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It's not easy being a green PC

NEC plans to release an environmentally friendly desktop computer for the U.S. market. The all-in-one machine is lead-free and easy to recycle. But will it sell?

Japanese PC maker NEC plans to introduce an environmentally friendly desktop computer to the U.S. market.

The PowerMate is an all-in-one PC that comes with a 15-inch flat-panel screen, a 900MHz Transmeta Crusoe processor and 256MB of memory. As with IBM's discontinued NetVista X, the "guts" of the computer are located behind the screen. The PowerMate is expected to sell for $1,599.

Sold in Japan as the Mate, the computer was touted as a quiet, compact machine--ideal for crowded Japanese offices. For the U.S. market, however, NEC is pushing some of the more "green" attributes of the PowerMate to win customers.

The computer comes with a flat-panel screen, which does not contain lead, as most typical CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors do. The PowerMate's motherboard was also constructed with lead-free solder. What's more, the plastic--an NEC invention called NuCycle--that's used to create the chassis of the PC is 100 percent recyclable, the company said.

Environmentalists and public health advocates have spoken out about the several pounds of lead in each CRT, along with other metals and chemicals, as potentially hazardous when electronic devices such as PCs and television sets are thrown away.

The PowerMate also consumes comparatively little electricity. The low-power Transmeta 5800 Crusoe chip eliminates the need for any internal fans. Also, the PC features a hard drive that operates at a noise level of 20 decibels--about the same noise level as rustling leaves.

Transmeta Chief Technology Officer Dave Ditzel said that the PowerMate represents the chipmaker's first desktop design win for a product sold in the United States.

Environmentally friendly or not, all-in-one PCs have not taken off in the United States. Although Apple found an initial hit with its first iMac, sales of the new iMac have been slower. Gateway has seen only marginal sales of its all-in-one PCs, although it plans to unveil a new model soon. For its part, IBM canceled the NetVista X, the first all-in-one computer with a flat-panel screen from a major manufacturer.