• Josh ZapinJosh Zapin
  • Date:  November 7, 2009
  • Life

Buying a Kitchen Computer, Part 2: Form Factor

In 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 computer.

Now, it’s time to figure out a little more detail on which type of computer would best fill our needs.

Why is Form factor so important?

In contrast to other computers, a Kitchen Computer must have exceptional form factor.   Form factor is defined as how the computer is designed to work in the environment it is placed.   With pots, pans, and small electric appliances cluttering a kitchen, where a kitchen computer lives is even more important than how it works.  As I described in my last post, we need this kitchen computer to do some really basic stuff:

  • Skype-ing (it’s a telephone for us)
  • Managing and view photos
  • Listening to Music
  • Web surfing including recipes/cooking assistance

In other words, the kitchen computer an extension of our life and needs to be very accessible.   We only need it for small things, but lots of small things.  So, where it is located is more important than how well it does the things we need.

Where is our Kitchen Computer going to “live?”

If the kitchen computer is going to be central to our lives, it needs to be at the center of the kitchens.

In our case, the kitchen computer will need to live in the center “bar” island.  Not only is it physically in the center of the room, it gives the person a bird’s eye view of the space.  While at the island, you can cook while also glancing over your shoulder to watch the kids play with their toys.  Similarly, when we entertain, there is a natural gravitational pull towards the bar.  It is the place where people can sit and hang on the barstools, eat some food, have a few drinks.  It is only natural that a computer also live in that space.

While the bar is the natural place for the kitchen computer,  it isn’t the natural habitat for it for the following reasons:

  • There isn’t a lot of space.  The bar, although long, is shallow: it only has about 18 inches of countertop depth.
  • It is right near the oven/stove/hood and has a high likelihood of being soiled.  Spills, splatters, and other mishaps must expected.

No IT professional in the world would suggest putting a computer even remotely close to that space let alone make it a permanent fixture.  But, it is the space that it should live.

Now that we’ve established where it is going to live, it’s now time to figure out what type of computer best fits the space.

Form Factor Ratings: Desktops vs. Laptops vs. All-In-Ones

In the world of computers, form factor can be broken down into three distinct types:

  • Laptops – These are computers where the screen, keyboard, CPU (the computer itself), pointing device are all contained in one unit.  These also tend to be small and light and are extremely portable.
  • Desktops – The most “traditional” computers where screen, keyboard, CPU, and pointing device are separate.
  • “All-in-Ones” – Somewhat new to the computer world, these are computers where most of the “guts” of the computer (i.e. screen and the CPU) are contained in one unit while the input devices (i.e. keyboard and mouse) are separate.  The advantage is that they are typically larger and more powerful than a laptop, but don’t have the same clutter as desktop.

Let’s see how the three types of computers compare to each other in achieving good form as a Kitchen Computer:


Desktops Laptops All-In-Ones
Cables/Clutter Poor Excellent Very Good
Performance Excellent Good Very Good
Separation of
Excellent Poor Good
Touchscreen Poor Fair Good
Cost Excellent Very Good Fair

The following details how we derived the ratings and why we chose each category:

  • Cables/Clutter – Kitchens naturally have enough clutter that you don’t want a computer making even more of a mess.  A kitchen computer should have a minimal set of wires and clutter.  To this end, Laptops are the clear favorite.  The screen, the keyboard, the pointing device have the smallest footprint and typically have one wire: the plug.  Close behind the Laptops are All-In-Ones.  With the exception of the peripherals (i.e. keyboard and mouse), everything else is contained in one unit that looks more like a screen than anything else.  Desktops are the worst: everything is separated.
  • Performance – Desktops are the clear favorite here.  With an abundance of space, Desktops have the room to house the fastest motherboards (with the fastest chips), the biggest hard drives, the most memory, etc.   Laptops, with their ultra-compact size, tend to have the worst performance.  Laptops have less space for their hard drives, for example, that their capacities tend to be lower.   All-in-Ones are somewhere in between.  While they are bigger than laptops, they are  more compact than desktops.  So, while they have more space to work with, their performance lag desktops (especially when comparing price).  All-In-Ones perform better than laptops, but not as well as desktops.
  • Separation of peripherals – If you’re going to put an expensive piece of equipment in a kitchen, you need to make sure that it can handle the wear and tear.    In the case of a kicthen computer, you must assume burning, splattering it or, even worse, spiling stuff on it. The most likely recipients of this abuse on a computer are the keyboard and mouse.  To that end, Laptops fail miserably in this category.  Spill something on your laptop keyboard, they whole computer gets hosed.  Desktops and All-In-Ones have external keyboards and mice.  Muck those up and just get a new keyboard and mouse.
  • Touchscreen – Being able to touch your screen to push a button, scroll through a page is a huge convenience.  And if convenience trumps is the paramount feature of Kitchen computer, then a touchscreen is a near necessity.  If you’re making a meal from an online recipe and you need to scroll to the bottom, it’s much easier to just to gesture the scroll with your finger than use a mouse.  Touchscreen technology is relatively new in the home computer market so all three computer types are weak.  Still,  All-In-Ones,  proportionately, have the most touchscreen options.
  • Cost – For this category, we consider what you can get for $1,000.  Desktops are the clear favorite with the best performance as compared to the other two types.  Laptops trail slightly behind Desktops.  All-In-Ones are easily the most expensive.  Not only do most have proprietary components to make everything fit nicely, it is a newer category of computer.  There are just fewer All-In-One options available thus making it more expensive.

Now that we’ve laid the foundation, what type of computer should we buy?

Final Recommendation: All-In-Ones

They may not be the cheapest, the best performing, or even the most clutter free,  but All-In-Ones have a combination of key features that separate them from Desktops and Laptops:

  • Compact size – Where the computer is located is critical.  If the machine lives in the corner of the room, it will just not be as used as if it were in the center.  A compact size lets the kitchen computer live where it needs to live.
  • Touchscreens – Convenience is paramount in a kitchen computer.  If you’re holding a baby, and having a conversation on the telephone and need to look something up, being able to touch the screen to navigate a web page is almost a necessity
  • Separating peripherals – Spills are an inevitability in the kitchen and mice/keyboards are the most likely recipients of the abuse.   The kitchen computer must have a separate keyboard/mouse.

Additionally, All-In-Ones have some very cool industrial designs.   They tend to have sleek lines that tend to blend well with a modern stainless-steel kitchen.

Next Up: Macintosh vs. Windows

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  • baribali
    2:56 pm November 25, 2009

    hello, I’m just planning our new kitchen (which might include a kitchen computer) so waiting for your next post…;)

  • PapaGeek
    1:31 am January 4, 2010

    Great topic, thank you for posting this.

    I have a Tablet PC that I am planing on using as a kitchen computer.

    The plan is to mount it upside down under a cabinet, pull the screen down and swivel. Add a set of Bluetooth keyboard and mouse that can be placed on the counter when you feel like typing a long email or blog entry.

    As to the placement, I think a kitchen computer should be closer to fridge/pantry for shopping list, inventory and recipe management. This is usually closer to the door you use when you’re bringing the grocery in. It should also be close to the mail/bill station, which in turn should be right by the kitchen “entry point”.

    That’s my 2 cents, I’d like to know what you and others think about it.

  • Helen
    2:14 pm January 21, 2010

    Im half way thru the same project and came across this..


    some great tips on there about doing this project.


  • Graham
    12:19 pm February 24, 2010

    Anxiously awaiting next steps on this, Josh!

    I frankly think that the kitchen computer needs to be sexy & organic to fit into that space….as opposed to a super functional machine with one of those custom form-fitting yellowish rubber/plastic covers to protect it from flung food. It should be as alive as anything else in the room, right?

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