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NEC offers radical PC

The computer maker offers home systems with DVD, Internet "radio," and the Pentium II. But it's the new look that will grab attention.

    NEC is offering home systems with DVD-ROM drives, integrated wireless Internet "radio," and Pentium II processors. But despite all of this, it's the systems' looks that may be noticed first by consumers.

    NEC's new Ready computers with NEC screenshot the DuoFlex chassis have a shoebox-size unit that detaches from the main box so that the rest of the computer--including the main unit (CPU)--can be placed wherever the user wants.

    NEC says that the "Media Control Unit," or MCU, houses the CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive, the floppy disk drive, and an LCD display; when the MCU is removed from the main unit, users can store CD-ROMs and other things in a special storage box in place of the MCU. The LCD can be programmed to show different data, such as system information or news updates.

    NEC joins a number of vendors who are adding features that make computers look more like typical consumer electronics devices, such as VCRs.

    Last year, IBM introduced a system based on a similar concept--its Aptiva model comes with a separate pizza-box-size unit that can sit beneath the monitor and houses the CD-ROM drive, the floppy drive, and the power switch.

    "It's evolutionary. Where's this taking us? PC vendors are looking at separating the CPU and other peripherals as a way to evolve the form factor. They are asking, 'How can we make [PCs] easier for people to use?'" said Scott Miller, an analyst with market research firm Dataquest, referring to the new NEC systems.

    NEC, as with most major vendors, is attempting to make systems easier to use by offering either keyboards or monitors that have a push-button panel for operating the computer's built-in multimedia features. NEC's keyboard, for instance, allows one-touch control of the CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive in addition to direct access to software programs such as a Web browser.

    NEC's new systems also offer the AirMediaLive service. AirMedia operates a wireless network that sends news, sports, weather and financial alerts directly to the computer. NEC says users can view the information on an LCD display in the MCU as well as on the monitor. The AirMedia service is standard on the Ready 9769 and offered at $49 on all other DuoFlex systems. A monthly subscription fee is required after a two-month free trial.

    The Ready 9759 with a 233-MHz MMX Pentium processor, a 4.3GB hard drive, a 56-kbps modem, and a DVD-ROM drive is priced at $2,399. A system with a CD-ROM instead is available for $1,999.

    The Ready 9763 with a 233-MHz Pentium II processor, 32MB of memory, a 7GB hard drive, a 24X CD-ROM, and a 56-kbps modem will be priced at $2,499. The top of the line Ready 9769 gets the 266-MHz Pentium II processor, the Internet Antenna, and a DVD-ROM drive for a list price of $2,999.

    All systems come with 32MB of memory and a 56-kbps modem. NEC says the systems will be available from retailers in August.