New-look PCs coming this autumn

Say good-bye to the ho-hum boxy beige PC this autumn... At least if Intel Corp. and a handful of PC makers have their way.

Later this month, Intel will preview new designs from top-tier PC makers that will ship starting this fall. The new-look PCs have been developed under an initiative called Easy PC, which includes Intel , Microsoft and PC makers Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

The goal: Make PCs easier to use through software advances and simplified hardware design.

The initiative, launched in September 1998, has already resulted in several changes on the PC landscape. New hardware design guidelines are eliminating many older technologies. And Microsoft pledges to make computers easier to use with the next-generations of its operating systems. Finally, the initiative will produce new methods of testing ease of use for PCs.

The net result of the effort will be the launch this fall of smaller, sleek PCs, built around guidelines for easier-to-use hardware released by Intel earlier this year. The machines will be easy to setup, configure and get online with, according to proponents. A typical Easy PC will offer a 500MHz to 600MHz Celeron or Pentium III processor with Intel's 810 chip set. The low-cost chip set offers a built-in graphics engine. A version of the 810 chipset, the 810E, is due later in the year for use with Pentium III.

The Easy PC will also shed parallel ports, serial ports and ISA support. No more floppy drive, either. It will come in a variety of designs, including an all-in-one package similar to Apple Computer Inc.'s iMac, said Steve Whalley, Intel's PC initiatives manager, in Chandler, Arizona. Several of the PC makers involved in the Easy PC initiative will offer an early look at their products at Intel's Developers Forum in Palm Springs at the end this month. Easy PC will target mostly first-time buyers, especially those who have been scared away on the perception that computers are too difficult to operate.

"Until the PC becomes an unobtrusive part of the furniture in the room, its use is not going to take off," Whalley said. "It's hard to be intimidated by a fish or a rabbit or a different shape. The new computers will likely be more expensive than a similarly configured "beige box" PC. Over time, however, ease-of-use features will be incorporated into all PCs, reducing prices. "There are people who are never going to buy a PC. However, there's an audience out there that would benefit from easier to use PCs. But someone has to produce one," said Schelley Olhava, a research analyst for International Data Corp. in Mountain View, California. Olhava credited Apple Computer Inc.'s iMac as the standard for ease of use in a personal computer. "There is a segment that's attracted to the iMac, because it's easy to use," she said. "You're paying a premium to buy an iMac [about $1,199] but the ease of use is attractive."

One of the first PCs to go the Easy PC route is sold by Mattel Inc. The company yesterday announced two new PCs for children, the Barbie PC and Hot Wheels PC.

Part 2


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