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HP likely to begin shipping ePC in April

Hewlett-Packard plans to start selling its simplified, stylized PC in the spring, sources say, although the market for these machines is still uncertain.

Hewlett-Packard plans to begin shipping its simplified, stylized PC in late April, sources said today, although the market for these machines is still uncertain.

Jumping on a trend along with Compaq Computer, IBM and others, HP hopes to woo business customers with a smaller, cheaper PC. This new breed of PCs promises to give businesses the computing power they need for less money than traditional computers, but it remains to be seen how the corporate world will react.

Like IBM, which this week released details on its low-cost PC code-named "Stardust," HP has also not decided on a final name for the new model. Code-named "ePC," the unit is about the size of a dictionary and can fit into a briefcase or laptop bag.

Compaq started shipping its simpler PC, the iPaq, in late January, available with either Windows 98 or Windows 2000. IBM plans to release Stardust and an-all-in-one LCD model code-named "Luxor" sometime in late April or early May.

"We will definitely ship before IBM does," said a source close to the ePC project, who asked not to be identified.

Unlike Compaq, which chose to offer two models of iPaq--one shedding "legacy" ports and connectors and another supporting them--HP has taken a "legacy lite" approach. The ePC, which is streamlined down to a hard disk, motherboard and power supply, will come with standard serial and parallel connectors as well as two USB ports.

While more computer makers are moving to straight USB, which can substantially cut the cost of producing PCs, HP opted for the middle ground of keeping serial and parallel ports while adding USB. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based computer maker conducted research that found the majority of corporate customers wanted the older connectors, said another source close to the ePC project.

HP has taken a controversial sealed-case approach, which could hamper servicing, and it nearly prohibits processor and hard drive upgrades.

The ePC will be available with Windows 98, NT or 2000 and ship with either Intel Celeron or Pentium III processors. HP will not use AMD chips as the PC maker has found its corporate customers are more comfortable with Intel processors, said the ePC source.

In a move similar to Apple's approach with iMac and PowerMac desktops, ePC will not ship with a floppy drive. A CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive will be an optional item.

HP has not set a price for ePC, but similar simpler models from Compaq and IBM start in the $500 range.