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What's a W? Sony shows the U.S.

A hit in Japan, the Sony Vaio W is an all-in-one desktop with a folding keyboard. Will a flashy look make it a holiday hit?

Sony, which introduced its holiday PC lineup earlier this week, has one more trick up its computing sleeve.

The Japanese company plans to unveil its popular Vaio W all-in-one desktop--previously available only in Japan--to consumers in the United States, according to sources. The machine joins Sony's new lineup of multimedia-oriented Vaio desktops.

The Vaio W is a small PC that incorporates a keyboard that flips up to create more desk space, covering half of the W's 15-inch, horizontally mounted screen. The portion of the screen that remains visible can display either a clock or a music menu. Similar to Gateway's new Profile 4, the Vaio W's internal components, such as its processor, are mounted behind the screen.

The W has been a favorite of Japan consumers since its introduction there last February, according to local publications. Analysts say the PC's original look just might go over well in the United States. As many PC makers will concentrate on low prices and new features to attract buyers this holiday season, Sony's style splash might turn some heads.

"The biggest issue for the fourth quarter is going to be getting attention," said Steve Baker, analyst with NPD Techworld. Manufacturers "need to find meaningful ways to differentiate products. One of the ways--that Apple has taught everyone--is that a product can be meaningful if it looks cool."

Sony Vaio W Sony declined to comment, but earlier in the year company executives told CNET that the company was considering bringing the Vaio W to the United States.

What's in a W?
The Vaio W sold in Japan uses Microsoft's Windows XP operating system and features a 15.3-inch screen, a 1.6GHz Intel Celeron processor, 256MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive and a CD-rewritable drive. It's priced at 189,800 yen (approximately $1,550); yet the Vaio W may be configured differently for sale in the United States.

Sony is still taking a fairly big risk with the W. Aside from Apple's iMac and, to some extent, Gateway's Profile, "there's really not been any successful all-in-one PCs," Baker said.

Part of that has to do with price. All-in-one computers typically cost more than a PC and monitor purchased separately. Also, businesses have shown they prefer to keep PCs and monitors separate as monitors can be replaced less often than PCs. Such a setup also simplifies repairs.

Because of the difference in PC and monitor upgrade cycles, IBM discontinued its all-in-one NetVista X Series PC.

The market has changed, however, since the last all-in-one Windows machine, Baker said. Consumers have shown interest in stylish desktop PCs that are easily stored, as demonstrated by brisk sales of larger, relatively inexpensive notebooks that use desktop Pentium 4 processors.

"It's been a while since a really slick, well done all-in-one on the Windows side has been on store shelves," Baker said.