Comdex: Get your alien head PC here

Out with the box, in with the curve. PC makers are experimenting with new PC designs that push the envelope

Ever wish your computer could disappear? Hewlett-Packard's chameleon-like concept PC was designed to do just that. Upright, it's easy to camouflage as a picture frame. Laid flat, it's no more obtrusive than a pencil tray.

Based on HP's e-PC line, the new concept PC is shaped like a small suitcase with removable panels on either side. One clear panel lets users affix photographs to the side of the standing computer. A separate panel on the opposite side forms a tray for pens and pencils when the PC is laid on its side. With so much of the buzz at Comdex Fall 2000 focused on portable products -- notably Microsoft's Tablet PC reference design and Gateway's Touch Pad Internet appliances -- PC makers, such as HP, fought back with innovative new PC designs.

"We want the PC to become transparent," said Eric Chanoit, worldwide e-PC marketing manage for HP's Business Desktop Division. "The idea for the concept is that you can personalise it. When you do that, the PC just disappears."

The "picture frame" feature could make PCs more useful by displaying phone lists or instructions. Some customers "loved the idea that they could customise the product", Chanoit said.

However, HP isn't the only PC maker experimenting with new forms.

Dell showed off its new OptiPlex GX150, a smaller PC with a rounded chassis and a new Midnight Grey colour. The GX150 is based on Intel's Pentium III chips.

Due out in the first quarter of 2001, the new form factor uses the minimum amount of space possible, and without adding costs for a unique design, said Neil Hand, director of marketing for Dell's OptiPlex line of PCs. On Monday, Dell will also introduce the silver-coloured Dimension 8100. The Pentium 4-based desktop PC also adopts the rounded industrial design of the OptiPlex GX150.

Hand said that thanks in part to its new design the GX-150 is seeing stronger-than-usual initial orders. One customer recently chose the GX150 to replace 30,000 PCs.

"There's more need for personalisation and for PCs to fit in with home decor," said Greg Nakagawa, director of Dell's Internet Line of Business.

During a recent series of focus groups, Dell tested several new PC concepts. Attendees were shown a variety of PC concepts, including one with a large handle-like protrusion, one called "bumpers" with rounded, rubber corners, another with angled corners and a curved PC. The most radical designs drew the worst reviews -- subtle shapes were sometimes given a warmer reception.

A swept-back design jogged the minds of some science fiction fans, who likened it to the creature in the movie Alien. Dell tossed out the alien head PC.

As a result Dell will practice what Nakagawa calls the half moon effect. "You'll see more pleasing, but not radical design touches," he said.

See full coverage at ZDNet UK's Comdex Special.

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