Todd R. Weiss

Forget shoe phones -- how about a shoe PC?

By Todd R. Weiss
May 30, 2008 2:04 PM EDT

The first mobile telephones years ago were large monstrosities with a shoulder strap, a suitcase-like housing and a corded handset.

The first laptop computers were hugely bulky and slow.

But with time came progress and miniaturization.

The same trend has been happening with PCs in the last few years as "small form factor" (SFF) components have hit the scene, allowing PCs to take up far less space while doing needed tasks.

But if you want a small computer that has some pizzazz or personality, you're pretty much on your own to build it yourself.

Ever thought of building a working computer inside of a soda bottle, ala a ship in a bottle? Or have you envisioned building a PC inside a lovely antique shipping crate or inside an old 1950s countertop radio cabinet?

Now you can get some help to take your ideas to the limit and build a new SFF PC for just about any need you can imagine -- in almost any kind of creative housing -- thanks to a new book,
"Small Form Factor PCs," published recently by O'Reilly Media Inc. ($29.95, ISBN-13 No. 978-0-596-52076-2).

This 275-page volume, written by Matthew Weaver and Duane Wessels, shows you how to "build a computer that fits inside anything," according to the authors.

The idea is to build around a mini-ATX motherboard, which can be fit inside small containers due to its miniaturized size, giving lots of flexibility for a wide variety of innovative cases. Were you envious of Secret Agent Maxwell Smart's shoe phone in the old 1960s TV show, "Get Smart?" Maybe you could one up him and find a way to build a shoe PC? Hey, somebody's going to try it, I bet.

This book shows readers how to build several small form factor PC projects, from a digital audio jukebox in an old wooden antique radio cabinet running Gentoo Linux to a mini digital video recorder, a mini home network gateway, a Wi-Fi extender and more.

The authors provide recommendations on hardware, assembly, configuring the machines and troubleshooting, with step-by-step instructions and lots of clear photos and diagrams.

There are lots of fun ideas here that can be expanded to a host of even more projects you can tackle using miniaturized hardware and your imagination.

Be sure to send me your photos and descriptions of your own creative mini-PC projects as you build them. Send to todd_weiss at computerworld.com.

On your marks, get set, build!