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HP unveils new PCs in massive product roll-out

The TouchSmart all-in-one, Pavilion, and Compaq notebooks get upgraded, and two new Voodoo PCs are unveiled.

It may be sitting pretty atop the PC market, but Hewlett-Packard isn't going to sit still.

The world's largest PC manufacturer plans to roll out 50 new products Tuesday at a conference in Berlin, the largest such product refresh in the Personal Systems Group's history. Of those products, HP added new touches to just about everything, freshening up its TouchSmart all-in-one desktop, commercialand consumer notebook lines, as well as two machines within its high-end gaming brand, Voodoo PC.

HP TouchSmart
The new TouchSmart: It lost a lot of weight in the past year. Click on the image to see more pictures of HP's new lineup. Hewlett-Packard

While it's that time of year for product refreshes, this is more than the usual speed bump or spec tweak. Though competitors like Dell, Acer, and Lenovo are increasingly focusing on consumer retail PCs, HP is showing that it doesn't want to give up any of the ground it's gained over the last couple quarters.

"They're fortunate for being in right place at right time: being in consumer, and being in retail," said Richard Shim, PC analyst with IDC. "They're showing they're not taking that for granted, and keeping consumers engaged in the products."

It's a tough task when most PCs are made by the same manufacturers with products from shared suppliers. That's where HP hopes its new and improved TouchSmart PC comes in.

It's slimmed down in size--far more minimalist in design concept--and price compared with the original model, but the key is really the improved touchscreen interface. Exterior design used to be a way to stand out, but with a category in decline like desktops, a unique software experience could be an attention-getter.

Offering an experience that you can't get from a Windows-based Dell, or even an Apple iMac, is complicated, said Shim. "That really separates the major players from the minor players, since only the big guys can afford to do this kind of thing. HP is taking advantage of its position in the market."

The new HP-only interface is also a kind of "end-run" around Microsoft's Windows we'll be seeing more often, said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for The NPD Group.

It's already happening in the mininotebook category, where instead of being limited to one option for an operating system, PC vendors are offering different flavors of Linux, as well as alternate interfaces that sit on top of Windows.

Design continues to be a priority for HP, as evidenced by the new products, from the high-end to the refreshed line of consumer notebooks, to the new brushed aluminum finish for its commercial Elite line.

But it's the Voodoo brand where HP is most able to experiment with new looks.

Last week, Rahul Sood, Voodoo PC's founder and current CTO of HP's global gaming business, released photos of him cutting his birthday cake with the famously thin MacBook Air. In the accompanying blog, Sood slyly remarked that he "wouldn't be needing this notebook for long anyways."

Voodoo Envy
The Voodoo Envy 133 Hewlett-Packard

That's because HP's got its own razor-thin notebook now, called the Voodoo Envy 133. Though the price (starts at $2,099) puts the machine out of reach for most mainstream PC buyers, the ultrathin and light Envy is HP's attempt to position the Voodoo brand name in the same arena as Apple and Lenovo. For now Voodoo still has limited awareness outside the gaming and performance PC enthusiast crowds. As with the Blackbird 002 gaming desktop, the Envy will tie HP's recognizable brand to up-and-coming Voodoo.

The other Voodoo product released Tuesday is a departure for the brand in another way. A new gaming tower, the Voodoo Omen, is unlike anything HP has released before, and has no real counterpart in terms of design in the gaming world. The Omen is stark and simple on the outside, with brushed aluminum tower with the Voodoo logo on the face replacing colorful plastic. It's nearly the exact opposite of last year's Blackbird, or into the market.

Despite all this, there's still big challenges for HP ahead as it attempts to differentiate its products from the rest of the field and offer a wide array of products. Not only are they trying to take on Apple in terms of design and innovation, but it's still doing battle with and old, but suddenly resurgent foe, Dell. Plus, Acer is selling notebooks like hotcakes, and even Asus is trying to push its way into the consciousness of the mainstream PC buyer.

So despite the progress the company has made, HP can't get comfortable.

"The challenge for them, is that other guys will do same thing," observed Shim of IDC. "The difficulty for HP is to integrate new technology and new innovation and still remain price competitive."