HP gets retro with vision of future PCs

For its vision of what future desktop PCs may look like, Hewlett-Packard Co. is turning back the clock.

The company showed off its Italian-designed Concept PC 2001, which was jointly developed by HP and Intel Corp., at the Comdex exhibition this week. The Pentium 4-based system has a retro, 60s look and is separated into two components -- an end-user interface and a computing component -- that are connected via a USB 2.0 link.

With its textured blue face and metal accents, the user interface component looks like something from the set of a 60s science-fiction movie. It incorporates an 18-inch LCD TFT (Liquid Crystal Display Thin Film Transistor) monitor, CD-RW drive, a video camera, speakers, integrated Bluetooth support, an Adaptec Inc. USB 2.0 hub with three ports, and a wireless keyboard and mouse. It was designed to use a minimum of desktop space and can be mounted on a wall or a moveable arm, said Eric Chaniot, an HP spokesman.

The Concept PC 2001's computing component -- which includes the processor, memory and storage -- can be located up to 5 meters away from the user interface. That will be extended to up to 100 meters in the future, Chaniot said. In offices or homes with multiple computers, users will be able to stack several of the small blue boxes together in a central location, reducing the amount of space required to store the PCs.

The Concept PC 2001 was designed so that the computing component is as cheap as possible, Chaniot said. This was done so that users could upgrade the computing component every two to three years while keeping the more costly user interface, he said.

HP also showed off a concept notebook PC at Comdex. Unlike the Concept PC 2001, which is radically different in design to current desktop PCs, the Notebook Concept PC 2001 was designed to be an incremental improvement over existing laptops.

It includes an integrated fingerprint reader for security and a swivel-screen design that allows the notebook to be converted into a clipboard-like Tablet PC. In this configuration, the notebook can also be used as a monitor on a desktop docking station with a wireless keyboard and mouse. The docking station offers the ability to adjust the tilt and height of the notebook screen and includes a retractable power cord, designed to eliminate the spaghetti-like tangle of cables behind most office desks.

Neither the Concept PC 2001 nor the Notebook Concept PC 2001 will be available commercially any time soon. HP plans to show the designs to users over the next several months to get feedback. If user reaction is positive, HP will consider putting the designs, or certain aspects of them, into production, Chaniot said.

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Sumner Lemon

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