HP: Improved multimedia is highlight of new blade PCs

HP unveils third generation of blade PCs

HP on Monday announced its third generation of blade PCs, which it says solves the "Achilles' heel" of most thin-client infrastructures: performance.

Like blade servers, blade PCs are physically stored on racks, typically in datacentres or server rooms. Users equipped with thin-client devices, keyboards and monitors can access their blade PCs through a network or over the Internet. The users (and the blade facilities) can be located anywhere in the world.

Centralising the PCs, rather than having them located at users' desks, can make them easier and cheaper to manage. One downside, however, is that the distance between the actual hardware and the user's monitor creates the potential for network-based delays as the PC tries to send down data and 'paint the screen.'

For instance, the conventional Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) used by most existing blade PCs (including HP's own) to transmit data sees its bandwidth requirements jump from 10Kbps to 15Kbps during normal usage to 100Kbit to 150Kbps when users are watching a YouTube video, according to a product marketing manager in HP's personal systems group, Tate Davis, who spoke during last month's Microsoft's WinHEC show.

By contrast, HP's new Remote Graphics Software (RGS) uses better compression to let users watch streamed video while using only about 65 kilobits per second.

"With RGS, we'll deliver a true desktop experience," Davis said, adding that users should be able to run even demanding graphics applications such as Adobe Systems' PhotoShop with few hiccups.

That change, he said, could help remove one of the barriers to corporate adoption of blade PCs: employees demanding desktop-like performance.

HP released its first blade PCs in late 2003. In late 2005, HP switched from Transmeta processors to its current AMD processors.

The company's new bc2000 and bc2500 blade PCs, successors to it bc1500, are also energy-efficient, using low-voltage AMD Athlon 64 2100+ and X2 3000+ processors, and consuming only 25 watts altogether per blade. The machines will run Windows Vista and cost about $US1000 per bc2000, and $1500 per bc2500.

Users will also need to buy a thin-client device, which sits on the user's desktop in lieu of the actual blade. The thin clients cost about $300 each for the Windows CE version, and about $500 for Windows XP embedded, Davis said.

IBM is also expected to release new workstation-class blade PCs later this year that will rely on hardware-based compression for improved performance. A third vendor, ClearCube, has not announced any release plans.

At this year's WinHEC event, HP also showed off a new Vista version of its rp5700 long-life-cycle desktop PC that it says is both durable and environmentally conscious. The rp5700 is built from 95 per cent recyclable components and a tool-less chassis for quick and easy disassembly. It is the first product to win "gold" status from the federal government's Electronic Products Environment Assessment Tool (EPEAT).

Federal agencies are mandated to spend 95 per cent of their money on products that win gold, silver or bronze ratings from EPEAT.

The rp5700, which comes with a three-year warranty for parts, labor and on-site service, is also 'hardened', such that a 280-pound man can stand on its steel case with no problems, according to Leslie Fagg, product marketing manager for retail POS systems at HP.

The approximately $1000 PC as is aimed at retailers, health care companies, and other organizations who tend to use PCs longer than the three- to five-year lifecycle of machines in most offices.

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Eric Lai

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