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Intel changes its mind on Internet computers

Breaking from its position that the "connected" PC must be a full-featured machine, Intel officials disclose that their version of an Internet computer would be a barebones device based on the P6 processor.

NEW YORK--In a break from its stated position that the "connected" PC must be a full-featured machine, Intel (INTC) officials disclosed to CNET Tuesday that their version of an Internet computer would be a bare-bones device based on the P6 processor.

Intel's computer is slated for introduction in 1997 and, in at least one manifestation, would likely be based on a sealed-case PC design, company officials said at the Wired for Management Conference in New York's Madison Square Garden. Moreover, this design would likely be adopted by some major PC vendors, the company said.

The core of its design would still have powerful processors such as the next-generation P6 family, code-named Klamath, and, at the very least, a minimum of hard disk capacity, said Mike Aymar, vice president and general manager at the Desktop Products Group. These units will most likely run a version of Windows NT as well.

"What we're really saying is that the days where the only offering is a typical [PC] box design are over," said Craig Kinnie, corporate vice president and director of the Intel Architecture Labs.

A low-end version of this computer could be a small pizza-box device that "you might even hang on a wall." This would be a bare-bones computer without a floppy drive and only the bare minimum of hardware, which could be priced for under $1,000, Kinnie said.

Intel is adamant, however, that this is not a network computer as defined by companies like Oracle and IBM.

"Their definition of an NC is a 3270 dumb-terminal replacement. This is not our definition," said Bill Miller, an Intel spokesman.

"It's a bold evolutionary move, not a revolutionary one. We're coming down as close to that functionality break without defeaturing the unit," Miller added, referring to the fact that the NC-like device will have only the absolute minimum of hardware features.

There may also be a more full-featured, high-end version of the device, though, with hot-pluggable bays for storage devices as well as high-level support for Universal Serial Bus hardware, Intel officials said. A midrange version might also appear. The midrange and high-end designs would range between $1,200 and $2,000.

This concept that a PC need not be a "typical box" is also gaining support at major PC vendors.

Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer, alluded to this design recently at an Austin, Texas-based conference.

Dell said that the best approach to the NC concept is a "sealed PC" that uses a 32-bit Windows operating system, industry standard network management protocols, and an Intel microprocessor. "This approach ensures a high degree of manageability on the network while maintaining the flexibility of upgrading the software and BIOS as performance and manageability improvements arrive. That's the approach we're evaluating at Dell," he said.

Intel also said that the definition of a "sealed-case" PC is more dependent on how IS managers implement its PC policy rather than the actual hardware design.

Intel gave an example of a company where the users are "task-oriented," as opposed to more demanding "knowledge-based" users. The former group might only require an inexpensive "sealed" implementation in which the users have little or no control of the computer. Control is left to IS management.

By comparison, Microsoft and hardware vendors such as Toshiba and Compaq had a different interpretation of the "sealed PC." At this year's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, vendors showcased their versions of next-generation "sealed PCs" targeted at the home market. In this design, much like typical consumer electronics devices, the internal components of the computers would not be readily accessible, in contrast to PCs today where a user can pop open the lid to insert add-in cards. Moreover, configuration would be truly plug and play and all add-on devices would be plugged in externally.