Large organisations sweet on small PCs

Large organisations sweet on small PCs

Small Form Factor (SFF) PCs are being touted as a growing market by PC hardware vendors. But while confident of their appeal, several industry representatives claim a combination of price premiums and poor end-user awareness has restricted sales to niche markets.

Gartner PC analyst, Andy Woo, said SFF had not yet generated the mainstream interest vendors had expected.

He attributed this largely to high price tags.

"Australia is a very price driven market," he said.

"If the price is right, SFF will take off, but they are taking a back seat at the moment."

In addition, the industry had not done a sufficient job of educating customers, Woo said.

Abit Computer market director, Scott Thirlwell, blamed a lack of standards for lower than expected growth.

"Almost every SFF on the market has a different size with different specifications," he said. "There is no cooling standard and even testing is rather unproven. Without these standards it can be difficult to ensure a high level of overall quality, stability and reliability."

Abit currently manufactures one SFF model, the DigiDice. Although sales have reached respectable numbers, according to Thirlwell, the company has no plans to introduce further designs.

In contrast, market leader Shuttle recently appointed a third Australian distributor, Multimedia Technology, to cater to demand for its SFF barebones product, the XPC.

The vendor also distributes its wares through Sato Technology and Altech Computers.

Upon its appointment as a Shuttle distributor last month, Altech general manager of sales and marketing, Safa Joumaa, said the first batch of XPCs sold out before the units even arrived.

IBM A/NZ brand manager PC Division, Erin Mikan, said it was also experiencing strong growth across its SFF product lines.

The vendor launched its first SFF, the S42, nearly two years ago. Since then, the range has come to account for about 65 per cent of its desktop PC sales, she said.

The vendor's recently released ultra SFF product, the S50, was expected to add to this growth.

Mikan suggested IBM had experienced such success because of its work primarily with business and commercial markets.

"We've had some interest from SMBs, but it has been large corporates mostly," she said.

"For example, the financial sector, call centre operations and companies who put out sales kiosks.

"We've also had some take-up in the smaller office space, such as travel centres."

Gartner's Woo agreed the business market was the ideal sector for SFF take-up but, on the flip side, he said SFF were not suitable for gaming or power users.

Abit's Thirlwell also saw limitations in the gaming sector.

"Many of the SFF do not allow for a full-size VGA card, sound card or have poor thermals which result in instability," he said.

"Therefore only a few SFF are actually accepted by the gaming segment."

BCN Technology managing director, Ken Lowe, said the release of more power hungry games had seen SFF sales diminish among the gaming community.

One growth area, however, was the embedded technology consumer market.

Microsoft's Media Centre operating system was triggering developers to launch more applications for the home market which suited the format of a SFF, Lowe said.

Applications such as set-top box functionality and home automation did not demand high-end performance from the PC, leaving the door open for less traditional systems.

"SFF provide a key space-saving feature as well as that non-PC look which is important to this market," he said.

Plus Corporation managing director, Nigel Fernandes, was confident resellers would experience a massive increase in SFF sales when Media Centre launched this week.

"Nobody wants a big beige tower in their lounge room powering their Windows Media Centre PC," he said.

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