HP to launch compact Pentium 4 PC

Hewlett-Packard is planning the smallest form-factor yet for Intel's flagship chip

Hewlett-Packard is to launch a Pentium 4 version of its stripped-down e-pc computer at the beginning of next year. The e-pc will be the smallest form factor desktop running on Intel's flagship processor, which creates packaging challenges because it generates more heat than previous models.

HP revved the e-pc line at the beginning of October with a new model that allows for more expandability and uses an improved chipset. HP demonstrated the hardiness of the previous model, which is about a year old, by linking 225 e-pcs to create a supercomputer in a Grenoble, France laboratory.

Packing the Pentium 4 into a small form factor is difficult because its intense heat output generally requires larger, noisier heat dissipation machinery. The e-pc is about the size of a hardback dictionary, with memory expansion slots, CD-ROM drive, hard disk drive and processor packed in like sardines in a tin, and HP technicians had to come up with a path for the air to be able to easily flow through all these elements. The result is an unusually quiet desktop computer, HP says.

So far small-form-factor PCs -- sometimes called legacy-reduced PCs -- like e-pc and Compaq's iPaq have failed to take much of the PC market, but that could change. Industry analysts like Gartner say that because they are less complex and don't crash as often, compact PCs can reduce overall ownership costs by 6 to 8 percent compared with traditional PCs.

The e-pc is not a niche product, HP insists. "We think this will be the office PC," said an HP spokesman. HP believes the compact-pc approach could take over 85 percent of the market, which is dominated by workers like call-centre workers or bank tellers who don't need the a full PC's expandability.

The Pentium 4 e-pc will be in prototype form in November and will begin production in December, HP said.

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