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Business Desktops: Armies of corporate PCs

A lot has happened in the business PC arena over the last year. Prices have dropped ever lower, the entry level specification has increased, home machines have zoomed ahead in the level of standard equipment (and dropped dramatically in price), direct sales have increased and standard applications now demand more powerful machines. Processor prices have dramatically dropped and there's a wider range available from Intel and the alternative manufacturers. The NC hasn't taken off to any great extent, and anyway, Microsoft and Intel say you'd be better off selling Net PCs if you really have to sell something other than straight, stand-alone machines. ARN's Durelle Fry talked to some of the manufacturers to see what the latest offerings are, and how you could be selling themMost manufacturers agree that cost of ownership is a major factor in the marketing of business desktops.

Many buyers are fine-tuning their purchases so they aren't buying any more than they need in terms of power and performance, and manufacturers are focusing on remote management, security of both assets and data, task automation, ease of maintenance, ergonomic considerations, "buildability", and feature-rich machines.

It appears that users of more intensive applications update their computers every one to two years, and standard users update on average every three years. According to manufacturers, businesses are more likely to "grandfather" machines rather than replace every machine at the same time (buy new machines for power users and shuffle the older machines down through the organisation).

Hewlett-Packard

Commitment to resellers. Australian Reseller News spoke to Rob Hartnett, Hewlett-Packard's market development manager for corporate PCs and mobile computing, about the benefits to a reseller from the sale of HP business desktops.

HP's Vectra line of business desktops has been segmented into three categories: the VE, or small business product; the VL, for medium to large enterprises; and the X line, which is a range of business PCs and workstations most suited to the GIS, CAD and graphics markets.

The estimated street price of the VE series starts at $1734, the VL series starts at $2089, the XA series starts at $2604, the XU series starts at $6553, and the XW series starts at $13,282.

Hartnett believes that the X line of products is in a growing market, and to that end, HP is focusing on this market at the moment. New product will be introduced here. For the reseller, Hartnett believes that there is an opportunity here because of the added profitability associated with higher end product.

No frills business desktops. Hartnett believes that in spite of the big push by Intel and HP and others towards MMX, 200MHz and Pentium II, there are many enquiries in the market about 166MHz Pentium machines. According to Hartnett, this is because "customers are very keen on price point" so they are not seeking Pentium II machines if they don't really need them. For this reason, HP is heavily marketing its NetPCs, or "network-ready PCs" to reduce the total cost of ownership of a PC. Savings with NetPCs are attributed to the fact that "they are remotely manageable, protected from unauthorised changes to configuration, and automate the most time consuming and costly tasks such as support, administration, BIOS upgrades, and software upgrades".

For information on HP's lines, resellers can contact the distributors:

Tech Pacific

Tel (02) 9381 6000

Fax (02) 9697 8670

Prion

Freefax: Fax 1800 818 571

Digiland

Tel (02) 9878 4900

Fax (02) 9878 4911

Compucon

Budget conscious. Susan Harwood, marketing coordinator of Compucon Computers, has also noticed a trend towards budget desktops, "even in the large corporate market". At the same time, Harwood adds, "business is demanding computer systems which are easier to manage and maintain".

Compucon's recently introduced range of corporate workstations has been produced to meet this market need. Management features are built in, and prices start at under $2000 RRP. Compucon claims that the range offers "improved system performance, reduced costs of ownership, easier network management, and minimised system downtime".

The machines are bundled with Intel's LANDesk Client Manager, which offers real-time status monitoring and problem alert. Easier management is gained by remote reboot and file transfer, remote view of PC status, and hardware and software inventory reporting. Problem alert signals can be remotely accessed and tracked across the network, to predict critical system failures.

Other features include Intel's 430TX chipset; hardware virus write protection for the system BIOS; thermal alarms and regulators; auto "fan-off" control activated during sleep mode; and after-hours remote "ring-on" which activates system start-up at the ring of a modem.

The entry-level workstation features a Cyrix 6x86 P166+ processor, 16Mb of RAM, a 1.7Gb hard drive, 14in monitor, 24 x CD-ROM drive, Windows 95 and a two-year return-to-base warranty. The RRP for this machine is $1995.

For the reseller, Harwood pointed out that Compucon builds to order "so resellers can specify exactly what they want, and we back that up with profess-ional, local support services in each Australian capital city".

Compucon Computers

Tel (02) 9417 7166

Fax (02) 9417 7329

Digital

Positioned to win. Digital's answer to the "under $2000" machine is the Venturis FX-2 desktop PC. Mark Whittard, marketing manager of Digital's Products Division in Australia, says that with this machine "Digital is now positioned to win any direct comparison in the general business PC category". He adds that "we've been able to combine a full array of PC technologies at even lower prices than the old Venturis FX".

Features include SDRAM memory; Smart hard drive support; ultra DMA/33 hard drive interface; USB; and MMX.

Digital addresses the "lower cost of ownership" issue by bundling Client WORKS, the company's systems management and control software, with the Venturis FX-2.

Available now in Australia, the Pentium Venturis 5133 with 16Mb memory and 1.2Gb hard drive has an RRP of $1950. The Pentium Venturis 5200 MMX with 16Mb memory and 1.2Gb hard drive has an RRP of $2860.

Digital has also announced new desktop PCs and personal workstations with Pentium II processors.

The Celebris FX-2 PC client offers a Pentium processor and MMX; system management and security features; enhanced ClientWORKS with "the latest security features"; built-in networking, stereo sound and 3D graphics; SDRAM, Ultra-DMA and Smart drive technology.

The Celebris GL-2 PC client is Digital's highest performance enterprise desktop client for Windows NT. Features include single and dual-processor Pentium II-based systems with MMX; integrated stereo-audio, 10/100 auto-sensing network-interface card; Matrox Millennium graphics; ultra-wide SCSI disk support; and SDRAM/500 memory up to 256Mb. The RRP for the Celebris FX-2 and GL-2 starts at $2450.

In addition, Digital has new Windows NT-based machines for high-end users such as engineers and designers. The RRP of these Personal Workstations starts at $5400.

Digital has suggested the best contact for resellers as the PC Action Line on Tel 13 2393 for details of nearest distributors.

AST

"A value price point". James Robbins, national marketing manager of CHA, a national AST distributor, waxes lyrical on the benefits that AST offers resellers. "I'd have to say that its range of PCs offers state of the art technologies at a value price point."

He quotes as an example the new AST Bravo MS series "which has many new industry standards and technologies that at the moment are only available from AST".

He adds: "The price of these machines makes them a very attractive choice for end users and resellers alike."

Some of the new industry standards and technologies referred to in the Bravo MS Pro Desktop are noise reduction, flat and virtually screwless chassis, and a motherboard which comes out with one lever. The machine is marketed as a high-end business workstation and comes with either a 180 or 200MHz Pentium Pro processor, upgradable to a future OverDrive processor. It has 32Mb RAM standard, a Matrox Millennium 64-bit PCI graphics accelerator, 3D and 2D video and graphics hardware acceleration, and 2Mb WRAM expandable to 8Mb. Integrated on the motherboard is a Crystal 4232 which is 16-bit Sound Blaster compatible. Software included with the machine is the AST Command Centre (Asset Pack, SystemGuard, VirusShield, RemoteQuery, AudioWorks), and AST IntraAccess (Web Server, Internet Browser, and Hot Metal Lite).

There is a three-year total warranty - the first year is on-site - with an optional three-year on-site upgrade. The RRP (ex tax) without a monitor starts at $3400.

CHA is a national distributor for both AST (desktops and servers) and Digital (PCs and Alpha based workstations). Interested resellers can contact:

CHA National Call Centre

FREECALL Tel 1800 629 041

FREEFAX Fax 1800 676 076

E-MAIL: sales@cha.net

NEC

Performance plus value. NEC has just announced additions to its range of PowerMate corporate workstations. The PowerMate Ve series desktop machines feature Intel's 440VX chipset and have been designed to accommodate growing performance needs.

There is a range of "build configurations" available. The standard builds all feature 166MMX, 200MMX or 233MMX processors; 16Mb RAM; 2.1Gb hard drives; and a standard operating system with diagnostics and antivirus software hotloaded.

"Special builds" are available through NEC which feature any Pentium CPU or MMX CPU; any memory configuration; and "any valid NEC PC Pricebook options".

All PowerMate Ve series machines are DMI-compliant, and are Plug 'n' Play. They also include system diagnostics, energy saving and MPEG video playback capabilities.

There is a three-year, return-to-base warranty available free to customers. The RRP for the NEC PowerMate Ve desktop workstations starts at $2555, and all models are available in Australia in August.

Further information can be obtained from NEC's web site:

NEC

Tel 13 1632

www.nec.au

Peripherals Plus

Less expensive and feature rich. Peripherals Plus supplies desktop PCs through the reseller channel and direct, with "sales split equally between the two markets". There are offices in Sydney and Newcastle.

Nigel Fernandes of Peripherals Plus told ARN that "as PC technology has emerged over the years, we now find that prices on systems are now not only less expensive but also much more feature rich than they were a year ago."

The Peripherals Plus Pentium 233MHz System incorporates an Intel TX chipset "which fully exploits the potential of the Intel MMX processor", Ultra DMA IDE hard drive technology, and SDRAM. Additional features are a Diamond Stealth S3 Virge 4Mb PCI VGA Card; Mitsubishi 24x CD-ROM drive; Creative 16-bit sound card; 480 watt surround sound speaker system; internal 33Kbit voice modem; Mitsubishi 15in Diamond View monitor; Honeywell keyboard; Microsoft mouse; and MS Windows 95 Release 2. This system has an RRP of $3295.

The Pentium II 266MHz system is powered by Windows NT and offers an Intel FX Chipset motherboard, 64Mb EDO memory expandable to 768Mb; IBM 6.4Gb Ultra IDE hard drive; Matrox Millennium II 4Mb WRAM PCI VGA card; Mitsubishi 24x CD-ROM drive; Creative AWE64 sound card; 480 watt surround sound speaker system; internal 33.6Kbit voice modem; Mitsubishi 17in Diamond View monitor; Honeywell keyboard; and a Microsoft mouse. The Peripherals Plus Pentium II 266MHz system has an RRP of $4995.

Peripherals Plus

Tel (02) 9630 3166

Fax (02) 9630 3167

IBM

Value through manageability and protection. IBM says it has approached the concept of business desktops with a three-pronged system - better management, better asset protection and better managed investments. The company argues that while total cost of ownership (TCO) is a good model, it focuses mainly on cost. IBM aims to allow end users to "refocus resources on business oppor- tunities" and, by attending to system management, asset protection and investment management, the company believes that the "universal business goals" of a company can be achieved.

The IBM Intellistation Z Pro is a Pentium Pro 200MHz machine with uni/dual-SMP, Intel 440FX, 256K L2 Cache, 4.5Gb, 7200 RPM SCSI and either 32, 64, or 128Mb EDO ECC DRAM. Additional features include Matrox Millennium, Intergraph Intense 3D, Pro 1000/T, 10/100Mb Ethernet with Wake On LAN, 16-bit audio and speaker, DMI 1.1 and three/one-year warranty. Included is LANDesk Client Manager software, DMI, setup over LAN and NetFinity. Asset protection is available through IBM AntiVirus, intrusion detection, component sterilisation, and Smart drives. The estimated street price of the IBM Intellistation Z Pro begins at $5797.

IBM

Tel 132 426

Compaq

Setting TCO standards. Compaq says it has identified the issues in lowering the cost of managing the PC as managing assets, deploying new assets, and controlling assets. The company has addressed these issues with manageable PC and Net PC technologies.

Compaq's Deskpro 2000 and 4000 models employ "Net PC technologies" in its Intelligent Manageability software to control and manage computers over the network. The technologies involved include Remote ROM Flash, Remote Security Management, Remote Wakeup and Remote Shutdown.

Further control is available through security management features which include Memory Change Alerts and an Ownership Tag. The Deskpro 4000 also includes a Smart Cover Lock that allows the PC administrator to remotely lock down and unlock the chassis, limiting access to valuable PC components and minimising unauthorised hardware modifications.

Asset management features on both machines allow for tracking memory inventories and include a DMI BIOS. Fault management features include ECC fault protection, ultra ATA integrity monitoring, Smart II hard drives and monitor fault diagnosis.

Deskpro 2000 and 4000 models with Intelligent Manageability are industry standard DMI compliant, DMI-enabled and DMI 2.0-ready.

The Deskpro 2000 has 166MHz or 233MHz Intel Pentium processors with MMX technology; 16Mb or 32Mb of SDRAM upgradable to 384Mb; enhanced 64-bit graphics; 2.1Gb or 3.2Gb Smart EIDE hard drives and a 16x MAX CD-ROM drive with audio. Models range in price (RRP) from $2145 to $3495 (excluding monitor).

The Deskpro 4000 "delivers out-of-the-box enterprise networking capability as well as advanced management and security features". Models are available with a 166MHz to 233MHz Intel Pentium processor with MMX; 16Mb or 32Mb SDRAM, expandable up to 384Mb; S3 virge/GX enhanced 64-bit graphics; 2.4 or 3.2Gb Smart Ultra ATA hard drives; Compaq Netelligent 10/100 TX embedded UTP controller; and 16x MAX CD-ROM models with embedded audio. The RRP of the new Deskpro 4000 models ranges from $2495 to $3745 (excluding monitor).

With the launch of the new Deskpro models, Compaq has announced that it has lowered prices on continuing Deskpro 2000 and 6000 models by "as much as 19 per cent" when purchased with a monitor. The price of an entry-level Deskpro 2000, with a 166 Intel Pentium processor, 1.2Gb hard drive, 16Mb of memory and P50 monitor, is now $2470.

Compaq

Tel 1300 363 669

www.compaq.com.au

Apple Computer

The power in the Macintosh. The latest models of the Power Macintosh include a PCI expansion bus. Added cross-platform compatibility is available through a new DOS Compatibility Card which lets any Power Macintosh model run DOS or Windows at the same time as the Mac OS. Most models also have Ethernet networking and 16-bit sound input and output.

Models range from the 7220/200 which is based on a 200MHz 603e CPU and has 16Mb RAM 1.2GB hard disk and an 8x speed CD-ROM drive, to the 9600/200. This machine has two PowerPC 604e processors running at 200MHz for extra power to read complex image renderings, scientific modelling or video processing.

Apple has also unveiled a new line of personal computers - Power Mac 9600 - the fastest of which is twice as fast as the company's highest-performer a year ago. Apple also claims it is the fastest personal computer in the world.

The fastest of the range - the Power Mac 9600/350 - incorporates a 350MHz PowerPC 604e processor, a built-in Iomega Zip drive and 32Mb of DRAM, expandable to 512Mb, six 12in PCI 2.0 slots, and supports 10Mb/sec SCSI for internal devices. The Power Mac 9600/350 has an RRP $9794.

Apple

Tel (02) 9452 8000

Fax (02) 9452 8160

INFO: www.apple.com.au