

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )


        if it's just stacked in random order then any daisychainable-multi-use bus... usb too.

        stupid patent. the IDEA is worth fucking zero dollars. it's been had by many people many times. getting such a thing to sale from multiple hw providers.. now that would be novel.

      • Looks exactly the same to me [].

        Patent law has become degenerate. It no longer has any real application to its original intent of protecting innovators. It is now simply another market where any notion can be ligated for the benefit of wealthy commercial interests. My favorite example, a patent for "*" to mean "any characters", i.e. a wild card for search, was issued in 2011.

      • by jrumney ( 197329 )
        Is this a design patent? If not, then I don't see how whether they are stacked or stuck into slots on a perpendicular board comes into it. Changing the form factor does not make your idea novel.
      • by Agripa ( 139780 )

        and this patent describes stacking components.

        Like a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A []?

      • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

        SGI NUMALink, the altix 350 series were 2u dual socket servers that could be stacked together with numalink cables, with the result being a cluster that showed up as a single multiprocessor host running a single kernel.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The article itself lists some, but even my Lenovo IdeaCenter is a stack:

      I'm not really sure why this was granted, presumably its a very narrow claim, that's being presented as if it was a broad claim for Microsoft to troll companies with.

    • Re:prior art? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @05:36AM (#51509965)

      I mentioned before that Slashdot has spent years breeding ignorance about how patents work. This +5, Informative is such a great example.

      I know there's a LOT I've missed out, but you get the point. I've been building my own PCs since 1988. All using modular components.

      This person replied believing that Microsoft had patented any and all modular configurations, as opposed to a very specific implementation that will only apply to its own standard. It's not his fault, either. Typically when Slashdot posts a patent story the headline reads something like this: "Apple Patents Page Turn Animation", leading to a discussion thread where people cry 'prior art!' and rattle off all the zillions of times they've seen any old page turn animation. It should read: "Apple Patents a Specific Page Turn Animation", which would have lead to a much more fruitful discussion. But, nah, waving pitchforks over patents spins the ad-counter. Anyway, this article did at least add the word 'a' to the title, but it's so similar to the sensationalist bullshit we've seen before that it's not very noticeable. I don't blame anyone for missing the distinction.

      So, to answer his question: No, none of what he you described is prior art. But since the article didn't bother to link to the patent, and I'm too lazy to dig it up, the critical bit of information about what you WOULD need to find isn't going to turn up in this post. If the patent says that the modular PC requires a green Cabbage Patch Doll wearing suspenders, then you have to find previous PCs with green Cabbage Patch Dolls wearing suspenders. A PC with a red Cabbage Patch doll wouldn't count.

      • It's even a bit worse than what you said. Microsoft didn't get a patent for a modular PC, they applied for a patent for a modular PC. Slashdot also frequently neglects to say whether the article is about a granted patent or a patent application. In this case, of course, TFA also leaves out this important bit of information.

        TFA does link to the application on the USPTO web site [], though. You can get more information by going to PAIR [] and searching for the application number, 14/792992.
    • I remember my father had brought home some point of sale computers that had a scsi or some other type of module on the top of the case where you can stack upgrades. That was around the early 1990s and they were already too out of date for me to use.

      The key problem we have is the upgradable PC has its limits.

      There come a point where you need to swap out the entire thing because components become a bottleneck to everything else.

      Back in the early 2000 the hay day of custom PC they tended to last only 4-5 year

      • by ihtoit ( 3393327 )

        the one thing in a PC that has ALWAYS been the game-ender for upgrades has been the backplane.

        Get something like the PC104 platform, the backplane consists of the serial bus and a power rail, that's pretty much it. EVERYTHING else stacks on it (and it apparently doesn't even matter which order it stacks in!), and it all runs off a common power supply. THAT is future proofed. Want to upgrade to a faster processor with more cores? Replace an old embedded board with a top-of-the-range $300 one rather than fork

    • Lenovo did the same thing last year []
    • by c ( 8461 )

      None of those are stackable.

      Arduino shields would be closer to the idea, but they don't connect with magnets and I'd assume the Microsoft approach is more like a bus with some auto-discovery than a collection of GPIO pins. So, not prior art.

    • Something tells me that this has something to do with Azure.

      Their cloud platform utilizes standard shipping container-sized modules full of air-cooled, modular components that they can stack up (or remove) to an outdoor datacenter arrangement.

  • Prior Art Time (Score:4, Informative)

    by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @11:40PM (#51508855)

    Wells American was doing this back in the 80s []

  • by John Bokma ( 834313 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @11:44PM (#51508877) Homepage

    Custom plastic-based design with a 'slice' feature which allows extra case modules to be added to increase internal expansion space. Each slice adds 2 podule bays at the rear, and two drive bays (one 3.5 inch, one 5.25 inch) at the front

    source: []

    Images with multiple slices: []

  • Nice (Score:5, Funny)

    by Koby77 ( 992785 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @11:49PM (#51508901)
    Congradulations on inventing the Sega32x!
    • a lot of stacking in there too : Sega CD, Megadrive, 32X, Action Replay, Sonic and Knuckles, earlier Sonic game..

      This one sounds real! []

  • I just spent 10 minutes browsing that ventureBeat site. What a bunch of drivel those articles were.
  • by clovis ( 4684 ) on Sunday February 14, 2016 @11:56PM (#51508927)

    In the 1980's there was a company "Convergent Technologies" that made a snap-together systems with separate boxes for CPU, Disk, graphics cards etc.

    Here's some pictures:
    http://www.computinghistory.or... []

    Some history: [] []

    And their patents:
    http://bitsavers.trailing-edge... []

    However, the Microsoft patents are for stackable components that use a flux fountain.
    The Convergent Technologies component boxes are side-by-side and aren't held together by magnets.

  • by ArylAkamov ( 4036877 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @12:03AM (#51508959)

    FINALLY, I won't be forced to throw away yet ANOTHER desktop just because I want more ram or hard drive space!

    I wonder if some day we will be able to upgrade our processor or power supply? Maybe even add in extra fans for cooling!

    • I'm thinking this patent is really designed as a docking station for the surface pro and similar type tablets in an attempt to turn them into a desktop type computer with lots more power. The stacking sounds a lot like how the keyboard connects to it.

  • i realize they are trying to make hardware upgrades easy for the average joe but they a missing the fundamental problem of upgrades: finding out which part you want. having an idiot select which type of DDR RAM they want won't be any easier just because now the RAM comes in an easy to plug in box.

    • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

      having an idiot select which type of DDR RAM they want won't be any easier just because now the RAM comes in an easy to plug in box.

      Well, it could work if that particular type of easy-plug-in-box only supports one single type of RAM, then you can't go wrong; if you can physically plug it in, then you know it will work.

      Of course the downside of that is that you'll never be able to use any new kinds of RAM that come out in the future; whether or not that is a problem for you depends on how much RAM technology will continue to evolve, and whether or not you ever feel the need for faster RAM at some point.

      • RAM in a box would be expensive and slow. Let's say you have a 40 Gbps interface or even a 100 Gbps one to connect it, then the bandwith would be mediocre and the latency worse still. You can put a really fast SSD on there though or non-volatile memory that is sort of half-way between RAM and SSD, such as 3D XPoint.

    • The idea is likely to replace the entire CPU + RAM box. Not far-fetched given all the mobile and embedded stuff that has RAM permanently attached in one way or another. See HBM memory (on graphics cards for now) for the probable future of high performance combined CPU + GPU.
      Of course you have to pay attention and not get ripped off with a 2GB or 4GB device (*gasp* 4GB Mac) while you intended your thing to be awesome and modern.

    • the system buses are not setup for this. TB is a poor choice as well (only pci-e 4x max and video data eats up some that bandwidth also may force on board video as well)

      Needs pci-e links (to bad that sky-lake is limited there and the low end ($384.99) LGA 2011-v3 socket cpus don't even have the full set of pci-e lanes needing people to move up to a ($579.99) cpu.

      Ram needs to be in the base box only.

  • In the 1980's, I remember seeing a mainframe computer which had completely modular stackable components.... they plugged into eachother almost like lego, and apparently with few exceptions, the components could be placed in different order. I remember at the time thinking that it was kind of like the ISA bus on a PC, only instead of some fixed number of them you could just keep on adding more components to get whatever functionality you desired.
  • by pauljlucas ( 529435 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @01:06AM (#51509161) Homepage Journal
    Texas Instruments had the TI-99/4A [] that has that dubious "sidecar" extension bus:

    The TI-99/4's original expansion concept was that peripherals would be connected serially to the console and each other, in a "daisy-chain" fashion. The "sidecar" expansion units can be connected together in a continuing chain, but can rapidly occupy an entire desktop and cause crashes ...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Jesus fucking Christ, did Slashdot suddenly go "full stupid" since the handover? How is an add-on port on the side of a computer the same thing as a computer system that can be fully assembled and modified with nothing but stack-able components?

      • by Khyber ( 864651 )

        Are you a fucking retard? The only goddamned difference is the ORIENTATION. I've run a TI 99/4A vertically stacked using the extension bus.

        So much for the patent. Those magnets holding it are of no actual purpose when the bus connector should pretty much handle it all, assuming it was built worth a shit. Hinged screen for the top? Nothing new, laptops do this already and have extension bases with modular components THAT STACKS VERTICALLY.

        Logical failure detected. Detach yourself from mommy's PC and reattach

    • More recently, a bus that could be used this way was implemented on the Commodore Amiga computers. The system bus was made available on the side of Amiga 1000 and 500 computers. Not only did they have daisy-chainable side-expansion boxes for these machines, but you could get them with Zorro slots in them so you could add cards on to the outside, but in enclosures

  • I never had one, but a friend whose dad worked for IBM did, complete with a whole stack of sidecar expansions. It actually looked rather entertaining as wide as it ended up.

    Admittedly, they stacked to the side and were only for expansion, but they did stack (or daisy chain, if you use more mellifluous terminology).

    • by Scoth ( 879800 )

      I have an IBM PC Convertible in the closet, which did similar but stacked backwards. I only have the serial and parallel port addon, but there were several including an entire printer. Got kind of comically large with all of them.

  • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @01:36AM (#51509241)

    I predict this will be a colossal failure, except perhaps for business environments. And unless it's priced competitively with existing hardware offerings, I think it'll be a failure there too. I just don't see the appeal, and it's almost sure to be encumbered with proprietary stuff- connectors, interfaces, form factor, etc etc.

    This kind of thing has been tried before and met with minimal success. Google even floated a phone that would be built with snap-together parts (Project Ara), and that went nowhere too. A company called Phonebloks tried it too, and I don't think it ever saw the light of day either.

    • If the patent has been awarded, that's a success, not a failure.

      Now whether any future product line based on this patent may be economically viable is a whole different issue, and not the one at stake here.

      • If the patent has been awarded, that's a success, not a failure.

        These days you could get a patent for pissing in the shower, it doesn't mean that it'll meet with widespread industry adoption or that you'll ever make a nickel off it.

        Someone got a patent for a Motorized Ice Cream Cone [], but I don't see it for sale anywhere. Is it a "success"?

        If getting a patent is your metric for "success", perhaps you need to raise the bar a bit.

        • It still is, when it comes to a patent application. File patent > get it awarded > success. File patent > get it rejected > fail.

          Now whether you can make a successful business around it, well, that's a next step. You can't always predict whether something patentable is also sellable.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I can't see it working in business environments, either, except as being some new twist on the blade center.

      Computers that exceed the performance requirements of the typical business user are already so powerful and inexpensive that it's difficult to imagine any reason to expand some user's computer. I think a lot of present day desktops with solid state disks will probably have enough power that they will exceed the supported lifetime of the operating system installed on them.

      About the only place this sta

  • About 20 years ago my partner took me into his workplace at UniSys in Mission Viejo. He showed me a nice modular computer system, video module, disk drive module, CPU module, memory module, etc. It was designed some 30+ years ago now by Convergent Technologies. Burroughs bought then and sold the computers for a few years. And there was still a working example at the UniSys labs in Mission Viejo. (Burroughs plus Sperry became UniSys rather than Spurroughs.)

    I suppose 30 years is long enough for the reinventi

  • Razer did something similar, it is called Project Christine [].
  • by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Monday February 15, 2016 @09:34AM (#51510559) []

    So Microsoft has added a monitor to the design.

  • prior art: IBM PC Jr sidecars, Be, PC104 (and derivatives and precusrors), all the old apple peripherals that were designed to be stacked on/under Mac SE

  • Network switches with stackable backplanes have been around forever.

  • Again, nothing new here - IBM PC JR anyone?
  • will enable people to put together the exact PC components they want

    ...providing that their PC runs Windows 10+

Never worry about theory as long as the machinery does what it's supposed to do. -- R. A. Heinlein