Posts Tagged ‘kitchen computer’

Buying a Kitchen Computer, Part 2: Form Factor

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

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

Buying a Kitchen Computer, Part 1: What We Need

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

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