NEC's new desktops to lower admin costs

NEC Technologies Inc. is expected today to announce its latest PowerMate PCs, ranging from entry-level Pentium systems to top-of-the-line Pentium Pro PCs and designed for lower life-cycle costs.

The new PowerMate models - the first new machines since the company merged its non-Japanese PC operations with Packard Bell - are close relatives of the previous machines. They continue NEC's modus operandi of packing its PCs with bells and whistles and then asking a price that is close to that of competitors' stripped-down models.

The value-adds include software that automatically monitors the status of the hardware and alerts administrators of potential problems. They also include extra security features.

With the intense competition in the commercial and federal markets, "we notice more features being bundled," said Jan Morgan, an analyst with International Data Corp.

If the company plans to concentrate on the federal market, the new products "would help NEC make in-roads," she said.

The new product line starts with the PowerMate Value Entry (Ve) and continues on through the Value (V), Performance (P) and Professional (Pro) Series, with prices ranging from around $1,175 for the PowerMate Ve to $3,300 for the higher-end models.

The Ve and V models are the company's lightly equipped machines that target price-sensitive customers.

The P and Pro models are heavily laden with the latest technology and management tools designed to lower the cost of ownership in a networked environment.

All the PCs should be on the General Services Administration schedule within a month and will sell for about 6 percent less than the lowest street prices, said Sherry Mangas, NEC's government operations manager.

Like other vendors' recent announcements, the NEC PowerMate product line is making two changes that will appeal to federal agency and corporate customers: It is more clearly laid out to signify different levels of performance, and the company offers better management tools that let network administrators oversee the PCs in an enterprise.

NEC believes its new computers offer better value in administrative costs, said Cliff Apsey, director of product marketing at NEC.

The annual cost of a networked PC in an enterprise is $11,900, according to Apsey, and system management can account for nearly half that cost. But the tools NEC bundles can trim costs by about 10 percent because they can prevent some problems from occurring and automatically fix others.

When connected to external system management tools from vendors such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Microsoft Corp., buyers can save as much as 20 percent a year in management expenses, he said.

The company includes management and utility software across the product line that also aims to reduce support costs. NEC preinstalls Intel Corp.'s LANDesk Client Manager 3.0, McAfee Associates Inc.'s VirusScan and WebScan, and Cybermedia Inc.'s First Aid 95 Deluxe on all new PowerMates.

NEC has a new feature called MagicEye that polls the hardware automatically to monitor its condition and issues alerts to the management system when necessary.

The company also added a switch that tells administrators when the PC's easy-to-remove cover has been opened. This warns them that internal components may have been stolen or, more likely, that the user is monkeying around in there and might foul up the works, Apsey said.

MagicEye watches the system's temperature, voltage, fan speed and other conditions that could warn of impending trouble.

In addition to the MagicEye watchdog guarding the PowerMate's valuable components, NEC also includes a system lock that serves the same purpose as well as a keyboard password lock to protect information.

The PowerMate Ve has Pentium processors running at 100 MHz or 133 MHz, 8M of RAM, a 1.2G hard disk drive and Windows 95 or DOS and Windows 3.11 as standard equipment. A multimedia version is available that adds an 8X CD-ROM drive, speakers and a microphone.

The PowerMate V is a 133 MHz Pentium system with 8M of RAM, a 256K cache and an ATI Rage 3D graphics adapter. Available hard disk drives go up to 2G, a multimedia version is also available, and an integrated Fast Ethernet network controller and infrared communication port are optional.

The PowerMate P revs its Pentium to either 166 MHz or 200 MHz and has 16M of RAM standard. This machine has 2M of RAM on its ATI video card, and that is expandable to 4M of RAM. As with the V, a Fast Ethernet and an infrared communications port support are built into the system board and are available optionally. NEC will also install an optional Iomega Corp. ZIP drive.

The PowerMate Pro has a 180 MHz or 200 MHz Pentium Pro processor, 16M of RAM and a Matrox MGA Millennium PCI video card with as much as 4M of RAM. An Adaptec Inc. ultrawide SCSI interface card is available, and buyers may opt for a 2G SCSI hard disk drive in place of the enhanced IDE unit if they buy the SCSI adapter.

The Pro machine comes with Windows NT 3.51 installed, and NEC will provide free upgrades to NT 4.0 when it becomes available.

The company holds its own GSA schedule and sells its products through 20 resellers. NEC sold $17 million worth of PCs and its popular monitors and peripherals, such as CD-ROM drives, on its GSA schedule last year, Mangas said.

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