HP shrinks mini-PC, expands options

If you've considered purchasing ultra-small form factor PCs for your agency, but have held out for more features and capabilities, now is the time to take another look. Hewlett-Packard Co.'s latest version of its ultra-small PC, the e-pc 40, sports a redesigned, smaller chassis in addition to extra features both inside and out.

The new chassis, which HP claims is the smallest desktop in the industry, measures just 3.7 inches wide by 11 inches deep by 9.8 inches high and weighs less than 10 pounds—about the size of a hefty dictionary.

The concept behind the e-pc series is simplicity and serviceability. These machines are designed for users who only need basic functionality such as office applications and Internet access. The port control system — a lockable plastic cover that prevents the removal or addition of cables — and the unit's sealed box prevent unauthorized tampering.

Previous versions of the e-pc featured three modules: the chassis, hard drive and power supply (see "HP pumps up the e-pc," FCW, June 4). Now HP has made the e-pc's memory accessible, in response to customer feedback. The idea is to allow basic levels of user serviceability, thereby reducing downtime. For example, if there is a hard drive problem, the user can easily remove it and send it back to HP.

To allow access to both the memory and the hard drive, the new chassis design features a removable side panel. The panel on our unit wasn't difficult to remove, but it required a fair amount of force the first time. Replacing it also took a few tries before we got the hang of aligning it.

The memory is a little tricky to access because the area is narrow. People with larger hands may have a hard time swapping modules. But, as with previous e-pc models, the hard drive is extremely easy to remove.

Two additional USB ports bring the system's total to four: two on the back and two on the front for easy access. For security, the two front USB ports are software secured by the BIOS, allowing administrators to enable or disable the ports completely as well as set booting options for them — a nice touch. Other ports include the standard set of parallel, serial, VGA, PS/2 mouse/keyboard, line in/out and microphone.

In addition to hardware enhancements, the e-pc 40 has expanded software capabilities. Unix fans will be glad to hear that the e-pc 40 is Linux-enabled. The system is available for purchase loaded with Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2000, NT 4.0 or Windows 98 Second Edition, and it can run Windows XP office automation software.

The system features Intel Corp.'s new 815E chipset, a 100 MHz system bus and a 1.1 GHz Celeron processor, but it didn't turn in the kind of performance we'd expect from a processor of this speed. The score of 150 on Business Applications Performance Corp.'s SYSmark suite of real-world benchmarks is comparable to that of Gateway Inc.'s Solo 3450 ultra-light notebook with a 750 MHz Pentium III processor, which scored 155. In contrast, a Compaq Computer Corp. Deskpro EN PC with a 1 GHz Pentium III processor scored 201 on the test.

Bear in mind, however, that this machine is not designed for high-level applications that require blazing speed. The processor is plenty fast for office ap.plications and Internet access.

Software extras include an HP image creation-and-recovery CD-ROM, an image library and diagnostics CD-ROM, and new versions of both HP Toptools and HP e-Diagtools.

Our review unit came with one of HP's new flat-screen CRT monitors, the p720. It features a roomy 17-inch screen and a very clear picture. Normally, however, HP suggests that users purchase the e-pc 40 with one of their space-saving flat-panel displays, the 15-inch L1520 or the 17-inch L1720.

The e-pc 40, with its expanded hardware and software capabilities, is worth a good look from agency buyers considering a basic space-saving system. Additional USB ports, Linux capability and new versions of software add flexibility that previous versions of the e-pc did not have.

REPORT CARD

e-pc 40

Score: A-

Hewlett-Packard Co.

(800) 613-2222

www.hp.com

The e-pc 40 is available on the General Services Administration schedule

for $932 without a monitor. The p720 flat-screen CRT monitor costs $253

on the GSA schedule. Two new flat-panel displays are also available: the

L1520, a 15-inch display, for $439; and the L1720, a 17-inch display, for

$786 on the GSA schedule.

New options give the e-pc 40 flexibility that previous versions did

not have. These include user-accessible memory, Linux capability and two

software-secured USB ports on the front of the machine.

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