Toshiba gives new look to Equium line

Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. this week released the second generation of its Equium desktop PC line for the corporate and government markets, touting new design features and a built-in help system.

The Equium 7000S and 7000D run the latest Intel Corp. Pentium II processors, but company officials say the highlight of these machines is not the processors' speed or new technology but the machines' new chassis design.

"The design really is along the lines of what the government is looking for, and that's ongoing and existing value beyond the acquisition price," said Dan Rosensteel, vice president of Toshiba America Information Systems' major accounts group and director of federal sales.

The Equium 7000S and 7000D PCs are based on Intel's NLX form-factor design, which is an architecture specification that Intel started promoting in November 1996. The design supports current and future processors and other PC technologies and makes it easier to access upgradable components.

Most of the top PC brands have incorporated the NLX motherboard designs, especially in their minitowers. Equium sets itself apart, according to analysts, by having a side-opening chassis on the model, designed to sit under a monitor, according to analysts.

The Equium's chassis opens along its side without a screwdriver, and the motherboard sits just inside so that memory can be snapped in. Toshiba said it takes about 10 minutes to add memory and about 30 minutes to change the motherboard. By removing the motherboard, it is easy to access the accessory cards and other components deeper inside that sometimes have to be removed.

It is significant that this maintenance can go on without the monitor being moved, especially if a heavy 17-inch monitor is sitting on the chassis, said Rob Enderle, senior analyst at Giga Information Group Inc., Santa Clara, Calif.

The design also tries to accommodate cramped offices by making it possible to stand the PC on its end or hang it on a cubicle wall.

"It's actually pretty new and pretty innovative," said Nathan Nuttall, an analyst at Sherwood Research Inc., Boston. "It's getting very, very difficult to differentiate your products through components and price. [Toshiba is] trying to push the fact that if you can save 10 or 15 minutes here and there, it adds up to a substantial amount of money."

Toshiba officials said the PC also can reduce costs through its intelligent help system, which can sense the computer's status and fix many problems without user intervention. The PC also monitors security, letting the system administrator know if any of the components have been disturbed.

According to some observers, Toshiba's biggest handicap may be market perception in the desktop market.

Best-known for its top-selling notebooks, Toshiba introduced the Equium line as its first commercial desktop product last year. It became Toshiba's only desktop line following the company's decision in November to stop producing Infinia, a desktop PC for the consumer market.

"One of Toshiba's biggest problems is [that] they are not perceived as a big player on the desktop side," Enderle said. The company's decision to discontinue Infinia will not help the marketing of Equium because any buyer might be concerned that the same thing could happen to Equium, Enderle said.

The 7000S runs either Pentium II 233 MHz, 266 MHz or 300 MHz processors. The 7000D supports up to a 333 MHz processor and comes with five drive bays and four expansion slots. Both systems come with 512K of Level 2 cache, the Intel 440 LX chipset, up to 256M of memory and integrated Accelerated Graphics Port-based 3-D graphics.

The Equium 7000S and 7000D, starting at less than $1,200 on the General Services Administration schedule, are available through resellers. Toshiba is on the Navy's Tactical Advanced Computer blanket purchase agreement, and the new Equiums eventually will figure into that contract, the company said.

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