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ViewSonic scrambles to calm PDA buyers

The monitor maker moves to clear up a brewing customer controversy over the memory capacity of its first handheld device.

ViewSonic moved this week to clear up a brewing controversy among customers over the memory capacity of its handheld computer, the company's first device in that niche.

The Walnut, Calif.-based company recently released the V35 Pocket PC device, stating that it came with 64MB of RAM. However, not all of that memory is accessible, as about 27MB is needed for the Microsoft Pocket PC 2002 operating system and software on the handheld.

The oversight caused some long discussions on enthusiast Web sites, such as PDABuzz.

"If anyone has purchased a device under the impression that they are getting 64MB, they can return it for a refund," said Duane Brozek, a ViewSonic spokesman.

ViewSonic is moving fast to resolve the issues with its customers. It continues to say on its Web site that its handhelds come with 64MB of RAM, but it has added a statement saying only 36.45MB is available for storage, with the remaining 27.55MB for the operating system and software. The Pocket PC OS takes up 24MB of memory, according to a Microsoft representative.

Not stating the amount of memory accessible to a consumer is fairly typical when it comes to the marketing of computing storage devices, said Alex Slawsby, an analyst with research firm IDC.

"It's a common marketing practice. Consumers need to be educated about what they are getting themselves into," he said.

For example, handheld maker Sony states on its Web site that while its Clie NX70V device comes with 16MB of memory, only 11MB is actually available because a portion is used for data management.

PC makers use a similar marketing strategy when they cite the capacity of the hard drives included with their systems, Slawsby said. But unlike "PCs, which have oceans of memory, every little bit counts in handhelds," he added.

Most PC hard drives are measured in gigabytes, whereas a typical Pocket PC-based handheld comes with 64MB of memory. A gigabyte is 1 billion bytes, and a megabyte is 1 million bytes.