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Compaq to unveil "Evo" for business PCs

The Houston-based company will effectively retire its Deskpro, Armada and Professional Workstation brands to create a new line called Evo.

Compaq Computer is evolving.

On Monday, the Houston-based company will effectively retire its Deskpro, Armada and Professional Workstation brands to create a new line called Evo.

"Evo is for evolution, as computing evolves away from the PC to access devices," said Ken Willett, Compaq's vice president of commercial PC product management.

With the new brand, Compaq also will introduce a new look. Taking a cue from iPaq--the company's hybrid PC and Internet access machine--Evo products will be black and silver, instead of the traditional beige. On Monday, Compaq will unveil two notebooks, two workstations and a thin client all under the Evo brand.

One portable, the N400c, will offer the company's long-anticipated MultiPort technology. MultiPort is a USB technology that lets owners connect a wireless device onto the flat side of a portable computer's lid.

The entry-level N400c model comes with a 700MHz Pentium III processor, 12.1-inch TFT display with a maximum resolution of 1024 pixels by 768 pixels, 128MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive and 8MB of video memory. The ultraportable weighs only 3.5 pounds and will replace the Armada M300.

The N400 will sell for $2,299; an additional 802.11B wireless module will add about $200 to the total cost of the notebook, when the technology is available.

The second notebook, called the N150, is a model that has no counterpart in Compaq's existing Armada line. Weighing 5.7 pounds, the N150 will start at $1,499 and offer in its most basic build a 700MHz Celeron processor, a 14.1-inch SXGA display, 64MB of RAM, a 10GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, and an integrated network card and modem. Both notebooks will be available in June.

A replacement for the existing Armada M700 notebook is scheduled for a July release, but Compaq would not disclose information about the product. Like the Evo N400c, the notebook will include wireless networking.

Compaq also will unveil two new workstations but won't release new Evo desktop PCs until October. The two workstation models, W6000 and W8000, are dual-processor capable and will ship with the new Intel Pentium 4 Xeon processors at speeds of 1.4GHz, 1.5GHz and 1.7GHz.

Compaq also announced a new thin client: the Evo T20, which is Compaq's first thin-client server that sheds legacy serial and parallel ports for USB (universal serial bus) connectivity. Thin clients are simple network-access computers that share centrally controlled applications and files.

Changing brands--a good move?
The Evo strategy fits in with many other changes at Compaq. In March, the computer manufacturer combined its commercial and consumer PC operations into a new group dubbed Business Access. Four distinct entities make up the new organization: corporate access devices, home and office computing, Internet appliances, and services and solutions, Willett said.

Already, consumer products have been consolidated under the Presario brand and Internet devices around iPaq. "So this rebranding under Evo makes a lot of sense," Willett added.

"It's a good brand strategy, and I know Compaq worked long and hard on it," said IDC analyst Roger Kay. "At this point they now have three brands with their own positioning and messaging."

Kay said it is important for Compaq to convey that Evo is "a stable platform distinct from the others--that it's distinct from Presario, which is the rapidly changing line, and iPaq, the lifestyle line."

This apparently is Compaq's objective. While the look and name will change, Evo, like Armada and Deskpro, will continue to represent computers that are easy to manage over a long period of time. This means no quick changes as might be seen in consumer PC lines.

"What IT guys are afraid of is revolution, not evolution," Willett said. "Evo will strike the balance."

Gartner analyst Mark Margevicius says Compaq Computer's Evo announcement comes at an appropriate time because it promises to improve the focus and efficiency of a PC maker that has recently been outdone by rival Dell Computer.

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The move could be crucial for Compaq to recover momentum in its PC business, which lost more than $80 million yet accounted for nearly half of second-quarter revenue. The company also has lost market share to Dell Computer, which during the first quarter displaced Compaq as the No. 1 PC maker worldwide.

Compaq's longer-term objective is to increasingly develop products that are suitable for the home and the office, which is one reason the consumer and commercial groups were combined, Willett said.

Technology Business Research analyst Lindy Lesperance said this is the right approach. "The change is good from the point of view of simplifying the brand, especially considering Compaq is going down the path of converging consumer and commercial products."

A wireless focus
Connectivity will be one of the strongest messages from the new brand, said Ann Avery, Compaq's portables product-planning and marketing manager.

The addition of MultiPort technology to the N400c is an important one for Compaq. Unlike rivals, such as Apple Computer and Dell, Compaq chose not to integrate a wireless antenna in the portable.

The approach also simplifies adding wireless capabilities to notebooks. In the case of Apple, a special "AirPort" radio card must also be inserted inside a notebook's body for wireless to work.

In the case of Dell, the wireless radio component goes in the notebook's mini-PCI slot. But that creates problems for companies looking for integrated wireless, networking and modem technologies. The notebooks come with only two mini-PCI slots, forcing customers to use either a modem or a networking PC card.

"Our approach means you don't have to sacrifice the mini-PCI slot," Avery said.

Compaq's MultiPort devices contain both an antenna and a wireless radio. By forgoing integrated components, Compaq is better positioned for potential changes in wireless technologies, Lesperance said.

"They've created an integrated solution that is flexible," she said. "It gives Compaq and customers flexibility to look at different technologies as they emerge in the marketplace."

Compaq will introduce an 802.11B wireless module in June and a Bluetooth version in August, Avery said.