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Major PC vendors escape Comdex spotlight

November 11, 1998
Web posted at: 11:50 AM EST

by Terho Uimonen


(IDG) -- Gone are the days when virtually all major computer hardware vendors used the annual fall Comdex exhibition, the largest computer trade show in North America, to proudly display their latest and greatest offerings.

Consequently, corporate IS managers going to Comdex next week in hopes of seeing what the future will bring in system hardware will not necessarily find the show itself very rewarding. However, those armed with a pair of comfortable shoes and are willing to go the extra mile may still find the trip to Las Vegas worthwhile.

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In fact, many major system vendors will be nowhere to be found on the undoubtedly still-frenzied main show floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Some of the industry's biggest names, such as Compaq, Dell, IBM, and Sun Microsystems, will be noticed for their absence rather than extravagant stands.

Processor giant Intel this year has also opted to maintain a lower, booth-less profile at the show, as has its main competitor, Advanced Micro Devices.

But in many cases, their presence will be felt anyway. IBM, for example, is likely to attract a steady stream of visitors to its own private hotel-suite version of Comdex. For IS managers eager to get a sneak peek at the computer giant's forthcoming eight-way Pentium II Xeon Netfinity server, the nearby Marriott hotel is the place to go.

Compaq President and CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer, meanwhile, will be one of the keynote speakers on the show's opening day, laying out his vision of where computing is going.

The largest corporate system vendor participating with a more traditional booth is Hewlett-Packard. During the show, HP is expected to announce details about future plans for its Brio and Vectra series of corporate desktop PCs. The company's new Jornada 820 Windows CE device is also targeted squarely at corporate buyers looking for thinner portable client systems than today's full-fledged notebook PCs.

Portable computing devices, in fact, will come in all shapes and forms, ranging from diminutive devices such as 3Com's popular Palm series and competing Windows CE handhelds to more traditional notebook PCs in form factors ranging from so-called mininotebooks to Pentium II-powered desktop-replacement systems with 14-inch and even larger screens.

For IS managers interested in checking out the state of the desktop thin client, the best place to go could, surprisingly enough, be Microsoft's booth. The software giant's partner pavilion is where thin-client stalwarts such as Boundless Technologies, Network Computing Devices, and Wyse Technology will show their wares.

For fatter clients, biometric security features are expected to be among the hot topics addressed by many vendors, and particularly when it comes to portable PCs, one analyst said.

The goal is to enable users "to lock down a portable so if someone steals it they can't get any data out of it," said Roger Kay, an analyst at market researcher International Data Corp. (IDC).

Even without its own booth, Intel, of course, will still be inside most PCs on show. In many cases the systems will be powered by yet-to-be-released processor iterations.

In addition, Intel CEO Craig Barrett will also try to break the mold in trade-show keynote addresses. Instead of a traditional speech he'll take part in a stage version -- titled "Technically Incorrect" -- of U.S. television broadcaster ABC's "Politically Incorrect" talk show.

The major U.S.-based vendors will also be joined by lesser-known hardware vendors in the hide-and-seek game of hotel-suite showcases. Major Taiwan-based motherboard vendors, for example, will quietly show samples of their first board designs for the forthcoming iterations of Intel Celeron processors that will use a new 370-pin socket rather than the existing Slot 1 interface architecture.

Meanwhile, in a conference room at the convention center, AMD will give its first public demonstrations of systems featuring its next-generation K7 processor, which the company has promised to start shipping as early as the second quarter next year.

In contrast to the virtual absence of the top-tier corporate PC vendors, consumer PC offerings from lesser known vendors will be vying for the spotlight.

Apple's widely praised iMac all-in-one design will likely spur several PC imitations, predicted IDC's Kay, who also noted that the very cheapest PCs on show are likely to be found in the $400 range.

"Who knows what it is, but if it's there, check it out," Kay said.

Terho Uimonen is a correspondent in the Taipei, Taiwan, bureau of the IDG News Service. Rebecca Sykes, Boston correspondent for the IDG News Service, contributed to this story.

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