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New Intel design may spur (more) tiny PCs

A new Intel board design may spur development of more ultrasmall, low-end PCs.

Upcoming design from Dell (top), existing Hush Technologies ultrasmall desktop (bottom)
Upcoming design from Dell (top), existing Hush Technologies ultrasmall desktop (bottom) Dell, Hush Technologies

Update: Ultrasmall desktops aren't new, but an Intel design unearthed in Asia means there may be a lot more on the way.

Ultracompact desktop PC design is tapping into two powerful forces: Low cost and eco friendliness. Tiny Dell desktops (photo) and Atom-powered Nettops are hints of things to come. And Intel motherboards disclosed in Asia may fuel this trend. Hardware site HKEPC has posted photos of two new Intel Mini-ITX-based motherboards, "Eklo" and "Fly Creek."

(Correction: the motherboard is called Eklo not "Elko" as previously reported.)

The original Mini-ITX board design was introduced in 2001 by Via Technologies and has been used in millions of computers sporting Via processors, according to Dean McCarron, founder and principal of Mercury Research. Mini-ITX designs are synonymous with low power and low cost. Intel is adopting the design because of its relative popularity in low-cost markets.

Both Eklo and Fly Creek are targeted at the sub-$200 entry-level PC market.

"The easiest way to think about (Mini-ITX) is that it's not quite a laptop," said McCarron. "But it has much more in common with a laptop than a desktop."

Intel's Fly Creek board is designed for compact consumer desktops that can use more powerful Intel GMA X3500 graphics technology and faster processors than those found in typical Mini-ITX designs to date.

But Via will punch up graphics and processor performance, too. The x86 processor supplier is joining forces with graphics chip giant Nvidia for small, low-cost designs. Nvidia offered a glimpse of a low-cost board design the two companies are working on earlier this month. And Via is coming out with a faster CPU design this summer called Isaiah.

Moreover, Via, on its own, already has a longstanding presence in the Mini-ITX market, shipping hundreds of thousands of boards per quarter, according to McCarron. And Via's C7 has been the processor of choice for low-cost, space-saving designs.

The series of Mini-ITX boards coming from Intel may cover a wider range of performance options, however--a breadth of offerings Via will have trouble matching. Intel's Mini-ITX will accommodate very-low-cost, low-performance Atom systems as well as higher-performance systems based on Celeron or even Core 2 Duo processors.