The English start-up Pentaform is launching the AbacusBasic, a basic but complete Windows PC, housed in a miniature keyboard, sufficient for everyday use and sold at a very low price. An old and clever concept, brought up to date.
With its AbacusBasic, the young London company Pentaform is relaunching the concept of the computer in the keyboard. An old and clever concept, which will remind those over twenty – rather those over forty or even fifty… – of the mythical Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and other Amiga which have delighted fans of “microcomputing “in the 1980s, during the pioneering era. The principle is simple: it consists of bringing together all the components of a “normal” computer – namely a motherboard with processor, memory, storage, interfaces, etc. – in a compact box integrating the keyboard. The equivalent of a laptop without a screen, in a way. This compact and practical format – you just need to connect a screen and a mouse to the computer-keyboard – had disappeared in favor of towers, “pizza box” type cases and, above all, laptops, before reappearing there. a little at Raspberry Pi, with the Pi 400 model.
For the AbacusBasic, Pentaform has taken over part of the Raspberry Pi 400 recipe, since everything fits into the equivalent of a traditional keyboard. However, the AbacusBasic differs significantly from its British cousin. First, on the outside, in addition to its black dress, more sober and more discreet than the white-raspberry Raspberry Pi 400, the AbacusBasic has two blocks on the sides, in the extension of the keyboard: the one on the right is quite simply a large touchpad that allows you to do without a mouse, while the left one – detachable – contains the motherboard with all its components as well as the interface sockets, acting as a central unit. A clever solution that gives a real originality to the whole without sacrificing compactness. Then, and above all, because the AbacusBasic works under Windows, like a classic PC, the Raspberry Pi 400 being designed for Raspberry Pi OS, a custom-made Linux.
AbacusBasic: a miniature PC for Windows
In fact, the Raspberry computer-keyboard, which is built around the famous Raspberry miniature computer – in credit card format – uses an ARM architecture processor while the AbacusBasic is based on an x86 platform with an Intel chip, which allows it to run Windows 7, Windows 10 and even Windows 11. Be careful though: this is not a computer for gamers! The AbacusBasic, which was designed for basic uses, as its name suggests, is content with a low-power “engine”, namely an Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor – four cores all the same – clocked at 1 .44 GHz – 1.84 GHz in Turbo mode – associated with an Intel Gen8 HD Graphics graphics circuit and accompanied by 2, 4 or 8 GB of RAM in DDR3 and flash memory storage of eMMC type from 16 to 128 GB, expandable via microSD (up to 512 GB). It is therefore clearly not a racing beast cut out for audio-video creation and processing, but, more modestly, a computer intended for office automation, web browsing, and multimedia content playback.
Of course, the AbacusBasic has several interfaces for communicating with the outside. There are thus two video outputs, a VGA and an HMDI – compatible with 4K at 30 frames per second – for connection to a computer screen or a television, a mini-jack socket for stereo audio input-output – with 24-bit-96 kHz converters all the same –, a Gigabit Ethernet port for a wired network, two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port and even a USB-C port, to which are added wireless connection modules, in Wi -Fi 5 (802.11ac) and Bluetooth 4.2. Nothing extraordinary, therefore, but more than enough for classic domestic use. Especially since the AbacusBasic is very easy to transport.
AbacusBasic: a minimalist computer at 140 euros
Moreover, and Penform insists a lot on this point, the AbacusBasic was designed in an eco-responsible spirit. Its case is entirely made of recycled and recyclable plastic and, above all, thanks to the use of low-consumption components, it consumes very little energy: according to the manufacturer, its average annual electricity consumption would be around 30 kWh – without take the screen into account, of course… – the equivalent of a simple light bulb. A detail not to be overlooked at a time when energy problems are of increasing concern in the world.
Last advantage of the AbacusBasic, its price: only 120 pounds, or about 140 euros at the current price. Not bad for a computer certainly, modest, but complete. Especially since Pentaform promises a 20% reduction for first-time buyers. A very low price which reflects the approach of Pentaform, the British start-up wishing to reduce the digital divide in the world, by developing simple products accessible to all. Difficult to predict the future of this original computer, but we can only welcome the approach. For now, the AbacusBasic, which should be available from the end of June 2022, is only on sale on the Pentaform site, and only in QWERTY.