PC makers winnow down the size of desktop units

PC makers winnow down the size of desktop units

Dell's OptiPlex GX1

Although components are full size, they're crammed into snug cases with little room for adjustment

By Chris Driscoll
GCN Staff

The word desktop used to mean the flat surface on a desk for pencils, pads and coffee cups. The newest crop of thin PCs promises to reclaim some of the desktop real estate given up to big CPUs and even bigger monitors.

PC support staffs, however, might voice objections to the constricted access of thin PCs' drive bays and other components.

General Services Administration spokesman Bill Bearden said he suspects thin PCs will find their first federal users aboard Navy ships and in other cramped locations.

Unlike thin clients, which have their own microprocessors but depend on servers for their applications and storage, the space-saving thin PCs have the same hardware as full-size desktop units.

Dell Computer Corp.'s Rick Medeiros said buyers from the IRS and the Environmental Protection Agency have been looking at the OptiPlex GX1 in the OptiFrame S chassis, which he said is 44 percent smaller than the next-largest OptiPlex L low-profile PC.

Looking elsewhere

Medeiros, Dell's OptiPlex product marketing manager, said the tax and environmental agencies have users who are moving from mainframe to client-server environments. He said they have investigated thin-client as well as thin-PC systems.

One IRS buyer, however, said he likes an even simpler and cheaper solution: tower units that stand on the floor. Archer Wright, project director for the IRS' Examination Computer Project, buys PCs for the IRS' Examination Division auditors.

'Space is always an issue, but with a tower on the floor we get the CPU off the desk,' Wright said.

NASA, the agency that invented the catchphrase 'faster, cheaper, better,' has no current interest in buying the lean machines. Spokesman Brian Dunbar said the requests for proposals for the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA 'didn't look at thin PCs. Under ODIN, the standard architecture met our needs.'

Just how thin is thin? Dell's GX1 CPU is 3.6 inches high, 12.5 inches wide and 14.9 inches deep, with toolless access and a lever-actuated card cage.

The machine comes with an Intel Pentium II or Pentium III microprocessor, up to 768M of synchronous dynamic RAM, integrated networking and a hard drive as large as 20G.

A 400-MHz Pentium II configuration with 64M of SDRAM, a 6G drive, a 24X slimline CD-ROM drive, and Microsoft Windows 9x or Windows NT 4.0 sells for $1,117 without monitor and $1,299 with a 17-inch monitor. The same configuration with a 15-inch, flat-panel monitor is $2,196. General Services Administration schedule prices will be available this month.

Gateway Inc.'s thin PC, the Profile, saves space by building the processor right into a 15-inch flat-panel monitor. The 17.4-pound unit is 3 inches thick. It features a 400-MHz Advanced Micro Devices Inc. K6-2 processor, 64M of SDRAM expandable to 256M, a 6G hard drive, an integrated 3.5-inch floppy drive, and a CD-ROM or DVD drive.

Profile starts at $1,999 with Windows 98 or NT plus Intel LANDesk Client Manager. It supports the Desktop Management Interface 2.0 specification.

Acute Technologies Inc., of Milpitas, Calif., makes the ThinCast line of so-called Lite PCs. Although they come with Windows CE or Linux preinstalled, they can run other operating systems when acting as thin clients, according to the company's Web site, at www.thincast.com.

Contact Dell at 512-723-7689, Gateway at 605-232-1223 and Acute at 714-957-8880.

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