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HP readies compact Pentium 4 PC

The company will launch a Pentium 4 version of its stripped-down e-PC at the beginning of next year, making it the smallest desktop running on Intel's flagship processor.

By Matthew Broersma

Hewlett-Packard will launch a Pentium 4 version of its stripped-down e-PC at the beginning of next year.

The e-PC will be the smallest desktop running on Intel's flagship processor, which creates packaging challenges because it generates more heat than previous models.

HP revved the e-PC line at the beginning of October with a new model that allows for more expandability and uses an improved chipset. Consumers can't add more memory to current ePCs, for instance, or even access the inside of the computer. The only major part that can be changed is the hard drive.

The company demonstrated the hardiness of the previous model, which is about a year old, by linking 225 e-PCs to create a supercomputer in a French laboratory.

Packing the Pentium 4 into a small package is difficult because its intense heat output generally requires larger, noisier heat-dissipation machinery. The e-PC is about the size of a hardback dictionary, with memory expansion slots, CD-ROM drive, hard-disk drive and processor packed in like sardines in a can. HP technicians had to come up with a path for the air to be able to easily flow through all these elements.

The result is an unusually quiet desktop computer, HP says.

So far, small PCs that don't allow for much configuration, such as the e-PC and Compaq Computer's iPaq, have failed to grab much of the PC market, but that could change. Industry analysts such as Gartner say that because they are less complex and don't crash as often, compact PCs can reduce overall ownership costs by 6 percent to 8 percent compared with traditional PCs.

The e-PC is not a niche product, HP insists. "We think this will be the office PC," said an HP spokesman. The company believes the compact PC approach could take more than 85 percent of the market, which is dominated by workers who don't need a full PC's expandability.

The Pentium 4 e-PC will be in prototype form in November and will begin production in December, HP said.

Staff writer Matthew Broersma reported from London.