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Revolution on the desktop

Revolution on the desktop

For several years, the industry press has focussed on trends such as the growth of notebook computers and future technology like network computers and NetPCs. When the dust settles, though, the growth area is still the old stalwart, desktop computers. Durelle Fry talked to vendors about opportunities for resellers, total cost of ownership and future trends such as NCs and the InternetNetwork computers are still struggling to gain a foothold in corporate markets, and NetPCs are not popular either. According to Total Peripherals Group (TPG), to date it has only seen interest in network computers from a very few of the larger organisations, and even this interest is often experimental. According to HP, that company is selling PCs over NCs in a ratio of almost 50 to one.

IBM doesn't think the question of traditional PCs or NCs will be relevant in three years, but that customers' needs will dictate the industry's direction. Today, IBM believes, customers want manageability within their networks, and there are advantages to both network computers and PCs to facilitate this.

TPG believes that in three years' time, the PC and the network computer will probably become one and the same because, in theory, one or more centralised servers using Citrix with Windows Terminals is "a great solution". It is TPG's opinion that the marketplace does not yet understand the difference between PCs, NCs and Windows terminals.

HP believes NCs and their ilk will not capture more than 20 per cent of sales in the next three years. Rob Hartnett, HP Australia's market development manager for Corporate PCs and Mobile Computing, looks five years into the future for network computers to come into their own. He told ARN that the market will be segmented and resellers will not be selling "one box for all". Hartnett believes users will be seeking the same experience from a network terminal as they receive from a PC. Today, most companies don't have high-speed servers, and PCs don't cost much more than a network computer.

TPG claims that hardware costs are currently lower for PCs than for either network computers or Windows terminals. It believes TCO will be more of an issue in the future, as corporate users are starting to understand ownership costs and IS managers are beginning to gain some control over purchase decisions.

Total cost of ownership

TPG believes that hardware failures and compatibility issues are the biggest costs that users have. To eliminate these problems, TPG sources and uses "only the best quality components". These are tested for component compatibility within the PC, and with Microsoft operating systems.

HP's answer is its Top Tools program, which it is shipping on both PCs and notebooks. This desktop-management software manages all the DMI and SNMP devices on the network, including servers, printers, hubs and routers, as well as PCs. HP's current range of PCs and notebooks is DMI2 compliant, as is the just-introduced Brio range.

IBM believes that electronic business is a major avenue to lower TCO. In addition, it provides an improved quality of product, improved support and service, and improved manageability of the whole system. The company notes that it has had remote boot technology since 1996, as part of its history of focusing on reducing TCO in the desktop arena.

Resellers have a vital role to play in reducing users' TCO and there are many opportunities. HP's Hartnett believes that resellers are doing a lot already, but unfortunately they are not letting users know what they are doing. Services such as quality assurance and setting up PCs so that everything works as soon as they are taken out of the box should be made more widely known. A good warranty is vital and HP provides a three-year on-site warranty for both the monitor and the PC. HP will take care of machines that don't function at the point of purchase, but HP then expects its resellers to be the first point of contact.

TPG suggests that resellers provide their customers with quality systems from established assemblers/manufacturers. PCs need to be Microsoft certified and supplied with a pre-loaded operating system. For business users, resellers could offer an optional or standard on-site warranty.

IBM agrees that the provision of services can help customers most. Examples given are implementation services, outsourcing desktop management services, integration services, and financing services. IBM aims to provide end to end solutions through its business partners, "rather than just being a provider of hardware".

HP provides Top Tools, and TPG optionally supplies Intel's LDCM (LAN Desk Client Manager), to help reduce TCO. IBM has several systems currently - Netfinity Client manager, Universal Management Agent and Wake on LAN as a hardware feature.

Desktops have improved greatly in recent years, due to the general benefit of useability that faster CPUs and graphics have provided.

Better things to come

Hartnett is anxiously waiting for smaller, "sexier" machines on desktops, as Intel develops the technology to put more on the chip, such as modems and graphics.

There will then be less restriction on the size and shape of the box, and we will see more economies of scale and a better ergonomic design. In the same way that monitors are developing a more user-friendly style and shape, Hartnett believes that PC boxes will follow.

TPG points out that Intel continues to dominate the CPU marketplace, and TPG's customers are responding well to the ongoing performance and product changes. By the end of 1998, TPG predicts that the entry level PC will have a 300MHz CPU. IBM has introduced Intel's Celeron processor in entry level PCs.

Sales of PCs are growing strongly, according to vendors, in the home and corporate markets. TPG believes that when Internet, voice and PCs are better integ-rated in a few years' time, there will be a second wave of home purchasing.

IBM is currently working with its business partners to enable customers to buy PCs online. The company will release further details when plans have been finalised. IBM's strategy is to sell through its business partners, and the company said this would remain the case with online selling. IBM added that some of its business partners, such as Harris Technology, sell IBM PCs online today. "IBM encourages its business partners to use the most effective method of selling, and electronic business is definitely a growth area that IBM has identified. Therefore, IBM business partners are encouraged to work in this way".

TPG plans to sell PCs online both through the reseller channel and direct. According to the company, dealers of a few years ago have become resellers, who now have to add value to remain in the market. TPG believes that most suppliers and manufacturers will sell online direct to the end user, so resellers will need strong affiliation with their suppliers, and will best organise online selling in conjunction with their suppliers.

HP's online sales will take place in conjunction with the channel, and Hartnett stressed the need for resellers to have a strong relationship with HP. HP already offers Big Deal Express, where resellers can order a minimum of 10 units from HP, which then ships the product direct to the end user. Advantages for the reseller of this system, and of online sales in general, are the elimination of warehouse costs, reduction in the number of sales people, and less emphasis on shop front presence, according to Hartnett. Sales staff can be replaced by technical support personnel.

Desktops come loaded with features today, but what are the priorities of end users? HP believes the most important is price, followed by the assurance of a reputable (tier one) vendor, industry standard specifications, an Intel chip, RAM and hard drive. In summary, says Hartnett, user priorities are "price, brand, reliability and support", at least for the corporate buyer. The home buyer, he adds, seeks a reliable brand name and a competitive price. He believes that more people understand the difference between brand names and clones but "there is still room to go yet". Hartnett cites Harvey Norman's success in selling tier one PCs.

IBM is finding that customers are no longer only focusing on the hardware price. They are also concerned about system manageability and price/performance.

The debate over whether prices will continue to fall has continued unabated since the introduction of the first computer, let alone the first PC, according to TPG. The company adds that the margins involved for manufacturers and suppliers discourage low-priced items. Rather than lower priced PCs, the com-pany believes we will continue to see improvements in price and performance.

IBM believes price will always be a factor when buying computers, "But the whole TCO theory is now being understood by a lot more businesses, so value is becoming a better measure when buying a PC".

With the gap between prices of desktops and notebooks with essentially the same features, is it possible that some of the notebook market will swing back to desktops? HP believes not. Hartnett says there is still about a $1000 gap in price, and notebook sales are growing at twice the rate of desktops, but not twice the volume. In 12 to 18 months, notebook technology will lead desktop technology, according to Hartnett. Within HP, 80 per cent of new employees get a notebook in preference to a PC because of their versatility.

Consumer appeal

TPG agrees that the notebook market is strong and users will not stray because notebooks are products with great consumer appeal. The company adds that notebook prices will continue to come down, and people will continue to place great value on the ease of portability and storage when not in use.

Opportunities for sales of new PCs may come about because corporations decide it is easier to purchase new machines that have a Y2K compliant BIOS, rather than convert their existing machines. HP agrees, and the company believes that people will use this as an excuse to upgrade. Hartnett says that an advantage to the industry, and to resellers, which comes out of the Y2K issue is that CEOs and board level executives have had to focus on new technology and it is no longer an "IT executives only" issue. This wider base of interest within an organisation should boost both hardware and software sales because IT issues are less likely to be delegated and corporations will be more interested in keeping up to date with the latest technology.

TPG sees some growth in sales, but "not huge". The company argues that most competent organisations understand that they can do many things to protect themselves by properly examining their current PCs. For example, most PCs supplied by TPG "as long ago as 1995", can have their BIOS upgraded to be Y2K compliant.

Even though machines will last longer these days, when will users be looking for a change? HP puts the figure at three years, and most HP leases for desktop machines are for a three to five year period (notebooks, on the other hand, are for an 18 month to two year period).

What's on offer . . .

Compaq

Compaq announced in mid August the availability of the Compaq Deskpro EN Series Small Form Factor PC as part of the Deskpro EN Series.

The new range has been designed to meet the needs of office environments with limited desk space.

The Small Form Factor EN Series is 40 per cent smaller than traditional desktops, and features a 31.8cm x 37.1cm chassis. Other features include an Intel Pentium II processor ranging from 300MHZ to 400MHZ; 32MB or 64MB SDRAM (expandable to 256MB), 3.2GB or 6.3GB SMART II Ultra ATA hard drive; and embedded ATI Rage Pro Turbo AGP graphics (with up to 8MB SGRAM). An optional 24x Slimline IDE CD ROM is also available.

The machines also include an embedded network interface card (NIC), AGP graphics and PremierSound audio.

The new Deskpro also supports the Microsoft PC98 design specification and is ACPI ready. Applications and systems configuration is also possible with the latest version of Intel LANDesk Configuration Manager 1.5. In addition, Network administrators can be alerted via e-mail of any relevant software configurations with Compaq's InfoMessenger technology.

The small chassis of the Small Form Factor Series has been designed to help reduce service costs with features such as a quick-release cover latch, tilt drive cage, slide-out system board, a tilt-out power supply, and "no-tools" access. The smart cover lock feature allows the chassis to be locked remotely to prevent unauthorised access.

The Compaq Deskpro EN Series Small Form Factor PC is available now at an RRP of $2895 for the 300MHz Pentium II model with 15in monitor. Compaq has also announced price reductions of up to 10 per cent across the current Desktpro EP and EN Series of commercial PCs.

Edge Technology

New from Edge Technology is the KTX Value 233 System. The product features an IBM 233MX CPU; an ALI Motherboard TX; 32MB SDRAM; a Maxtor 3.4GB hard disk drive; 1.44MB FDD; a 4MB S3 Virge video card; a 32x Mitsumi CD-ROM drive; a KTX 16-bit sound card; a KTX Serial mouse; KTX 100W speakers and a KTX 14in monitor.

The computer comes with Windows 98 pre-installed. Packaged in a space saving mini-tower case, the KTX Value 233 System is available now at an RRP of $1365.

Edge has also just announced a 15in monitor upgrade option with the system. Purchasers may upgrade to a KTX 15in Digital XGA Monitor for an additional $75 RRP.

Hewlett-Packard

HP has just announced a line of high-powered HP Brio business PCs. The line is based on Intel's current Celeron processor technology and will include future Celeron processor speeds when they are introduced.

The new HP Brio 7000 PC series features a subcompact "microtower" design. The unit stands no higher than a standard office binder, about half the size of a typical tower-style PC.

The Brio 7000 PC models have been designed for mainstream business-computing needs. The entry-level model comes with an Intel Celeron 266MHz processor, 32MB SDRAM expandable up to 256MB; a 2.1GB Ultra ATA hard disk drive; Matrox G100 AGP graphics with 2MB VRAM; 16-bit SoundBlaster Pro-compatible sound; a 10/100Base-T LAN adapter; and Windows 98. Customers can choose from a range of Intel Celeron and Pentium II processor-based configurations including hard drives up to 8GB and fast 32x CD-ROM drives. The ESP of the HP Brio 7000 PC is $2449, including a 15in monitor.

The Brio 8000 PC models have been designed for "power-hungry business customers and applications". The series features "the industry's fastest" rewritable CD-ROM drive for high capacity storage combined with ultra-high-speed data access. The new drive allows users to write data equivalent to 450 floppy disks to a CD. Also featured on the Brio 8000 PC is a 10.1GB Ultra-ATA 7200rpm hard disk drive; an Intel 400MHz Pentium II processor with 440 BX AGP chipset; 64MB SDRAM; ATI 3D RagePro Turbo AGP 2X graphics with 4MB VRAM; 16-bit SoundBlaster Pro-compatible sound; a 10/100Base-T LAN adapter; and Windows NT 4.0 Workstation. The ESP of the HP Brio 8000 PC is $4739.

Both systems use industry-standard components, are DMI 2.0 certified and WfM compliant. They have built-in support capabilities such as VirusScan, PC diagnostics and Symantec's pcAnywhere32 for remote support on models with modems. A three-year limited warranty applies to all models.

IBM

At the end of August, IBM announced the Intellistation E Pro for customers requiring fast 2D and entry-level 3D graphics. The product has been described as "a high performance, lower-profile Windows NT workstation".

It is recommended for applications in finance, software engineering, desktop publishing, database development, 2D design and drafting, architecture, electronic design analysis and web site creation.

The product is powered by either a 350 or 400MHz Intel Pentium II microprocessor, 100MHz ECC SDRAM, Intel's latest 440 BX chip set with AGP and 100MHz front side bus.

Other features include 7200 rpm, 4.5GB Ultra-wide SCSI or 6.4GB EIDE hard drives, and a 32x CD-ROM.

Available in either 2D or 3D configurations, the 2D system has a Matrox Millennium II AGP graphics accelerator with 8MB VRAM. The 3D system features the 8MB SGRAM Permedia 2A AGP graphics accelerator.

The product also provides multiple 2D display support with either Matrox or Appian J Pro graphics.

The product is the first workstation in IBM's cross-brand Universal Management initiative and it features the Universal Management Agent (UMA), which is a standards-based framework which seamlessly integrates advanced management capabilities into both IBM and non-IBM systems.

Standard manageability features include Wake on LAN, Alert on LAN and LCCM, as well as the newer technologies of Asset ID and SMART Reaction software.

The E Pro also comes with Intel's LANDesk and IBM Netfinity software, and is also DMI 2 compliant.

The ESP of the IBM Intellistation E Pro is $4867 without a monitor, and the final price depends on the model and configuration.

Faster desktops from Micron

Micron Electronics will be shipping desktop systems this year with a Micron-developed core logic chip set for higher speed. The company will boost the performance of its new 450MHz Pentium II desktops by using a new version of the Samurai chip set it has been using in paradigm workstations.

The Samurai SL chip set will first appear in high-end Millennia desktops and will gradually find its way into mainstream ClientPro systems. The chip set implements 64-bit, 66MHz PCI buses to increase bandwidth, and therefore performance, compared with the 32-bit, 33MHz PCI bus found in most PCs.

In addition, the mew Samurai SL chip set will support Synchronous Link Dynamic Random Access Memory (SLDRAM) to speed memory operations. Intel will support SLDRAM, together with Double Data Rate and Enhanced DRAM in its chip sets next year.

SLDRAM can address very large memory arrays, allowing Micron to use the technology in workstations and servers as well as desktops. Micron Technologies will make the SLDRAM parts.

In these systems, says Jeff Moeser, vice president for desktop products at Micron, Micron Electronics may also implement the Socket X graphics-chip interface that is being developed by the two companies, (Micron Technologies and Micron Electronics), and Rendition, a graphics chip supplier recently purchased by Micron Technologies.

Moeser says that "this is the potential launch point for Socket X". Explaining that Socket X increases graphics performance by incorporating graphics memory on the accelerator chip, Moeser added that at the same time it gives system builders flexibility in choosing a graphics chip supplier because all of them would use the same style socket.

This runs counter to Intel's graphics-chip plans, which call for adding graphics capabilities to the core logic, and they point out that Intel will implement this architecture in its Whitney chip set next year.

Moeser says that the different architectures target different applications and although the Whitney will find its way into low-cost systems, Socket X should be in mainstream systems from Micron and other system builders next year. "We're not fighting Intel as we think Socket X is a better way to do it" explained Moeser.

So far, no other system OEM or graphics chip supplier has committed to Socket X. Moeser expects to be able to name such companies in the near future.

Intel's Faster Pentium II, Celeron CPUs roll outIn time for the US back-to-school season, Intel has released the 450MHz Pentium II and the 300MHz and 333MHz "Mendocino" versions of the Celeron processor.

The new products have appeared earlier than Intel first predicted, and the accelerated introduction has been driven by Intel's changeover from a 0.35-micron to a 0.25 micron process, according to an Intel representative. That changeover has ramped more quickly than Intel expected, allowing faster product introductions.

With the introduction of the 300MHz Mendocino processor, Intel will be offering versions of the Celeron 300 processor with and without L2 cache. The newer chip will carry a "Celeron-300A" designation to differentiate the products.

Intel is scheduling a 366MHz Celeron processor for the first half of next year, according to Intel. The company is also planning a notebook version of the Celeron processor for the first half of next year. Following the 450MHz Pentium II, Intel will release a 450MHz version of its Pentium II Xeon workstation/server processor later this year.

Graphics performance

Early next year, Intel will replace the P6-generation Pentium II and Pentium II Xeon processors, which today use the Deschutes design, with the Katmai and Tanner processors, respectively.

These new processors add Katmai New Instructions to the chips' existing MMX instruction set to improve 3D graphics performance. The processors initially will run at 450MHz or 500MHz, according to Intel officials.

Intel has announced that it will replace these processors, in turn, with Coppermine for desktops and mobiles and Cascade for workstations and servers. These chips will take advantage of a 0.18-micron production process, which will increase speeds, reduce production costs, and cut power consumption.

Contacts

Compaq

Tel (02) 9911 1999

Edge Technology

Tel (02) 9353 9200

Hewlett-Packard

Tel 13 1347

IBM

Tel (02) 9407 9062


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