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Designer PCs strut their stuff

To spice up its Intel Developer Forum, Intel holds a PC "fashion show"--a preview of computers that use the Pentium III.

PALM SPRINGS, California--To spice up its Intel Developer Forum, Intel held a PC "fashion show"--a preview of designer computers that use the Pentium III.

Among the more innovative computers that strutted their stuff today was a one that was shaped like a fish and another that resembled the Sydney Harbor Skyline.

"Style matters," bellowed Pat Gelsinger, vice president of the Intel Desktop Products Group, as Intel Bunny People walked down a runway holding the "concept" PCs. Disco music blared. Gelsinger wore a golf shirt.

The new designs--one of which, the NEC Millenium with attached flat-panel monitors, is already out--are Intel's efforts to emphasize the type of style pioneered by Apple Computer with the iMac. In fact, some of the marketing language used on the PC runway today bore striking resemblance to lines used in Apple's "Think Different" marketing campaign: "There are a lot more colors than beige," Gelsinger said.

Many of the boxes are based around the "Flex ATX" motherboard, introduced today, a smaller version of the ATX motherboard used in most computers that allows for smaller and more innovative forms. The PCs also take advantage of the passage of older technology, which is being replaced by things such as so-called 1394 technology.

All come with a 500-MHz Pentium III, and all but one actually work. The prototypes were largely created by design firms but will likely be picked up by computer makers, Gelsinger said. Many of the designers said that they were contacted by Intel at the Computer Electronics Show last month about building prototypes for the Developer Forum.

"We believe there is significant opportunities for advances in form factors," Gelsinger added. "We expect these to be picked up by OEMs. I expect that you will see several of them come out to market later this year."

An informal poll of the crowd indicated favorable reviews. "Those are unbelievable if those are working units," said John Joseph, semiconductor analyst for NationsBanc Montgomery Securities.

Among the highlights:

• Silicon Bonsai, a tree-like system where the monitor and PC are mounted on a pole from designer Stratos. "There is only one way to go with this design," Gelsinger said. "Up!"

• The Flex, from InSync, a portable computer with a leather carrying case and strap. "For the Internet, for the intranet. For anything you have in mind," he said.

• Philips showed off a Pentium III linked to a 42-inch flat monitor. Monitors using the technology developed by the Digital Display Working Group will come out in the second half, Gelsinger said.

• Ziba designs showed off a prototype shaped like a bunny and a blue one called "Koi" shaped like a fish. "Who wouldn't want to go fishing with Koi," Gelsinger added.

The NEC Millenium is already shipping in Japan, he said, but the rest are still at the concept stage of development. The one non-working unit was dubbed the Ikebana, which means "flower" in Japanese and resembles the Sydney Harbor Skyline. "This is a high-concept design for the cosmetic samurai."