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The Bare Minimum

Why pay big bucks for PCs with fancy functions you don't need?

Compaq, IBM and Hewlett-Packard have brought a new kind of machine to market-think smaller, sleeker and cheaper. Borrowing their looks from slim, fashion-conscious information appliances, the latest breed of desktop machine is aimed squarely at the business user. Lacking the muscle to handle high-end graphics or database applications, these computers are designed instead for word processing, basic office applications and, of course, the Internet.

Because looks alone don't sell business computers, the manufacturers have added features designed to appeal to employers. Compaq's iPAQ (, for example, is available in Legacy (with parallel, serial and PS/2 ports) or Legacy-Free (USB-only) models. Starting at $499 (street), the iPAQ also sports built-in Ethernet and optional hot-swappable expansion drives. This move toward simplicity in business computer design and management has rubbed off on IBM's NetVista line ( and HP's e-Vectra series (

The HP e-Vectra (starting at $549, street) tips its hat to employers' hardware concerns by coming equipped with security features. These include a keylock and a Port Control System that prevent employees from altering the hardware configuration or removing memory or components. One master key allows authorized access to any number of e-Vectra systems. That helps consolidate hardware control in the hands of the employer or IT manager.

All this signals the slow rise of USB in offices. Legacy ports will continue to be shed in future desktop offerings. The emphasis on USB-only computers, which are cheaper to manufacture and less expensive to buy, puts a damper on office networks that still rely on older hardware technology like Jaz drives, printers and other external serial and parallel peripherals. The switch requires either new equipment with USB connections or an investment in USB adaptors. For replacing an office-full of computers or building a new desktop network from the ground up, these slim desktops make sense on a small-business budget.

This story appears in the September 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »