IDP unveils hybrid desktop/notebook computer design

International Data Products Corp. has developed a hybrid of desktop and notebook computers that is designed to appeal to PC users who want more mobility and flexibility than a desktop traditionally offers but who want to use standard displays and keyboards.

The NetRover PC is essentially an IDP notebook computer without a display or a keyboard. Like a conventional PC, NetRover makes use of a desktop keyboard, mouse and monitor. But unlike a desktop PC, NetRover— unplugged from the external components— is easy to take home or on the road, according to IDP. Additionally, NetRover has a built-in battery that gives it an uninterruptible power supply.

The unusual configuration of the machine needs some explanation to potential customers, said Oscar Fuster, IDP's executive vice president and the force behind NetRover. "There are a lot of advantages to NetRover that are not readily apparent, so it is a complicated sale," he said.

IDP plans to add NetRover to all of its contracts, such as the Air Force's Desktop V, the National Institutes of Health's Electronic Computer Store II and the company's General Services Administration Schedule B/C.

Industry analysts said they saw some benefits in NetRover, but they were not sure how potential customers might react. "I'm not sure what people are going to do without a screen," said Payton Smith, a research analyst for IDC Government, Falls Church, Va.

With NetRover, "you don't have to lug around and pay for a lot of features you don't use," said David Takata, vice president of Gruntal and Co., a New York consulting firm. "I think there is a real demand for such a [low-cost alternative] product. [However] , I don't know if this is it," Takata said.

Obsolete Monitors?

The lack of a display might dissuade some users, but a display contributes up to half the cost of a notebook PC, Fuster said. And when replacing desktop systems, buyers often can choose to keep the existing display because monitors become obsolete slower than computers.

IDP's research of mobile computer users found that many of them do not work while in transit, Fuster said. Instead, they use their PCs in the office and their notebooks at home or in a hotel while traveling. With NetRover, PC users who commute between home and the office can have a monitor and keyboard in each location.

For people on the road, NetRover has a TV output, so it can be used with a TV instead of a monitor, if needed.

IDP also touts the modular design of NetRover, which makes it easy to remove or replace its internal components. This design gives system administrators the option of buying only a handful of CD-ROM drives and floppy drives for an entire department of NetRovers, IDP said. NetRover costs $1,399 for a unit equipped with a 166 MHz Pentium MMX processor and a 2G hard drive. It includes 16-bit 3-D audio, PC Card slots, VGA and TV video ports, an infrared serial port and the usual parallel, serial and keyboard ports.

Equipped with a 233 MHz Pentium MMX processor, 48M of memory, a 3G hard drive, a 20X CD-ROM and a battery, the price remains less than $2,000, the company said.

"They definitely have price going for them," analyst Smith said. Similarly priced portable computers will not be able to match the specifications of NetRover, he added.

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