“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”
Popular Mechanics, 1949
With the relentless march of technology, computing hardware has made great leeps forwards in the past hundred years. The equivalent of a multi-ton vacuum tube computer of the 1930s or 1940s can now fit on the head of a pin, and the most powerful computers would seem almost godlike to those original computing revolutionaries, with the capacity to simulate entire universes in real-time.
Modern technology, from toaster ovens to security systems to clothing, is littered with computers. In a coporate enclave, expect digital systems and networking to pervade everything you see – even something as innocuous as a candy bar might have a microcomputer and networking software built into it in order to automatically debit a customer’s account – or inform security if someone walks off with it without paying. Even otherwise non-augmented people are likely to have tracking chips implanted inside them, possibly in a dozen or more places, all intended to make it easy to track them if they’re kidnapped – or if they commit a crime. In some polities, these micro-trackers also include the ability to inflict pain or otherwise control what citizens do as a form of enforcement technique, and all citizens are implanted with them. Officers of the state mearly need to give a simple command and everyone with one of these implants suddenly falls to the ground in pain, allowing the officers to easily apprehend their target.
In the badlands, computer networks aren’t quite so ubiquitous, but that doesn’t mean they’re rare. Indeed, being aware of the computer networks in the badlands might be even more important than in the corporate enclaves. Security sensors and automated sentry turrets dot the landscape, and people with cybernetic control interfaces walk about with no clue that they’re ripe for a hacking. All of these computer systems are controlled by hardware, some highly specialized, some very generic – but all important.
Hardware comes in many types. Here, we are separating the hardware types into four main categories:
- Primary Processing Units – The ‘thinking’ part of the computer, including the CPU, GPU, onboard memory and storage, etc. This is the only part of the computer that is absolutely required.
- Terminals – The interface for the computer, including any video or audio outputs and the input devices, such as a touchscreen or mouse and keyboard.
- Data Storage – Methods for transfering and storing data, such as optical discs.
- Peripherals – Secondary items not integrated into the main computer or terminal, typically for input/output; can include specialized items such as electronic card readers and wide-band radio transceivers.
A specific model of computer will have a defined PPU and defined Terminals, and may have integrated Peripherals and pre-installed Software.
Various options exist to customize computer hardware – all “stackable” except as noted, but not all available for every hardware type. Most modifiers note a “cost factor” (CF), while some have a “cost multiplier” (CM). To find final cost, multiply list cost by (CM) * (1 + total positive CF) / (1 + magnitude of the total negative CF); e.g., a compact (+1 CF), dedicated (-4 CF), optical (x20 CM) medium PPU is 20 * (1 + 1) / (1 + 4) = 8 times the listed price of $1,000, or $8,000. Weight effects multiply together; e.g., that compact dedicated processing unit has 0.5 * 0.5 = 0.25 times weight, or 1 lbs. Complexity and LC modifiers are additive, but LC cannot go below LC0.
These options are stackable except as noted, and most can be applied to any hardware type.
A lighter but more expensive computer. All skill rolls to repair or modify the computer are at -2. Halve the weight. +1 CF.
An even lighter computer. All skill rolls to repair or modify the computer are at -5. Multiply the weight by x1/4. +3 CF.
A computer that is more expensive for some reason. Perhaps it is of generally higher quality, is particularly stylish, or has a particularly impressive brand name. +1, +4, +9 +19, or higher CF.
A computer with efficient components, able to work longer for the same amount of power. Multiply the operating duration by 5. +1 CF.
A computer that sacrifices speed for operating duration. Terminals modified in this manner slower response times and less impressive output. Multiply operating duration by 50. -1 Complexity.
A computer that can only run a single instance of a single program, designated when the computer was built. Processing units only. Multiply weight by x1/5. -4 CF.
The computer is designed to resist electromagnetic pulses, microwaves, and other attacks that target electrical gadgets. Add +3 to HT to resist these effects. Multiply weight by 1.5. +1 CF.
This ruggedized computer is built to withstand abuse, weather, and damage. It has a shockproof and waterproof case, heavy-duty cables, a shaterproof monitor, and so on. +2 to HT and and all skill rolls to modify or repair the computer. Add 5 to the computer’s DR, if any. Double weight. +1 CF.
The computer can run more programs simultaneously (two programs of its own Complexity for two cores, three programs of its own Complexity for three cores, etc). Processing units only. Each extra core increases cost and weight by 100%; the majority of modern computers have multiple cores, averaging around 4 cores each, though some have more or less.
The computer is printed on a flexible surface, such as fabric (so it can be rolled up) or even skin (a digital tattoo). It requires four square feet per pound of weight; an average person has about 20 square feet of skin across his body. It must use solar cells or flexible cells for power. Breaking the surface destroys the computer. Processing units only.
Processing Unit Technologies
The most common computing technology in use today is optical computing, utilizing light-based circuitry in order to drastically increase calculation speed, but there are several other possibilities, each having their own advantages or disadvantages. These options are all mutually exclusive with one another.
The first true electronic computers, vacuum tube computers are pretty much never used by anyone except for those truly dedicated to the retro aesthetic. Not compatible with Printed. Automatically Hardened. Multiply battery life by 1/40. Divide storage by 1,000. -5 Complexity. -24 CF.
Old-school transistor computers are almost never used any longer, but they can sometimes be found at hobby stores or garbage dumps. Not compatible with Printed. Multiply battery life by 1/10. -4 Complexity. Divide storage by 1,000. -24 CF.
The standard computer technology for the first quarter of the 21st century, the 2D integrated circuit continues to live on as a cheap alternative for miniature, low-power devices. -2 Complexity. Halve battery life. -24 CF.
3D Integrated Circuit
An evolution of the classic integrated circuit, 3D integrated circuits stack the circuitry on top of one another, making for a more powerful, more compact computer. Not compatible with Printed.
A processor based entirely around light, this cutting-edge design is significantly faster and more energy efficient than an old-tech computer. Originally released commercially in the 2030s, these computers are the ‘it’ computers for netrunners everywhere. +1 Complexity. x20 Cost.
A life support system connected to a specially-designed and cybernetically modified biological brain, these computers have not caught on the mainstream yet. Biological computers are highly optimized for use by an artificial intelligence, and are one of the most studied areas for AI design. Can be no larger than a Microframe computer. Not compatible with Printed. Automatically Hardened. Double weight. Add 2 to Complexity for purposes of running an AI. x2 Cost. x2 Weight. -1 LC.
A computer based upon molecular-sized components using an artificial analog to DNA. Without a microscope, the components for these computers appear to be solid blocks of metal with input/output devices attached. These computers create significantly less waste heat than their counterparts of equivalent power, but will still feel warm to the touch. Multiply storage by 1,000. +2 Complexity. x500 Cost. -1 LC.
A computer with molecular-sized components utilizing quantum technology. These are the most powerful computers out there, and are tightly controlled. A ‘black box’ quantum molecular computer the size of a book can be as powerful as a megacomputer using classic components; a quantum molecular megacomputer would be among the most powerful devices ever created. +2 Complexity; double effective Complexity for certain tasks, such as encryption/decryption or database searches. Multiply storage by 1,000. x5,000 Cost. x2 Weight. -2 LC.
A computer’s primary processing unit’s power is measured in terms of an abstract Complexity rating. Each Complexity level represents a ten-fold increase in processing capability over the previous level. A computer’s Complexity determines what programs it can run, and may be a prerequisite for certain options, such as Quantum. Software also has a Complexity rating, and can only run on a computer of that Complexity level or higher; e.g., a Complexity 2 program requires a Complexity 2 computer or better.
Complexity determines how many programs a computer can run simultaneously. A computer can run one program of its own Complexity, 10 programs of one Complexity level less, 100 programs of two Complexity levels less, and so on. For instance, a Complexity 2 computer could run one Complexity 2 program or 10 Complexity 1 programs – or five Complexity 1 programs and 50 Complexity 0 programs.
Processing units are also rated for their data storage (hard drive space, etc.) in megabytes (MB), gigabytes (GB), terabytes (TB), or petabytes (PB). A terabyte is a thousand gigabytes or a trillion bytes. The majority of software occupies a very small storage footprint, but databases and software integrating them can get quite large indeed.
The following is a list of ‘standard’ models of processing units, rated for their size. These systems include the processor, the casing, and a storage system, plus an operating system. They do not include the power cells required. All stats are per core; a four-core computer would cost and weigh four times as much, have four times the storage space, and have one-fourth the duration.
All systems are assumed to include a single ‘dedicated’ processor running an appropriate operating system which manages any local interface requirements. The extra weight and cost is negligible.
Displays and controls are not included.
A computer manufactured from nano-scale components, the nano computer is roughly the size of a large amoeba – about 500 micrometers in length. It is so small that it is completely invisible to the naked eye. Nanocomputers are primarily useful when running a distributed computing platform. Complexity -2. Stores 100 MB. $0.005. Neg. weight. Neg. power consumption. LC2.
A computer the size of a large grain of sand, roughly 2mm in diameter. This is the largest computer available for microbots. A basic Grain Computer is about as powerful as a consumer-grade computer from 2000. Complexity 2. Stores 100 GB. $0.50. Neg. weight. Neg. power consumption. LC3.
A computer the size of a small stone, roughly 4mm in diameter. Commonly used in consumer-grade computer implants or built into other gadgets. Complexity 3. Stores 1,000 GB. $5. 0.001 lbs. AA/40 hr. LC4.
A computer small enough to fit into a wrist watch. A basic Tiny Computer is more powerful than the most powerful consumer computers from 2010. Complexity 4. Stores 10 TB. $25. 0.01 lbs. A/40 hr. LC4.
A small, portable computer typically built into a wearable computer, a smartphone, or as the brains for a small robot. This is as powerful as a 2010-era supercomputer. Complexity 5. Stores 100 TB. $50. 0.1 lbs. B/40 hr. LC4.
A workhorse system. Commonly used in desktop or laptop computers or tablets and powerful enough to run an entire ultra-modern household. Small businesses and departments of large businesses also use them, as do many vehicles and robots. Complexity 6. Stores 1,000 TB. $500. 1 lbs. C/40 hr or external power. LC4.
This is a large computer, typically built into a server cabinet and used in distributed cluster computing. Complexity 7. Stores 10 PB. $5,000. 10 lbs. D/40 hr or external power.
A high-end cabinet-sized machine, common in labs, large vehicles, as a network server, or on an office floor (often with several terminals networked to it). Complexity 8. Stores 100 PB. $50,000. 100 lbs. E/40 hr or external power. LC3.
A large system the size of several cabinets pushed together. These powerful computers are often used for control and systems-monitoring functions for a starship, major business, manufacturing complex, or laboratory. Complexity 9. Stores 1,000 PB. $500,000. 1,000 lbs. External power. LC3.
A system the size of a room. This size of computer is often found administering the traffic, sewage, power, maintenance, and bureaucracy functions for an entire city. They are also found as the main computer aboard large ships and used to run cutting-edge science projects. Macroframes are usually the property of government agencies or major corporations. Complexity 10. Stores 10,000 PB. $5,000,000. 5 tons. External power. LC3.
This is a computer the size of an entire building or series of sub-basements! Systems this large may be placed in charge of running entire countries or being the backbone behind massive science projects or megacorporations. Complexity 12. Stores 1,000,000 PB. $500,000,000. 500 tons. External power. LC2.
A terminal is a device that lets a user communicate with a computer. Any terminal will have a method for the user inputting his commands and some way for the computer to deliver its output to the user. These methods of input and output can be quite varied, from simple typing and a video screen to a direct neural connection or anything in between. Many terminals include several integrated peripherals, such as cameras. Terminals intended for use in portable devices typically have integrated power cells, but these are not included in the prices or weights given here. All computers have at least one terminal, though it may be as simple as a cable jack; some computers have multiple terminals.
The standard types of terminals are:
A keyboard and 3D monitor, including a mouse, speakers, and a microphone. $250, 9.5 lbs. C/20 hr. LC4.
A HUD interface, one-handed keyboard and pointer device (or a hip-anchored keyboard) or gestural control interface, and earpiece. $500, 4.5 lbs. C/20 hr. LC4.
An ultra-thin glass monitor with built-in speakers, microphone, and camera. Surface is touch-sensitive, and it can see and hear the user. $500, 4.5 lbs. C/20 hr. LC4.
A holographic emitter with gesture-recognition technology and built-in speakers, microphone, and camera. Increases the Interface Modifier by 1 (2 for a Wrist-Top), up to a maximum of +2. $2,000, 2 lbs. C/20 hr. LC4.
Dedicated Control Terminal
A system of dedicated controls for performing a specific task. These controls provide a +2 Interface Modifier for a specific task or group of tasks. These controls are almost always included with one of the other terminal types; the Dedicated Control Terminal does not include normal interface devices such as a monitor or keyboard. $100, 2 lbs. C/20 hr. LC4.
Terminals can be built with these computer options : compact, rugged, efficient, expensive, and flexible. They can also have any one of the following options.
Multiple wall-mounted monitors and executive desk-sized interface. A touch-screen terminal covers the entire desk. A holographic terminal includes multi-color support and can create a desk-sized hologram. Provides a +2 Interface Modifier. Cost x20, weight x5. 5C/20 hr.
A massive monitor (or 2-3 linked screens) and desk-sized interface setup. A touch-screen terminal is the size of a drafting table. A holographic terminal includes multi-color support and can create multiple virtual ‘windows’. Provides a +1 Interface Modifier. Cost x4, weight x2. 2C/20 hr.
The default terminal size.
Laptop-sized. Provides a -1 Interface Modifier. Cost x0.5, weight x0.1. B/20 hr.
Fits in a palm-top or PDA. Provides a -2 Interface Modifier. Cost x0.25, weight x0.01. A/20 hr.
Fits on the back of a wrist. Provides a -4 Interface Modifier. Cost x0.1, weight x0.001. AA/20 hr.
The following interfaces are also available, but can not be purchased with any options. A computer may have multiple interfaces.
All computers have at least this interface. Commands are input by sending and receiving electrical signals through a data port or modem or a similar method. This adds no weight or cost, and has the same computer options as the computer itself. A typical machine interface has a data transfer rate of 10 TB/minute.
Used by some AIs, an Audio interface includes a microphone/speaker combination. Control is typically by voice commands. $5, neg. weight. LC4.
Head-Up Display (HUD) Interface
Also known as an Augmented Reality Interface. This is a 3D video display integrated into glasses or a helmet visor, or designed to be projected onto a windscreen. A HUD can also be printed onto a flat surface. Many vehicles, suits, sensor goggles, and the like incorporate a HUD at no extra cost, and direct neural interfaces make a HUD unnecessary. If it covers the ears, it may incorporate headphones at no extra cost. If bought separately: $50, neg., uses external power. LC4.
Virtual Reality Interface
A pair of gloves connected to a HUD, the VR interface allows a user to manipulate virtual objects using the gloves and view the virtual world through the HUD. More expensive VR interfaces cover more of the body and provide more sensory options, including scent and full tactile sensation through the whole body. VR interfaces may be built into a suit of clothing or armor or may be bought as stand-alone units. $50, 0.25 lbs. (plus a HUD). LC4. More expensive VR interfaces covering more of the body weigh more – $500 and 1 lbs for a suit, and $5,000 and 5 lbs for a sealed suit capable of replicating all main sences.
A Basic VR interface requires a Complexity 4 system; a Full VR interface requires a Complexity 5 system.
Direct Neural Interface
Any computer with a cable jack or communicator can utilize a direct neural interface if the user has a neural interface implant. High quality implants allow a user to ‘become’ whatever they are connected to, controlling it instinctively and experiencing whatever its sensors experience, even accessing files and information almost as if it were normal memory. Lower quality implants are still able to replicate a full-sensory VR interface, though in general control isn’t going to be nearly as instinctive as with a high-quality implant.
A Total Immersion interface requires a Complexity 6 system.
A small removeable drive capable of reading datachips. This is included in any but a wrist-top terminal at no cost. If purchased separately, $20, 0.01 lbs.
Molecular Memory Chip Drive
A cutting-edge removeable drive capable of reading MMCs. $400, 0.01 lbs.
Optical Disc Drive
A removeable disc drive capable of reading modern holodiscs. This is included in Portable terminals and up at no cost. If purchased separately, $50, 0.1 lbs.
Most modern computers have some sort of wireless networking capability. A radio modem is included in the price of any terminal.
2-yard range. $0.10. Neg. weight. Neg. power consumption. LC4.
Included in a wrist-top terminal. 200-yard range. $2. Neg. weight. Neg. power consumption. LC4.
Included in a datapad terminal. 1-mile range. $10. 0.005 lbs. AA/10 hr. LC4.
Included in a portable or larger terminal. 10-mile range. $50. 0.05 lbs. A/10 hr. LC4.
100-mile range. $200. 0.5 lbs. B/10 hr. lc4.
1,000-mile range. $1,000. 5 lbs. C/10 hr. LC4.
10,000-mile range. $4,000. 50 lbs. D/10 hr. LC4.
Modems can have varying capabilities depending upon which technology the modem is using.
Radio communicators are spread-spectrum radio tranceivers that can make use of frequency hopping in order to improve clarity and reliability. These communicators can transmit point-to-point at the listed range, or they can connect to the global cellular grid, giving them effectively unlimited range. A radio communicator with a 100-mile range can even connect to orbiting satellites. The data transfer rate is 1 GB per minute.
Infrared communicators are similar to a TV remote, primarily line-of-sight operated but capable of being bounced off of objects. Divide range by 40. The data transfer rate is 10 GB per minute. -1 CF.
Laser communicators emit a highly directional, line-of-sight only signal. Multiply range by 5. The data transfer rate is 1 TB per minute. +1 CF.
The modem is capable of scanning unknown frequencies and can transmit in almost any frequency, allowing the computer to listen in on other people’s traffic. +1 CF.
Magnetic storage devices were the most common at the start of the computer age, but they have fallen out of style in the past fifty years. Most commonly seen as hard drives integrated into a large computer, magnetic disk drives hold a large amount of information, but they are no longer used as portable file storage. $1 per 500 TB of storage. LC4.
Modern optical disk technology uses 3D ‘holographic’ techniques to store vast quantities of data in a single disk. These are used as portable storage, but not generally used for writing and re-writing data to the same disk over and over again. Holds up to 10 TB. Holdout 0. $5, neg. LC4.
This is a small, nonvolatile memory chip similar to a 2010-era USB stick. Most modern computers use datachip technology for their primary hard drives due to significantly faster response times, but datachips don’t have the same capacity as magnetic drives. A typical datachip hard drive (a ‘datadrive’) costs $1 per 100 TB of storage. Portable models cost $5 and hold 5 TB. Weight is negligible. LC4.
Molecular Memory Chip
A recent innovation, molecular memory chips utilize a synthetic form of DNA to store information, storing it in an extremely compact, and expensive, format. A molecular memory chip the size of a 5 TB datachip may store up to 5 PB (5,000 TB) of data – but costs $2,500. This technology is typically restricted to those computers with biomolecular or quantum molecular processing units. Weight is negligible. Molecular Memory hard drives cost $1 per 200 TB of storage. Portable models cost $2,500 and hold 5 PB. LC2.
A modern multipurpose peripheral common in workstation terminals, the printer/scanner is able to quickly and professionally print, scan, or copy documents. -2 to skill if used for Counterfeiting or Forgery. More expensive models can buy off this penalty. $100, 10 lbs., external power. LC4.
Originally designed for rapid prototyping, 3D printers have become commonplace methods of constructing devices at home or as a replacement for the neighborhood hardware store. These programmable factories can construct, repair, or modify most manufactured goods, assuming the required parts are available. The desktop model is small enough to fit in a briefcase, but faster, much larger models are also available. Adds a +1 (quality) bonus to Machinist skill and can fabricate $10 of product per hour. Printer cartridges cost $1,000 for 200 hours of printing, but might lack certain rare materials required for a device. Appropriate blueprints can be much more expensive, or you can risk ‘free’ versions. $5,000, 10 lbs., C/8 hrs. LC2.
A basic keyboard and mouse costs $10 and weighs 0.5 lbs. Larger, more specialized control devices cost and weigh more; a decent joystick for piloting a computer-controled vehicle costs $100 and weighs 1 lbs. Controls get more expensive and heavier as they become more specialized. Some devices, especially small datapads intended for operating drone vehicles, include an interface system derived from handheld computer game technology, including control sticks, trigger buttons, and other ergonomic and easy-to-use controls into the design. Add $40 to the cost of a datapad utilizing this technology.
Most modern computers include integrated cameras for net-based video chat – some include multiple cameras, one facing the screen for video chat and the other facing outwards for taking photographs. A modern datapad with its integrated camera counts as basic equipment for Photography skill. Integrated cameras are high-resolution models with up to 4x digital zoom and can record both video and audio or still photographs. More expensive models have the ability to take 3D picture or video, have integrated night vision optics with Night Vision 8, or have optical zoom capability through image-intensification lenses, up to 16x optical magnification. Expensive models provide a bonus to Photography skill. If bought separately, $50, 0.1 lbs, A/10 hr.
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