Dell releases Net PC

The platform gets a boost with the announcement of two "sealed case" PCs built around the Net PC standard and a server to tie a Net PC network together.

The Net PC platform today received a shot in the arm when Dell announced two "sealed case," manageable PCs built around the Net PC standard and also a server to tie a Net PC network together.

Dell's OptiPlex N comes with a 166-MHz Intel Pentium MMX processor, 32MB of memory, a 2.1GB hard drive, Windows NT Workstation 4.0, and a 15-inch monitor.

The OptiPlex NX will come with a Pentium II and be released in December.

Both computers come in a "sealable" but easy-access chassis with no external floppy disk drive or CD-ROM drive. The systems support the Wake-On-LAN standard, among other manageability standards elucidated in the Net PC guidelines.

Although the release of Net PCs from major vendors has occurred close in time--seemingly creating some excitement around the product--there's been no change in the market dynamics that alters the overall outlook for these systems, said Roger Kay, PC analyst at International Data Corporation.

"There is no magic happening. They will probably find some market," he said, alluding to the market niche these computers will likely hold.

A Dell spokesman confirmed the thought, saying that company market research indicates that only about 10 percent of institutional customers are interested in Net PCs.

On the server side, the PowerEdge configuration management server is a Dell PowerEdge 2200 server configured with Windows NT and Intel's LANDesk Configuration Manager software, which allows administrators to control desktops remotely.

Debuting to great fanfare in June, the Net PC concept was touted as a less-expensive desktop computer that could be managed, upgraded, and monitored from a central server. Since then, however, the Net PC has become a victim of its own success, say analysts and computer executives. PC manufacturers have incorporated such manageability features as Wake-On-LAN into their standard PCs. Standard PCs have also come down drastically in price, eliminating another of the Net PC's selling points.

The most tangible difference between a Net PC and a managed PC now is that the Net PC doesn't have a floppy drive and can't be opened by users, thereby making central control complete, according to Michael Takemura, product marketing manager, North American desktops, at Compaq.

Otherwise, internally, Net PCs and managed PCs are similar. The OptiPlex N and NX desktop PCs, for example, use the same system boards as the OptiPlex Gn and GXa systems. Dell has said it will incorporate the key manageability features across its line of OptiPlex desktops.

Compaq and Hewlett-Packard have already released Net PCs. IBM, on the other hand, abandoned its efforts in this market.

Like Compaq and other Net PC advocates, Dell has said that these devices will be targeted at specific application environments, such as airline reservation systems where users only access one or two applications.

Prices for the OptiPlex N will start at $1,390. Pricing for the NX version will be made available when the computer is released. The PowerEdge configuration management server starts at $6,999.

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