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VAIO PC offers little that's new

Sony's PC has surprisingly little to offer in ground-breaking technology.

Sony's new consumer PC, one of the most-watched product introductions at PC Expo this year, has surprisingly little to offer in ground-breaking technology, instead simply matching the performance and features of consumer PCs already on the market from companies such as Compaq, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard.

In tandem with the launch of its VAIO (Video Audio Integrated Operation) consumer PCs on Monday, the Japanese consumer electronics giant kicked off the "PC by Sony" campaign, emphasizing that a Sony-branded, Sony-built computer is something special.

But the company has a long way to go in proving to users that the Sony name really makes a difference in personal computing, according to some analysts. "If they think they can just waltz in and steal a large part of the market, they're in for a rude awakening," said Kimball Brown, an analyst at Dataquest, a San Jose, California-based market research firm.

"Don't forget, this thing isn't going to ship until August or September," Brown added, pointing out that Compaq, IBM, and HP, will have by then renewed their current consumer PC lines and may be well ahead of Sony in features.

Indeed, a quick glance at the main features of the VAIO show a PC which, in August, will be roughly comparable with this summer's offerings from other vendors: 166- and 200-MHz Pentium processors, MPEG acceleration, 3D accelerated graphics, Universal Serial Bus, an 8X CD-ROM, and a 28.8-kbps modem.

Sony was also touting its "highly intuitive" user interface that runs on top of Windows 95, but Compaq and HP are already offering similar user interfaces on their Presario and Pavilion lines, respectively.

Some observers see little in the way of distinguishing characteristics. "It looks to me like they're just trying to fend off Compaq's assault on the living room," one PC Expo attendee said while viewing the Sony PCs on display and who seemed unimpressed.

On the other hand, some believe that Sony has significant brand equity that, if leveraged properly, could push the company into the top ranks of consumer PC companies.

Sony has a prodigious amount of consumer electronics audio-video technology to tap and this may make a difference in the long run, said Richard Zwetchkenbaum, an analyst at International Data Corp. a market research firm in Framingham, Mass.

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