Tech Industry

$999 HP NetPC to ship in August

Sources say Hewlett-Packard will announce next week that the Net Vectra will ship in August--with trailing-edge processor technology, probably.

Hewlett Packard (HWP) will announce next week that it will ship its NetPC in August, according to industry sources.

The basic Net Vectra will offer a 166-MHz Pentium processor in base configuration and is expected to carry a price tag of $999.

More details on the Net Vectra as well as other "sealed-case" Net PCs will emerge Monday afternoon at the Net PC forum spearheaded by Intel at PC Expo. HP will apparently be one of the few manufacturers to talk about pricing and ship dates.

Net PCs typically will have no floppy disk drive or expansion slots. Promoted by Microsoft, Intel, and Compaq, among others, the systems are supposed to reduce ownership cost for companies that currently use networked PCs. They will purportedly allow IS staff to maintain and update desktops from the center of the corporate network, instead of visiting each PC.

The prototypes shown at Monday's event will showcase a variety of processors, from the Pentium 133 to the Pentium II, said sources familiar with the announcement. There will initially be a mix of MMX and non-MMX microprocessors.

Still, most OEMs tend to be clumping their production models around last year's Pentium lines, such as the P54c and P55c.

The group of manufacturers will announce that the next one or two quarters will be an evaluation period, with volume shipping to begin thereafter. In other words, most of 1997 will be a pilot year.

While HP is expected to announce shipping for the Net Vectra in August, other manufacturers may give only tentative dates.

The event will kick off the four-day convention and likely be its highlight. As reported last week by CNET's NEWS.COM, major PC manufacturers such as Compaq, IBM (IBM), Dell (DELL), Mitsubishi, and a host of others will preview their first versions of the NetPC at the show.

Low cost aside, the real financial impact will come later for buyers in the narrow market for these systems. Dean McCarron, an analyst with Mercury Research, says the rollout "is a big deal in the sense that what buyers are getting for a lower price is fairly substantial. From the IS manager's point of view, this is much more significant because these are a much more manageable [computer]."

Although customer demand remains low, industry interest in the low-maintenance computing devices is mounting to a fever pitch. Whether or not the industry's enthusiasm will translate to corporate customers will be one of the major technology marketing issues for the next two years.