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Compaq debuts build-to-order PCs

One Deskpro model comes in a Net PC case, while build-to-order capabilities are extended to cover the entire line.

Compaq (CPQ) has come out with a new desktop that mimics nearly all the characteristics of a Net PC.

The company has also upgraded its Deskpro line to accommodate Intel's Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) and expanded its build-to-order capabilities to cover the entire Deskpro line.

The new Deskpro 4000S uses the same condensed case as Compaq's Net PC, the Deskpro 4000N, and incorporates the same remote manageability features, said Michael Takemura, product marketing manager for desktops, North America. The difference is that the 4000S contains a slot for 3.5-inch disks, has an additional PCI slot, and can plug in to a CD-ROM drive.

"It's for space-constrained environments," he said, such as customer call centers. Overall, the machine is 35 percent smaller than typical desktop computers. The 4000S, available now, comes with Pentium MMX processors running at 166 MHz, 200 MHz, or 233 MHz. It starts at $1,099.

The 4000S also represents the latest design theft from the Net PC platform. High-technology executives and analysts have been increasingly vocal about the long-term viability of the Net PC, mostly because computer makers have announced plans incorporate the advantages the new platform was supposed to bring into their standard desktops.

Compaq, for instance, said that the Deskpro 4000 and 6000 already support remote wake up and shut down, two of the key features originally associated with the Net PC, and will adopt remote installation by the fourth quarter. All Deskpros come with a "lockable" chassis too, another Net PC characteristic. With the 4000S, the Net PC's size advantage is no longer exclusive to the platform.

One of the few distinctions left for the Net PC, as Takemura pointed out, is that the Net PC won't accept disks. The lack of a disk slot can save some management costs, he said. Intel CEO Andy Grove and others, however, have pointed out that this reduces versatility.

In addition, Compaq announced a number of enhancements to the Deskpro line.

The Deskpro 6000, 4000, and 2000 now incorporate the AGP 440LX chipset, he said. AGP creates a second, independent path for graphics processing inside of a computer and is expected to lead to crisper, more intense, and faster graphics.

Although incorporated now, the benefits of AGP won't likely start to appear until the middle of next year, Takemura added. Native operating system support for AG will not come in until Windows 98 is released in the middle of 1998.

Similarly, the current bus created by AGP runs at 66 MHz, close to the performance of current technology. "The 133-MHz version will appear next year," Takemura said.

The different classes of Deskpro, Takemura noted, are in many ways more distinguished by intended use, rather than processor capability, he added. All classes use the Pentium II processor running at speeds from 233 MHz to 300 MHz.

Deskpro 2000s, however, are configured to be used primarily as a standalone computer. As a result, it does not come with embedded Ethernet like the 4000 and 6000. The 2000 starts at $1,739.

The 4000 and 6000, on the other hand, are targeted at networked users. The 4000 machines start at $1,849 while the 6000 computers, which incorporate higher-end graphics and memory features, start at $2,399.

All of the computers are being constructed under the build-to-order methods Compaq announced earlier this year. Earlier, only the 4000 and 2000 Deskpros were built under this system.