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Start-up's mini-PC based on IBM design

Antelope Technologies will build hand-size PCs based on a prototype from Big Blue as the mini-mini-computer market takes shape.

Antelope Technologies will build hand-size PCs based on a computer design from IBM as the mini-mini-mini-computer market takes shape.

The Denver-based start-up is going to build PCs that are roughly the same size and shape as handhelds from Palm and Compaq Computer. The design of the Mobile Computer Core (MCC), the name of Antelope's basic computer, is derived from the Meta Pad, a hand-size computer prototype shown off earlier this year by IBM.

Antelope is licensing the Meta Pad design from IBM but will configure and adapt it to fit business markets and specific applications, said an Antelope representative.

Although it is still unclear whether businesses or other customers will take to these machines, small computing is growing, advocates say. Earlier this year, another start-up, OQO, unfurled a PDA-size PC that it will market toward the end of the year for less than $1,000.

Established PC and consumer-electronics giants will later this year release two new types of Microsoft-centric devices: the tablet PC, a full-fledged computer that resembles a portable screen and runs a specialized version of Windows; and Mira, a portable screen that connects to the Internet via a home PC. Toshiba and others are expected to show off tablet PCs at TechX NY (formerly PC Expo) in June.

Small, portable machines like the MCC or Mira are possible in part because they use energy-efficient components that maximize battery life and reduce the need for internal cooling devices. The MCC, for instance, uses a Crusoe processor from Transmeta, yet does not require a fan. The MCC also comes with a 10GB hard drive and 256MB of memory.

Software improvements help as well. Keyboards are largely impractical as an input device and do not come on most of these computers. The specialized version of Windows XP for tablets--called Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition--comes with pen input and handwriting recognition. The growth of wireless has also created much stronger demand for fully portable computing.

Despite some of the benefits, more novel computers won't threaten notebooks for some time. For one thing, they cost more than regular computers. The Antelope representative did not specify an exact price but said one of its computers could cost $6,000, depending on the configuration. Tablet PCs are expected to start in the $2,000 range.

Market research firm IDC said nontraditional notebooks so far account for just 3 percent of the overall notebook market.

Consumers also haven't shown much inclination toward writing on PC screens. IBM recently phased out its ThinkPad TransNote, a machine that captures handwriting jotted with a special pen. Sony also phased out its high-end Vaio Slimtop Pen Tablet PC.

Trying to capitalize on this ambivalence, Taiwan's Acer showed off a notebook last November loaded with the tablet PC version of Windows XP. By popping a button, consumers can make the screen pivot, and then snap it onto the notebook keyboard to turn it into a tablet.