Dell dives into entertainment market with mini desktop

PC maker takes a shot across the bow of Apple's MacMini, also aims at Sony and HP

Dell Inc. is going small -- really small.

The computer maker today unveiled a mini desktop PC that's 80% smaller than the average desktop minitower and uses 70% less energy. The Dell Studio Hybrid runs Intel's Pentium Dual Core or Core 2 Duo processor and Microsoft's Windows Vista.

"Our goal was to design a desktop that fits in the office or in the living room, or anywhere space is at a premium," Dell spokesman Michael Scheschuk said in a statement. "We've created a desktop PC category that combines style, performance and a high degree of energy efficiency."

Dell Chairman and CEO Michael Dell announced in April that the company was working on a mini desktop system. Speaking at the Fortune Brainstorm conference in Pasadena, Calif., as part of Earth Day observances, Dell said that the new machine will be the "company's smallest and most environmentally responsible consumer desktop PC."

That April announcement came just weeks after the PC maker announced that it would increase its laptop portfolio by 50% this year. Dell, the No. 2 computer maker, has been chasing rival Hewlett-Packard Co. in the PC market -- on both the desktop and laptop fronts -- for months.

And while this new mini PC is small in size and not huge on power-consumption, Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc., called Dell's move an interesting one.

"This isn't a speed demon by any means, but it is certainly powerful enough to do the basics, plus drive things like DVDs and Web audio and video," said Olds. "It seems like Dell has done something pretty unique for them. They've built a highly stylized product that's also highly functional and is at a great price."

The Studio PC starts at $499.

Olds noted that the new desktop system puts Dell squarely into the family entertainment market, which has been dominated mostly by the likes of HP and Sony. And he added that Dell's move is a shot across the bow at Apple's Mac Mini, since the new machine has a cheaper standard configuration, a bigger hard drive and more memory.

"With this box, Dell brings solid price, performance and interesting styling that isn't out of place in a living room or family room," said Olds. "For most people, this won't be their only computer, but it may become the most used computer, since it is really designed to become an entertainment hub."

Dell also launched two new Inspiron PCs today. One is the Inspiron 13, an $800 13-inch laptop that will be available at Wal-Mart stores next week. The other is the Inspiron 518 desktop, which is geared toward family multimedia functions.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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