• Josh ZapinJosh Zapin
  • Date:  October 1, 2009
  • Life

Buying a Kitchen Computer, Part 1: What We Need

It seems like I spend more time in my kitchen than any other room in the house.  (Technically, I should say “waking” time.)

Why Are You Spending So Much Time In the Kitchen?

About three years ago, Marni and I renovated the kitchen in our 1960s split-level ranch house in Boulder.  Where our “old” kitchen was walled off the living room/dining room and isolated from the rest of the house, our “new” kitchen is completely open.  To say that it is the kitchen is really a misnomer.  It is really just one large space that flows into a modern, open living area.

While this architectural change alone has made the space more livable, what has made us spend more time in our kitchen is the expansion of our family.  With a 3-year old, a 4-month old, and a dog, we spend a lot of time, making food, eating food, and hanging around before and after we’ve eaten the food.   To boot,  Marni and I work.  This means the time that we actually spend in our house centers around what we do in the kitchen.  It’s just the area of the house that we spend the most time these days.

Why Do We Need a Kitchen Computer?

If we’re going to spend so much time in our kitchen, then we will need a computer to live with us.  The 21st century family lives as much in the digitial world as in the physical world.  From pictures to  music to Facebook to Skyping with the grandparents thousands of miles away, we use a computer constantly.

Just like the kitchen is the hub of our home, our kitchen computer is the digital hub.  While we also have an office and an entertainment center, we do much much more on virtual living on our kitchen computer.

What Should the Kitchen Computer Do?

Right now the kitchen computer function is shared between my and Marni’s work laptop.  We set them up on our countertop and use them as our digital hub.  While both are workhorses and handle the digital needs of our family, there are some limitations:

  • Their hard drives are too small to fit our digital “life” – We take a zillion of pictures and videos (now in High Definition), listen to tons of digital music and podcasts.  A 40 or even 100 GB hard drive is too small store all that stuff.  Our kitchen computer needs at least 500 GB to handle all the media that we generate and consume.
  • Only my laptop has an integrated web camera – Skype is today’s modern telephone.  Not only are the calls free, it does video chat.  With  our families still back in the New York tri-state area, Skype is simply the best way to stay in touch with them.  Our kitchen computer needs an integrated web camera.
  • The laptop speakers are crap and are barely audible – With all the traffic and activity that takes place in our kitchen, the small tinny speakers of our laptops just can’t be heard.  Our kitchen computer needs good speakers to be heard.
  • Laptop computers have one, and only one, keyboard. If it gets messed up, the whole computer is a gonner – Kitchens, by their nature, are dirty.  It is completely expected that they keyboard and trackpad of the laptop will get grit and grime in them.  While a little dirt won’t make a keyboard inoperable, a bad spill might hose the system.  The best kitchen computers should have keyboards that aren’t integrated into the machine.  Even better, you should be able to use the computer wtihout a keyboard!
  • To add all of our devices requires tons of cables which adds clutter in an already cluttered place – Wires are the residue of the modern digital hub.  If you want to attach a mouse, a camera, and a phone to a laptop, you need three separate wires.  A kitchen computer should minimize the need for wires.
  • The laptops are not ours! The companies we work for are very liberal with our use of our computers.  We can put anything we want on them and use them pretty much as freely as we want.  Still, they can change policies or, worse, ask for them back.  We should have the stuff of our lives on our own machine

So the time has come to buy a new kitchen computer and this blog post starts the quest.  We’re trying to find that near perfect balance of features and price that will  become the digital hub of our life.

What I have realized is that there aren’t a lot of good references out there.  Sure, there a desktop buying guides or laptop buying guides, but none that focuses on what I believe is the next frontier: the kitchen computer.

So,  I’m going to detail my quest for the world to read and share.  As the title of this post suggests this is the first in a series where I detail all the decisions I’m making to find that perfect kitchen computer.  What I learn, you’ll learn.  The mistakes I make will not be yours.

So, please follow along and share your experiences.  Let’s see where we take it.

Next Up:  Desktop vs. Laptop vs. All-In-One

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  • mbgrey
    8:52 am November 6, 2009

    Hi Josh, I have had a computer in my kitchen for about a year now. I wanted a robust computer so I got an HP computer and a wireless keyboard and mouse. The monitor is on a swing out arm over a corian counter so I can push it out of the way if need be. I saw the swing arm monitor in a restaurant and thought, “Why Not.” THe keyboard and mouse go on a shelf under the counter when I need to roll out piecrust etc., or know I will be making a big mess. The computer itself is beneath on a lower shelf. I did have to drill a hole through the tile edge of the counter top. But it is in a corner. People that see it think it is cool but immediately worry about it getting dirty.The keyboard and mouse do get soiled a bit, but are easy to wipe off and disinfect. Last night I discovered that the mouse bottom was so dirty that it couldn’t slide properly. No problem – cleaned up very well, probably flour dust. My kitchen is small but having this set up has made my life a lot easier. — cheers

  • mbgrey
    8:56 am November 6, 2009

    About 22 years ago when I rebuilt my kitchen I really wanted the keyboard embedded in the corian – with a soft touch screen. I couldn’t even afford to think too much about it then.

  • […] my previous post, I made the case why we (and probably a lot of other people) need a kitchen computer.  I also defined some broad strokes of what we need out of the kitchen […]

  • jzapin
    3:54 pm November 7, 2009

    Excellent point about it getting soiled. Definitely a concern of mine. Most of the time you can just wipe it down. In other cases, you may be able to put it dishwaser (I’ve done that with several keyboards).

    Still, worst case scenario, if it gets destroyed you can always buy a new one.

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