Las Vegas Comdex: Beyond the PC Internet PCs, appliances take centre stage

Las Vegas Comdex: Beyond the PC Internet PCs, appliances take centre stage

At the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas, Advanced Micro Devices, (AMD), IBM and a host of other hardware makers took the wraps off an array of novel, low-cost PCs and appliances designed to give users fast and easy access to the Internet.

The new products, which include a colourful, oval-shaped PC design from AMD and a dedicated e-mail appliance from Hong Kong's VTech Holdings, are part of a growing trend by hardware makers to offer low-cost PCs and appliances in a variety of form factors, all of which have the Internet as their central focus.

`We're in the 'PC plus' era, where the PC begins to take on a wealth of different forms,' Tim Bajarin, president and CEO of IT consulting firm Creative Strategies, said at a press briefing.

On Monday last week, AMD unveiled the EasyNow PC platform, a $US499 computer for consumers that runs Windows software and uses AMD's K6-2 and K6-3 processors. The computer will be available in six bright colour schemes, including a purple and green model displayed at Comdex.

The model on show here included a 450MHz K6-2 processor, a telephone port, three universal serial bus (USB) ports for attaching peripherals, and an Ethernet port for setting up home networks and accessing broadband services, Bajarin said.

Like most of the Internet appliances on show here, EasyNow shuns standard desktop features like the floppy disk drive and prides itself on its compact size.

EasyNow will be manufactured by several firms including Biostar MicroTech International of Taiwan, and sold by retailers including the UK's Dixon's Group, which will sell their own branded versions of the device.

Future versions will use AMD's higher-end Athlon processor for more performance-hungry consumers, according to information provided by AMD.

IBM, meanwhile, launched the iStation, a sleek, black computer that resembles a small notebook computer stood on its end, and can be paired with a matching, flat-panel monitor. The computer is powered by National Semiconductor's integrated Geode processor and will be priced at under $US700 including a keyboard but no monitor, Bajarin said.

Texas-based NetPliance announced shipping plans for the EyeOpener, an Internet appliance expected to retail for $US199, plus $US21.95 for a package of Internet access services, Bajarin said. The EyeOpener consists of a keyboard and a flat-panel display with a large base that houses most of the system's electronic components.

RSC of Sweden, meanwhile, was one of several vendors at the show unveiling wireless Web-tablet devices based on a reference design called WebPad that was unveiled here last year by Cyrix, a former National Semiconductor subsidiary. RSC plans to ship its Web-tablet device later this year priced at between $US100 and $US500 depending on the services model that the user chooses, Bajarin said.

The new products tie in with the theme of the show: Beyond the PC. Earlier this week, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard announced plans to ship their own low-cost Internet PCs aimed at business customers - called the iPaq and the e-PC, respectively.

Also, during his keynote speech opening the show here, Microsoft chairman and CEO Bill Gates announced a new class of Internet PCs called the Web Companion, which connect users directly to Microsoft's MSN Internet service. The dedicated appliances are designed to hook up consumers directly to Microsoft's online service.

The MSN-specific appliances will be available from multiple vendors and will be priced in the $US399 to $US499 range, Bajarin said.

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