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NEC celebrates new Millennium

The sleek new computer, expected to cost around $2,000, integrates features from both notebook and desktop systems.

NEC Computer Systems today unveiled its Millennium, a futuristic desktop computer featuring some of the fanciest hardware available.

The new computer, expected to cost around $2,000, integrates features from both notebook and desktop computers, resulting in a lightweight desktop computer with a cutting-edge thin display. On the other hand, the desktop system is also constrained by some of the limitations of notebook technology, including limited real estate for built-in drives.

Already shipping in Japan, the Millennium will be available in the U.S. sometime this summer, according to a company spokesman. The new computer was demonstrated today by Jeff Cooke, general manager of NEC Computer Systems at the Demo 99 conference in Indian Wells, California.

NEC will house the hardware in a notebook-like case, attached to a thin LCD monitor. The result is an integrated unit weighing about 12 pounds, much less than the average desktop, according to NEC.

There are some drawbacks to the slim case, though. Because the Millenium comes in such a small design, built-in floppy, CD-ROM, and DVD-ROM drives are sacrificed. Instead, the system offers a device bay, called the VersaBay III that allows users to swap out drives and PC cards.

"With the uniqueness of the VersaBay, users can swap out a number of drives," a spokesperson said.

The Millennium (not to be confused with the Millennia desktops from Micron) will offer some of the priciest hardware available--an Intel Pentium III processor running at speeds starting at 450 MHz and thin 15-inch flat panel display--for around $2,000. Although final pricing has not yet been set, the minimum system configuration will probably include 64MB of memory and at least a 3GB hard drive.

"We are approximating around $2,000 for a solid machine that you can use, with CD-ROM, floppy drive, 64MB of RAM, hard drive, and Pentium III," said a company spokesperson.

NEC's move is emblematic of the growing trend of high-end technology permeating the mid-range market. Only a year or two ago, it would have been unheard of to offer an LCD system with the fastest processor available for $2,000. Component price drops and a rapidly escalating price war in the low-end of the PC market, however, have prodded PC companies to discount technologies once considered the sole domain of the high-end.

Such a system won't leave much room for profit, the company admits. Pentium III chips are expected to sell in volume for more than $500 initially, while NEC sells comparable flat panel displays for $1,242. Integrating these high-end amenities decimates any possible profit margin, but NEC says it will not take a loss on the machines.

"Flat panel prices are coming down, and NEC is the largest manufacturer of flat panel displays," a spokesperson said. "The Pentium III will be a squeeze [at $2,000] but it will be possible."