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Compaq to unveil iMac-like consumer system

The Houston-based PC manufacturer will unveil its Presario EZ 2000 series today at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Taking a cue from Apple, Compaq Computer today will introduce a stylized, easier-to-connect PC system.

The Houston-based PC Compaq EZ2200 manufacturer will unveil its Presario EZ2000 series today at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The bow to simplicity continues in the vein of its iPaq, a "legacy free" commercial system announced in November and shipping later this month.

"We wanted to make it simple--simple to get at, simple to get in, simple to access. And that includes not just accessing the internal components, but the Internet or your email," said Sean Burke, vice president of Compaq's Presario division.

As Compaq continues to reinvigorate its PC operations, the new series appears to follow some of the guidelines set by Apple's iMac. Not only do the color and design hark to the popular home-use computer, but the EZ Presario contains both universal serial bus ports and IEEE 1394. Both USB and "FireWire" are faster ways to connect data-intensive devices, such as camcorders and disk drives, than the older and more commonly used parallel and serial ports.

PCs that dispense with older connectors are also cheaper to produce, said Technology Business Research analyst Lindy Lesperance.

Compaq has offered USB on its Presario PCs and FireWire on some models for about a year and a half, but the EZ2000 marks the first time that both are offered on one PC at the expense of older technology.

The new products come at a good time for Compaq, which stands to benefit from IBM's Jan. 1 departure from retail, said PC Data analyst Stephen Baker. "I think Compaq will pick up a little more share, and instead of running at the 30 percent or so share, they're likely going to be something north of 35 percent," Baker said.

The Presario has been a stronger performer Compaq, which in November had 35.4 percent retail market share and two of the top five PCs, according to PC Data.

Starting at $999, the EZ2200 features a 500-MHz Intel Celeron processor, 64MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, two USB and FireWire ports and CD-RW and CD-ROM drives. Unlike iMac, the new Presario comes with a standard floppy drive but no monitor.

Another model, the EZ2700, will be available direct from Compaq on a build-to-order basis. The basic model replaces the Celeron processor with a 500-MHz Pentium III chip and adds a matching 17-inch monitor for $1,499.

Stylized in what Compaq refers to as a "Baja Blue" color, the EZ 2000 looks more like an over-sized bread box than a consumer PC. The new Presario also features pop-open sides similar to those found on the Apple PowerMac G3 and G4 computers.

One new radically feature, the Digital Dashboard, is a LCD display panel on the front of the PC. It offers setup information, diagnostic capabilities and connectivity features for automatically setting the clock via the Internet or retrieving email.

The LCD panel enables Compaq to use some hardware-based monitoring and maintenance tools rather than relying on software loaded with Windows 98. Compaq has been battling "lock-up" problems on some Presario models too heavily loaded with these software programs.

Also today, Compaq is introducing Symphony-HRF wireless Internet and home networking from Proxim as an option with the EZ2000 and all new Presario PCs built to order. The USB-attached device, which sells for $99, transmits data without wires at speeds up to 1.6 Mbps.

The Presario line is also getting more support for digital music formats, such as MP3, downloaded from the Internet. The EZ 2000 features the RioPort Audio Manager and other new Presario models to be announced today, such as an 800-MHz AMD Athlon model, featuring an e-Sound system for cataloguing MP3s.

Compaq will bundle the Logitech QuickCam video camera with the majority of Presario 7400, 7500 and 7900 series models, which consumers can use for video conferencing or sending video email.

Besides new consumer PCs, Compaq will announce three new Presario notebooks--the 1200-XL 106, 110 and 111--and the A1000, a USB multifunction printer, fax machine and color copier and scanner.