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Compaq, HP think thin with desktops

PC makers put their Pentium 4 desktops on a diet as Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard preview new "ultra slim" desktops with minimalist designs.

LAS VEGAS--The mini is back, as PC makers put their Pentium 4 desktops on a diet.

Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard will introduce early next year new "ultra slim" Pentium 4-based desktops with minimalist, space-saving designs. The companies previewed the new machines Monday at the Comdex Fall 2001 trade show.

Compaq showed off its forthcoming Evo D500. The PC, whose design borrows heavily from Compaq's notebook PCs, offers a "multibay" that consumers can use to add and remove any of a variety of optical drives. The PC also offers an integrated "Multiport," a Compaq module that allows notebook users to connect to a wireless network. The device provides wireless networking for the new Evo.

One of the drawbacks to selling ultra-slim desktops can be the removal of so-called legacy components--older technology such as parallel ports--and less flexibility when it comes to adding graphics boards and other plug-in boards. Some corporate buyers balk at buying a PC they can't connect to an older printer or add a PCI card.

However, Compaq aims to eliminate upgrade trepidation using a "Legacy Module." The module, which connects to the back of the PC, includes connections for older standards such as a serial port. It also has internal slots to accommodate add-in cards, but not as many as a full-size desktop, a company representative said.

"People are very comfortable with legacy-free as long as they have a path back to legacy devices," said Jeff Groudan, a product manager at Compaq. Small PCs now account for 50 percent to 60 percent of Compaq's PC sales, he said.

Meanwhile, HP previewed two new ultra-slim desktops. The first, the Pentium 4-based e-PC, is its most minimal design. The new e-PC offers a Pentium 4 processor, CD-ROM drive, and little else inside the box.

HP's new Vectra Vl420 slim desktop addresses the needs of people who require room to grow, however, by adding a floppy drive, CD-ROM, and three expansion slots.

The new PCs, which share many components, will ship in the next two to three weeks, an HP representative said. The Vl420 is expected to cost about $599, while the e-PC will start around $749.

Because of their trim size, the new PCs use special cooling technology and fans. Both PC makers have gone to great pains to reduce the noise produced by cooling fans.

The new Compaq will take advantage of Northwood, the newest version of Intel's Pentium 4, due in the first week of January. Northwood is expected to run cooler and consume less power than current Pentium 4 chips, due to its use of Intel's new 130-nanometer (0.13-micron) manufacturing process.

HP also showed off its TV-like Concept PC 2001. The new PC is wide, tall and flat, as if it's meant to be mounted on a wall. It features an integrated video camera, speakers, wireless keyboard and mouse, and a side-mounted CD-ROM drive.

Likening it to a concept car, Achim Kuttler, director of HP's PC client business, said the company will show it off to customers. Then, "based on feedback, we decide what we'll do with the concept"--whether and how it will become a product.

Meanwhile, Compaq's iPaq, the PC that helped kick off the minimalist PC movement, will be phased out early next year, Groudan said.