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Will mini-PCs get big? Dell hopes so

The computer maker is coming out with a minidesktop for businesses amid hopes that the trend toward small desktops will actually take off this time.

Dell Computer is coming out with a minidesktop for businesses amid hopes that the trend toward small desktops will actually take off this time.

The OptiPlex SX260 is roughly the size and shape of a standard dictionary. The computer weighs 7.8 pounds and comes with an Intel Pentium 4 or Celeron processor and six USB ports. The computer can be mounted horizontally, vertically, under a desk, on a wall or behind a flat-panel monitor.

Chairman Michael Dell will unveil the new computer on Monday during a press conference in Tokyo, where small desktops have long been popular. Although Dell is announcing the OptiPlex SX260 in Japan, the machine will be available worldwide.

Manufacturers have been touting small, stylish desktops since 1997, when Apple Computer had a hit with the first iMac. To date, though, most have met a quick death because they typically cost more than regular desktops. Many design experiments were also downright goofy.

In July 2000, Dell killed its own WebPC--a curvy blue consumer machine that was smaller than the company's standard desktops--after only six months, because of slow sales.

Manufacturers and analysts, though, have said the tide is slowly changing. Companies, especially large financial institutions, are looking for ways to economize on desk space. Flat-panel monitors are also rapidly growing in popularity, and many of these desktops are sold in conjunction with flat-panels. Unlike the WebPC, Dell's latest small computer is aimed at businesses, not consumers.

Minidesktops "do represent a small, but growing proportion of the total desktop market," said Roger Kay, an analyst with market research company IDC.

A number of companies have also recently released new models. This year, Apple, Gateway and Sony have all begun to market smallish desktops with built-in flat-panel monitors.

Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard has continued to market its ePC, a small machine that, like Dell's, can be paired with a flat-panel monitor. IBM earlier in the year killed off its NetVistaX, an all-in-one PC with an integrated flat-panel, and this month came out with the NetVista S42, a small desktop with an attachable flat-panel monitor.

The SX260 (the s stands for small) measures 9.7 inches by 9.5 inches and is roughly 50 percent smaller than Dell's next smallest desktop. The most basic configuration sells for $599. A typical configuration will sell for $1,499 and come with a 2GHz Pentium 4, 256MB of memory, a 20GB hard drive, a 15-inch flat panel and a CD-ROM drive.