Compaq hopes to follow the iMac

Summary:PC maker reveals plans to debut a new, USB-friendly PC that looks like a toaster at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Compaq Computer Corp. plans to deliver a new-look, "legacy free" PC designed to take on the likes of Apple Computer Inc.'s iMac and Dell Computer Corp.'s WebPC.

The Houston-based PC maker will demonstrate the new PC at next month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, unveiling a retro design that sources say will remind onlookers of an old-fashioned toaster. It should ship within a few weeks of its Las Vegas debut, sources said.

Besides the toaster-like design, the new PC also promises to follow the best-selling iMac's lead by eliminating old-style components in favor of a universal serial bus (USB) interface for connecting peripheral devices.

The legacy-free idea is simple. While PCs have added numerous new technologies over the past few years, hardly any older (little used) technologies have been eliminated from their design. (For example, most PCs have the 16-bit ISA bus, used for connecting 16-bit cards, even though the ISA bus has been replaced by the 32-bit PCI bus and is no longer necessary.) By concentrating on new technologies such as the USB interface, PC makers hope to deliver to consumers cheaper, easier-to-use PCs.

Following Apple's lead
Analysts, such as International Data Corp.'s Roger Kay, say that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) has shown the legacy-free PC approach to be a good one.

At the same time, Compaq (NYSE: CPQ) "has been salivating to address more than half of the market with this form factor or one similar to it," said Kay, who is manager for IDC's Desktop PC Practice.

The product won't look like Compaq's other legacy-free PC, the iPaq, which is aimed at corporations. The $499 to $799 iPaq, which debuted in early November, was the company's first step into the legacy-free arena. Its focus was somewhat different, however, aiming to provide corporate customers with a stable, easy-to-service platform.

The forthcoming consumer PC, instead, will be geared toward providing buyers with a host of technologies including, at least, an optional CD-ReWritable drive, sources said.

The PC will likely support other popular consumer technologies, such as DVD and home networking, as well.

While PC makers work to develop their legacy-free lines, Apple's iMac, essentially the first "legacy free" computer to focus on USB, has been selling well at retail.

Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) also recently joined in the game with its WebPC. The PC, priced starting at $999, offers five USB ports as well as services such as Internet access and Dell E-support, which offers users, among other things, online access to technicians.

Topics: PCs, Apple, CES, Dell, Hardware

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