IBM gets small in a big way

IBM's PC desktop division continues to think small in a big way announcing a desktop system that is 35 per cent smaller than its predecessor with a footprint that takes up less space than some of its laptop machines.

About the size of a cereal box, the new ThinkCentre S50 weighs in at 6kg. It will be aimed at both small and large companies that operate in space-constrained environments, although company officials at a press conference said more specifically that they will target their efforts among those working in the finance and health industries.

"In talking with our customers it is clear that office space is shrinking in nearly all industries, and desktop PCs need to acknowledge that trend," general manager of IBM's Personal Computing Division, Fran O'Sullivan, said. "When your desktop PC occupies a footprint even smaller than a notebook, then you've got more room for the folders, pads, and documents of everyday office life."

Underlining her point, O'Sullivan referred to a recent industry study that pointed out companies in the 61 largest metropolitan areas had set aside an average of 227sq ft for each employee in the 1980s, but now each only got 150-200sq ft. The shrinking office means a tighter fit at work. In another study the International Facility Management Association stated that from 1997 to 2002, offices for managers and technical employees was reduced by an average of 14 per cent.

IBM was not the only vendor announcing space-saving desktop PCs. At the recent annual Computex technology conference in Taipei, the Taiwan-based Saint Song unwrapped what it claims to be the world's smallest PC.

The new system, called the Latte Genie PC, can hold up to a 3.4 GHz Pentium 4 chip, the Intel 865GV chipset, and an 800MHz front side bus. The unit measures just 20.75cm x 16.5cm x 6.75cm.

The unit also includes four USB 2.0 ports, with two on the front and two in the back, a Gigabit Ethernet connection, a 100Mbps Ethernet connection, a modem port, an IrDA infrared port, a four-in-one memory card reader, and two PCMCIA slots. However, unlike IBM's new system, the Latte Genie's power supply is external to the PC.

While the IBM system only measures 27.5cm x 25.5cm x 8.25cm, it contains an internal power supply and accommodates one full-height PCI card, one slime-line optical drive, one 3.5-ininch internal hard drive, and an Intel-based Pro-1000 Ethernet card.

The unit also comes with a "caddy" that surrounds the hard drive, which users can deploy to lock the unit in place without using any tools. Another mechanical improvement over its predecessor is the overall design that has contributed to noise, and improved air flow to reduce heat. USB ports that were also spaced wider apart so additional memory keys could be fitted in, said company spokesman said.

Like other IBM desktops, the new model has some of IBM's ThinkVantage Technologies including Rescue and Recovery with Rapid Restore, which is a one-button backup and recovery solution that restores previously saved data and systems settings. The system will also come with the company's software image management, which helps lower the costs for IT shops by reducing the number of software images that must be managed.

IBM is also including a new feature, the Access IBM button, which can deliver users to a portal for IBM support that includes diagnostic tools, a range of automated solutions, and links to technical updates.

IBM officials expect to ship the first units in July with broader availability expected some time in August.

The entry level price will be just under $US600.

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Ed Scannell

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