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Beauties with brains

It’s your brand new desktop computer — but it doesn’t typically look like one, does it? More like a work of drool-worthy Desktop Art. The hunky/clunky monitor is gone, and that boxy CPU — the brain and heart, as it were, of your computer — has vanished altogether. All that you are staring at lovingly is a surfboard flat 22-in screen that’s merely a few inches thick.

A cordless (and aesthetic to boot) mouse, that’s under-lit by a psychedelic blue light, and a no-strings attached keyboard to match, complete the pretty picture. Just plug it and you are ready to connect to the world — via touchscreen, of course.

GenNext, super-stylised revolutionary desktops (and CPUs) are coming into their own in a world that is currently obsessing with mine-is-thinner-and-smaller-than-yours Netbooks and laptops. And you can bet your mouse pad that they’ll make you do a double-take.

Have you checked out the Apple iMac 24-in desktop that kick-started the all-in-one slim panel PC trend? Or even the slick HP Touchsmart that brought touchscreens to home computing?

So, if you were somehow veering to the view that desktops were passé, hear this. Pang Yang, director, consumer COE, Lenovo India, says that with the evolution of the PC market, customers have grown to expect greater value for their purchase. Yang says: “Lifestyle home users are looking at desktops to perform a wide range of functions to meet their myriad needs. These customers — who are also space-conscious and style-conscious — want their desktops to go beyond being just computing devices.’’

Little wonder then that desktops today are multitasking like never before, and being engineered with the monitor and CPU married into one streamlined thin panel.

These super-smart new PCs most certainly offer a built-in TV tuner (just plug-in the cable/set-top connection and tune-in to your favourite show) while a wireless keyboard and wireless mouse are a given. Most also come with wireless media remotes to control the entertainment and gaming features of these PCs. Above all, their high-end audio systems rival smaller bookshelf audio systems.

That’s not all. They are semi-portable; moving them around from room to room is uncomplicated and almost as easy as carting your laptop or Netbook around the house.

Also, given that technology is in fashion forward mode today, the machines are getting increasingly stylish — and health-conscious as well. Think of anti-bacterial keyboards and eyesight protection systems.

“Five years ago, when somebody was buying a desktop or a laptop it was essentially a hardcore technology purchase. Factors like style and design were not primary considerations,’’ says Ketan Patel, country category manager, consumer desktops, Personal Systems Group, Hewlett-Packard India.

All that has changed today and desktops are hell-bent on making a style statement. “The sustenance of any product line lies in its innovation and the desktop segment is reinventing itself,’’ says Stanley Wu, country head, Notebook and Eee PC business, ASUS (India). He adds that the basic requirements for efficiency and quality products have spurred the need for innovation in the desktop PC segment.

So, here’s to a new kind of computing and entertainment experience. Expect: slick and minimalistic machines that promise to seamlessly blend into the contemporary interiors of your home.

And chances are that you’ll never feel the same about desktops.

THINK SMALL, BUT ALL-IN-ONE

It’s time to reclaim the desktop real estate previously lost to fat, bulky and obtrusive PCs. Just pick-and-choose your way from desktops that redefine thin form factor, offer new-age designs and wireless technologies. And for topping they offer motion sensor gaming and cinema-like experience when you watch movies on them. All in a very compact body-types.

Lenovo has recently introduced the new IdeaCentre A600 (Rs 69,500) PC, which measures a mere one inch at its slimmest point, making it perhaps the thinnest all-in-one desktops (monitor-cum-CPU unit) in the market.

The A600 is an all-in-one that flaunts just about every in-your-face cutting-edge feature. Its high-performance graphics enable you to run multiple applications simultaneously without slowing the machine down, and what’s more, it’s great also for multi-media applications such as gaming, playing HD video or burning DVDs.

And hot off Acer’s stables is the ZX-2301 (Rs 34,999) that the company is dubbing as a premium ‘consumer entertainment’ all-in-one PC. The ZX-2310 comes pre-configured with everything you need in-built into one clean unit just the way you now like it. There’s an integrated high-end audio system (including dual rear sub-woofers), a touch strip system, MP3 player line in, headphone and microphone ports, a Webcam with microphone and even an integrated stow-away keyboard.

S. Rajendran, CMO, Acer India, says of the ZX-2301: “It’s loaded with enhanced features to appeal to a wide band of consumers.’’

Acer has other interesting offerings at the higher end of the desktop market. There’s the Aspire IQ4820 (priced at Rs 35,999) with features like a 640GB hard disk, in-built speakers and more as well as the Aspire IE4731 (Rs 31,999) with a 2GB RAM.

Dell has done it differently with its Studio Hybrid CPU. This one is about 80 per cent smaller than the typical desktop mini tower, and claims to consume up to 70 per cent less energy. Set up the Studio Hybrid (at a starting price of Rs 41,400) in a vertical or horizontal orientation, and personalise it with a colour sleeve of your choice: pick from emerald, quartz, ruby, sapphire, slate or topaz. Just hitch it to your monitor and you are ready to go.

A hottie from HP’s stables, the Pavilion p6000 desktop PC (Rs 29,990), encapsulates digital entertainment — with photographs, music, video and surfing, all rolled into one.

Besides the A600, Lenovo’s repertoire includes the IdeaCentre H series (starting at Rs 22,650) with its 15-in LCD panels. This one is great for everyday computing while the IdeaCentre K series (starts at Rs 30,050) targets families for its multimedia capabilities. The K series flaunts 19-in LCD screens.

There are plenty of other machines that offer a great deal as well — and for less. ASUS’ Eee Box (Price Rs 16,490, taxes extra) continues to rule the roost as the smallest desktop CPU. The company claims that the Eee Box consumes 90 per cent less power than normal desktop PCs and is one of the quietest ones going with only 26 decibels sound emission.

On the other hand, HP’s CQ 2000 saves you not just desktop space because of its small size, but also some money. At just Rs 18,990 (plus taxes), it’s promising to replace your music system as well as your DVD player. For, it doubles up as a multimedia machine on which you can watch movies and play games by attaching it to your LCD monitors and speakers.

TOUCHY-FEELY

You already know how much you enjoy swishing you finger across a touch-sensitive screen and seeing it respond. It’s conve-nient and some how idiot-proof. So just let those fingers of yours touch — and feel — the ultimate digital experience…

There’s ASUS’ Eee Top (Rs 44,000, taxes extra) to start with. Contributing to the Eee Top’s simplicity of use are its pre-installed applications many of which are tailored for touch panels. Eee Memo, for example, will enable you to write messages on Desktop ‘Stickies’ with just your fingers (that’s equivalent of on-screen sticky notes).

And SoftStylus will allow you to input text without a keyboard as it recognises handwriting and also offers a virtual (on-screen) keyboard for finger-touch as an alternative. Surfing the Internet is also possible without a mouse, thanks to Opera Touch, a Web browser enhanced for touchscreen use.

One of the early birds of the touchscreen era, the HP TouchSmart, offers you a new level of digital enjoyment. If you are a music/video buff this is for you as you can sort out your music collection quite effortlessly. Photograph freaks and Facebook enthusiasts can crop, edit and share photos as well as upload them to the Web directly without a keyboard or a mouse — with just the power of their fingers.

Waiting in the wings is Microsoft Surface that is turning an ordinary tabletop into a dynamic surface that provides interaction with all forms of digital content through natural gestures, touch and physical objects — like auto syncing data with a cellphone by simply placing it on the Surface.

Microsoft is slowly introducing this technology in public venues in the US in the retail, leisure and entertainment spaces. It’s also expanding to other vertical industries including health care, banking and automotive. Current customers include AT&T, Harrah’s Entertainment and Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

THE ENTERTAINERS

And you always thought that movies were best enjoyed in theatres? Or that only a 52-in flat-screen LCD panel would make all the difference to a soppy saas-bahu serial? Now try watching the latest flick or recording your favourite TV shows and burning personal videos — right there on your 22-in screen desktop.

Rest assured that as accompaniment there’ll always be high-quality sound pumped up with bass sub-woofers and Dolby Home Theater audio certification.

The Lenovo IdeaCentre A600 for one, features a 4-in-1 optional remote that serves as a media centre/TV remote. Microsoft Vista Media Center users can use the remote to operate DVDs, movies and TV. What’s more the remote also morphs into an Internet telephony handset that can be used to make and receive phone calls over the Net.

The HP TouchSmart (at Rs 90,000 and counting) and its PC software too bring you a whole new level of enjoyment of checking out photos, videos and music by tempting people to not just use it but also to experience it through touch. And you want to show off your fancy new bag or flaunt your new designer shoes, do so with HP TouchSmart’s built-in Webcam and microphone. For it’s geared to let you keep in touch with friends and family anywhere around the world through video chat and conference.

ASUS’ Eee Box is another perfect choice for enjoying Internet TV. With an IPTV player (Internet TV), thousands of programmes are freely available allowing you to personalise and watch lists of TV shows with ease.

Dell has also unveiled the Inspiron 518 desktop (starts at Rs 38,400) designed for everyday family multi-media activities, be it catching up on favourite TV shows via the Internet, playing online games, and storing and accessing music play lists and digital images.

YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT:HOW GREEN IS GREEN

With the ever increasing concern over global warming, desktop PCs are now being designed around green principles, largely being made with eco-friendly materials that target reducing CO2 emissions and conform to stringent environmental standards. What’s more, they have even cut back packaging materials.

Since October last year Apple has been providing customers with estimates of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by each new product sold. The company has taken the innovative step of reporting emissions on a per-product basis so you as a customer can make informed decisions about your own carbon footprints.

You can track the progress the company has made in reducing carbon emissions each time a new product is launched. For example, between the first-generation and current-generation iMac, sleep-mode energy usage has decreased by 93 per cent due to improvements in CPU power management and increased hardware efficiency.

The Eee Box is another green machine. The company has made substantial investment in the R&D for green technology and believes in rolling out products manufactured from environment-friendly materials, besides which they consume much less power and conform to strict environment standards.

The Dell Studio Hybrid, for its part, even has packaging that’s designed to be environmentally responsible. Here’s how: The company has reduced packing materials 30 per cent by weight; packing materials are 95 per cent recyclable and there’s reduced printed documentation 75 per cent by weight.

So, now you can be socially responsible while working and playing in style.

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