Intel Gets Big on Mini PCs

The chip giant is eyeing new markets in small desktops as it shows off its prototype small Pentium M-based machines.

Intel is taking a smaller view of the desktop.

The chip giant, in an unusual move, is touting miniature desktops that use its Pentium M notebook processors at Computex Taipei, an enormous computer trade show taking place in Taiwan this week.

There, Intel is showing off two prototype small Pentium M-based desktops.

During a keynote speech, Anand Chandrasekher, director of Intels sales and marketing group, is expected to frame the machines as another step toward the creation of a wider PC market segment for tinier, more stylish desktops, all based on the Pentium M, a company spokesperson said.

Many businesses have already moved from desktop mini towers to notebooks. But lately, Intel has been eyeing what it says is an emerging market for Pentium M desktops as smaller, quieter alternatives to standard desktops and, in some respects, notebooks, as well.

Although the small desktop category has been around for years—its particularly popular among PC enthusiasts, who build their own machines—Intel now sees a wider audience for the space, based on the Pentium M, which by all accounts blends performance with a relatively small thirst for electricity.

The prototypes follow Intel showing off a concept small desktop at its Intel Developer Forum in March.

"We expect to see OEMs [PC makers] and ODMs [system designers and manufacturers] bring systems such as these to market later this year," said Barbara Grimes, an Intel spokeswoman. "We see this as a growing space and [also see] that there is interest from customers."

One opportunity for small desktops, a space where Intel will run up against Apple Computer Inc.s Mac Mini, is in the home, where small desktops might become second or third PCs.

However, Intel executives have also hinted that business-oriented Pentium M-based desktops could share the same software images as companies Centrino notebooks and thus would appeal to IT managers by simplifying tier management.

When it comes to taking on Apple, which has made small desktops its turf with the Mac Mini, "The key here is we do see demand for a small form factor, quiet desktop PC, so were working with our customers to deliver that," Grimes said.

Because the Pentium M was designed for a notebook and uses less power than a Pentium 4, it needs less elaborate cooling in a desktop.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead more here about Intel stepping up its research on carbon nanotubes.

Thus manufacturers can build the chip into a smaller chassis and use fewer fans to evacuate heat, meaning a Pentium M desktop is not only likely to be smaller, but also quieter than a standard Pentium 4-based mini tower desktop.

Its also likely to cost less than a similarly configured notebook, which incorporates an LCD screen.

Quiet can be an appealing feature for markets such as education, one purveyor of tiny systems said.

AOpen Inc. will pitch businesses and education systems with its latest small Pentium-M desktop, the XC Cube model EY 915.

The machine, based on Intels latest Pentium M processors and mobile 915 chip set, will be highlighted by the company at Computex.

AOpen will also launch a Mac Mini look-alike, based on the same Intel chips, at the show. The company aims to ship the look-alike, a consumer-oriented machine, in September, said Anthony Ma, a senior product manager at AOpen America in San Jose, Calif.

"What were trying to do is provide a performance computing experience the end-user would be looking for and at the same time do it in a smaller space," Ma said.

The XC Cube EY 915 will hit the market first—in about the middle of the third quarter—and start around $900 to $1,000, not including a display, Ma said.

AOpen will pitch the machine to schools and business customers and also offer a bare-bones version of it for build-your-own enthusiasts.

Intel will also show off a prototype small desktop from First International Computer Inc., of Taiwan, Grimes said.

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