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Intel touts pyramid PC

The chip giant's new pyramid-shaped Aztec computer shows how much space in a PC can be saved by using cutting-edge technologies.

Intel is out to convince people that it can make computing attractive and easy, too--an elusive goal in the PC industry.

The chip giant this week is

Intel Aztec
Intel's Aztec prototype
showing off prototypes of modular computers, most notably the ziggurat-shaped "Aztec," in an effort to promote how it plans to better integrate technology into the home.

The prototypes seem to clearly take their cue from Apple Computer's iMac, which was the third-highest selling computer in retail outlets for the month of September, according to analyst reports.

But the demos involve more than sculpting burnt orange plastic into novel shapes. The prototypes are really a vehicle for showing the designs that computer makers can accomplish by moving away from traditional PC architecture standards and adopting new connection technologies such as Universal Serial Bus (USB) or IEEE 1394, said Steve Whalley, connectivity initiatives manager at Intel.

USB "ports," or connectors, allow for quick connection of devices and replace the aging serial ports that have been coming on the rear of the PC box for more than a decade. IEEE 1394, meanwhile, is a new connection technology for hooking up consumer electronics devices, such as digital camcorders and VCRs, to a PC.

The Aztec only comes with USB and 1394 ports and not serial ports. Most new computers on the market today come with both USB and serial ports. Very few come with the 1394 ports currently.

But USB means that the computer designers can use smaller internal power supplies, which means smaller fans, which in turn means a PC circuit board about one quarter the size of a normal circuit board.

The ripple effects in designs will begin to appear toward the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas. E-machines, a Korean company specializing in inexpensive computers, is expected to debut at Comdex a knock-off of an iMac built around PC technology, said sources. The machine is said to closely resemble an iMac, but contain PC technology.

Whalley said that more traditional PC makers will start to come out with smaller, more modular machines equipped with USB and other new technology toward the middle of 1999. Smaller motherboards that will enable these shapes will probably begin to appear around the same time. A wider variety of novel devices will appear toward the end of the year. Many of the machines, or at least the designs, will emerge from Asia.

"Holiday '99 is where you will see more of these," he said.

Santa Clara, California-based Intel worked with Ziba Design in coming up with the prototypes. Although the Aztec is the one most often touted by Intel, there are other decorator shapes cooking in the lab.

The "Tetris" for instance, resembles a mini-tower that is slightly twisted to look like a double helix. The "Castia," meanwhile, resembles a clamshell, while the "Beta" looks like a flower vase.

The Aztec is said to be "a monument to the gods of power and speed," according to the placard next to the computer when Intel showed it at the Developer Forum.

The Aztec, shaped like a Mayan pyramid, featured a 500-MHz Katmai processor--which is slated to come out next year--128MB of memory, four USB ports, and two 1394 ports.

Rather than come to a point like other pyramids, however, the top was blunted by a DVD player. Although technologically intriguing, one of the key features of the machine was its blue color. All four sleek sides of the machine were made from translucent blue or burnt orange plastic.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network, publisher of News.com.