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Computex unshaken by SARS

The big Taiwanese show was delayed three months from its usual June time slot by the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. Even so, attendance is up.

TAIPEI, Taiwan--For the Computex trade show, the SARS epidemic was only a temporary setback.

The show here was delayed three months from its usual June time slot by the arrival of severe acute respiratory syndrome, but even so, attendance is up compared with previous years. The show, now in its 23rd year, just expanded to a third hall at the Taiwan World Trade Center.

Computex takes place in the heart of the computer manufacturing industry. Taiwan is home to many of the companies that build everything from capacitors and cooling fans to motherboards and MP3 players. Fabrication plants build processors, memory chips and other components.

The SARS epidemic hit Taiwan hard, disrupting supply chains, closing factories and forcing the Computex delay.

But optimism and determination are hard to suppress here, and both are attitudes exhibited by Taiwan President Shui-bian Chen, who made a surprise visit to the Computex opening ceremony.

"We have gradually recovered from the temporary economic slowdown caused by SARS earlier this year," Chen said at the ceremony. "I have full confidence that a blooming spring of our economic climate is approaching us. We have never been complacent."

Taiwanese companies that are important but relatively unknown include chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which announced at the show that it had shipped its millionth wafer of silicon, and AsusTek Computer, which shipped more than 17 million motherboards in 2002. Quanta is the top manufacturer of notebook computers in the world, supplying gear to brand-name companies. Another company, Acer, is a power in the liquid crystal display (LCD) industry, but unlike many Taiwanese colleagues, it's seeking to build brand recognition among consumers by splitting off its BenQ group.

And Taiwan remains influential. According to the semi-governmental Market Intelligence Center in the country, Taiwan in 2002 made 61 percent of notebooks, 90 percent of desktop PC motherboards, 61 percent of LCDs, 30 percent of optical disk drives such as CD-ROMs and 30 percent of servers.

The number of Computex exhibitors increased from 1,108 in 2002 to 1,241 this year, while the number of booths rose from 2,306 to 2,419, according to show organizers, the China External Trade Development Council and the Taipei Computer Association.

Among the new arrivals was Microsoft, which is touting various "embedded" versions of its Windows operating system for devices such as handheld computers, mobile phones and cash registers.

Exhibitor growth reflects the hot technology areas in today's industry. The show added pavilions for flat-panel displays--now used for televisions and desktop computers as well as laptops--and for high-speed connection technology such as USB 2.0.

In addition, the number of technology buyers at the show increased from 9,253 to 9,568, the trade development council said.

Trade shows for the overall computing industry have been under pressure, with declining enrollment at the two biggest, CeBit in Hannover, Germany, and Comdex in Las Vegas. CeBit, trying to expand to the United States this year, missed its attendance goals.