Dell's Project Luna concept showcases the future of sustainable PCs

Bob O'Donnell

Posts: 49   +1
Staff member
Forward-looking: When Dell first unveiled the Project Luna concept, the company garnered a great deal of attention for creating a vision centered around how devices like PCs could be upgraded, repaired, and recycled. The initial Luna concept focused on the modularity of the device, highlighting how key components could be organized into elements that essentially snapped together, creating an elegant notebook design that could easily be opened and accessed to do things like replace a motherboard or screen, perform upgrades, and more.

Fast forward nearly a year after and Dell now has an upgraded Luna PC design that extends this concept to easy robotic manufacturing, component reusability, and potentially even a new circular economy-like business model.

Luna 2.0 (not the official name, but a reasonable way to think about it) refines modularity further, simplifying things like the number of screws necessary to open the device and making disassembly easier. Not only is this simplified design an important step forward in repairability and device accessibility, but it also opens new opportunities for applications like manufacturing and remanufacturing the device.

To highlight this, at a recent press event in New York, Dell had a small robotic manufacturing machine on hand to demonstrate how easily a Luna PC could be assembled, disassembled, and/or upgraded.

This represents a great opportunity to speed up the manufacturing process and reduce costs at the same time—though it would require key component suppliers to get behind the modular standards that Dell is creating for Luna (which may not be as easy as it sounds).

At the same time, it also highlights how PCs—or at least certain elements of them—could have their lifetimes significantly extended. Instead of upgrading to a whole new PC just to get the latest processor or GPU or a higher-resolution screen, for example, you could just upgrade certain components and keep using the rest.

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In addition, the components from, say, a higher-end notebook that sported the latest generation CPU could be waterfalled down to a machine that featured an even older processor, extending its useful life as well. If done on a large enough scale, this could significantly reduce the amount of waste created by PCs that are retired after just a few years use and often end up in landfills.

The modular nature of the design would also mean that individual components could be more easily recycled or refurbished, which could theoretically lead to a circular economy model, whereby older components or at least raw materials could be reused in new machines instead of being thrown away.

As great as this all sounds in theory, there are several real-world challenges. First, previous efforts with modular designs have proved to be difficult to implement and sustain in the real world. Because of the rapidly evolving nature of things like internal and external interconnects, by the time one machine is ready to be upgraded, system designs may have changed so much that it's not practical to try and upgrade them.

In addition, the desire for new form factors, new types of input devices, and other elements can also make the upgrade process difficult. Having said all this, we have arguably reached a point of maturity in laptop PCs where there haven't been a great deal of changes to mainstream clamshell designs for many years. Additionally, the universality of things like USB-C and Thunderbolt connections make some of the I/O challenges of the past much easier to handle.

In addition to the manufacturing opportunities and challenges, there are also some intriguing new business models that something like Project Luna could enable. For one, the concept of an upgradable PC as a service—where a certain number of upgrades are included/expected as part of the service price—is bound to garner attention.

Businesses and potentially even consumers are likely to find these types of options much more interesting than the lease-like financing models currently included in PC-as-a-service offerings.

With growing interest in sustainability overall, there are also opportunities to focus on how these types of PCs can help organizations reach their own sustainability goals. By doing things like quantifying the specific carbon footprint reduction metrics that a Luna PC could offer, Dell could bring a whole other level of conversation into the buying discussion. On the other hand, as a company that still makes a significant portion of its revenue from selling new PCs, figuring out how the economics will work with fewer new machine sales, but more upgrades and remanufactured PCs could be a challenge.

Dell has made it clear that Project Luna is still officially a concept, though products based on it seem increasingly likely in the next couple of years. At the end of the day, it still has to be a compelling PC that can stand up to "traditionally" designed and manufactured alternatives. Given the growing attention on how products are made, as well as how they're recycled, however, it does raise some interesting questions as to how future PC designs and PC business models continue to evolve.

Bob O'Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter .

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Posts: 4,684   +7,130
If it requires building entire new production lines, nobody in the industry will support it without big subsidies.


Posts: 79   +72
It is nice to see a few of the big names at least playing with the idea of repair-ability, sustainability, and recycling. We like our computers and want to keep upgrading them and keep them going, there is no reason they can't make money off just selling us components instead of an entire new machine every 2-5 years. I do generally like Dell and for the most part they don't seem to be trying to anger the customer too much, unlike some other names in the business who put so much glue in their tablets so you can't replace the display without destroying the old one which is as far as I'm concerned a hateful practice.


Posts: 189   +74
Not going to work, DELL makes money from the sales of laptops, why cut in your profit with this.
Well, replacing people with robotic assembly will make more profit in the long run. Robots also don't need all the lighting and heat us humans need lowering those costs as well.
Just saying'.


Posts: 138   +207
If Dell offered this and nobody else does, then I will buy Dell. My current gaming laptop is not Dell, but it would be worth switching to Dell if I can upgrade it and replace broken parts myself. I would still buy a new laptop occasionally. Maybe half as often. It sounds great.


Posts: 209   +189
Dell has not proven to be quite open on sustainability. Here is just a random post from 2021 about proprietary techs in Desktop PCs :
"Motherboard and psu are both proprietary in XPS 8940 and G5 5000. They use non ATX form factor motherboard with 6 pin ATX socket and two 4 pin cpu. PSU is TFX form factor. Not possible for you to swap out motherboard or psu"
Like always corporations fake being interested in sustainability.

Feng Lengshun

Posts: 56   +24
Are we just not going to mention/acknowledge Frameworks laptop? I mean, sure, it's not the most popular laptop out there, but they managed to become sustainable with the same concept, which is why companies are following suit now.
Not going to work, DELL makes money from the sales of laptops, why cut in your profit with this.
It's not like people don't replace laptop already. It just means that laptops like the one given to by my office doesn't need to be stuck being garbage that no one in their right mind would want to use and would rather throw away. It means if they have the will to keep it maintained, it could be maintained. And that's a big IF.

It's like warranties and refunds. People rarely use it, and if they do then there are hassle, but it's still good that it's offered and it makes people more comfortable sinking lots of money of something if they "could" have it for the long term (even though they wouldn't, because people are lazy).


Posts: 883   +897
Dell - the company who go out their way to produce non-standard PCs and parts.... whatever next. I can only think of one company with a worse record for considering the environment and their customers when producing hardware and that's Apple.