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NEC desktop quiets down

Say bye-bye to the whirring PC. The new NEC Mate is an all-in-one, compact PC that bypasses cooling fans by incorporating a Crusoe chip and an external power supply.

NEC this week began taking orders on a new, all-in-one, compact PC for the Japanese market that the company says eliminates disruptive fan noise.

Teaming with chipmaker Transmeta, NEC says its new NEC Mate incorporates a Crusoe TM5800 processor, a notebook chip. Thus, the new machine is smaller, uses less power, and operates more quietly than other desktop machines--it's so quiet, the company says, that the only noise it makes sounds like rustling leaves.

Because of space constraints in Japanese offices, which place workers into much closer proximity than in typical North American offices, many Japanese companies seek out all-in-one-style compact desktops or ultra-portable notebooks. The fad toward smaller machines is slowly catching on in the United States as well; many analysts attribute growing notebook sales to the rise in smaller yet more powerful machines.

Though many PC makers have made efforts to reduce desktop noise, most machines typically use at least one fan, which can produce a distinctive whirring noise while cooling the PC.

The NEC Mate bypasses fans by adopting two pieces of technology--the Crusoe processor and an external power supply--both originally designed for notebooks. By using the low-power chip, NEC eliminates the need for a fan to cool the processor. An external power supply, such as those found with notebook PCs or the discontinued Cube computer from Apple, eliminates the need for another fan.

The new computer will offer Crusoe TM5800 chips at clock speeds as high as 900MHz. So far, NEC is the only PC maker to incorporate a 900MHz Transmeta chip in products. Most PC makers using Transmeta chips, such as Sony, are shipping its 800MHz TM5800 in notebook PCs.

Transmeta faced delays in moving the 800MHz chip into high-volume production at the end of 2001, causing problems with some customers. Sony was forced to push back product introductions, and Toshiba had to cancel products outright. However, the company has since said that the chip is back on track.

The NEC Mate compact desktop also offers Japanese consumers a 15-inch screen. Although 15-inch and 16-inch screens are commonplace in notebooks sold in the United States, most business notebooks in Japan often come with 12.1-inch or smaller displays.

Most workers "want to have a bigger display," said Shin Wada, director of Transmeta's Japanese office in Tokyo. NEC could not be reached for comment.

The entry-level Mate will pair either a 880MHz or 900MHz Crusoe processor and 15-inch, flat-panel display with 128MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive and a CD-ROM drive. The notebooks will sell for around $2,000.

NEC Solutions America, the company's North American arm, hasn't announced plans to bring the Mate or a compact desktop like it with a Crusoe chip to North America.

NEC does offer Crusoe-based notebooks and similar all-in-one PCs with Intel chips in the United States, however. The company's PowerMate 2000, for example, offers an integrated, 15-inch screen along with a 933MHz or 1GHz Pentium III chip from Intel, with 128MB of RAM and a 30GB hard drive. It also sells the Versa UltraLite, a 3.3-pound notebook with a 600MHz Crusoe TM5600 chip.