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IBM Announces Smallest Ever Desktop PCs

Lots of things have decreased in size over time, like movie screens, or the portions allotted in McDonalds Happy Meals, for example.

Why, then, should desktop PCs be any different – especially when Fujitsu, Sony, Toshiba and others are cramming full-fledged Windows clients into compact form factors the size of a hardback book?

That’s the question posed by IBM, which Wednesday announced what it claims is its smallest-ever desktop PC, the ThinkCentre S50.

IBM officials say that North American businesses are on the cusp of a major desktop replacement cycle, and argue that the new ThinkCentre S50 is just the ticket for space-conscious IT organizations.

Fran O’Sullivan, general manager of IBM’s PC division, says that the new ThinkCentre systems have been designed for office environments in which space is at a premium. Enter the ThinkCentre S50: “It’s 75 percent smaller than our current desktop and 33 percent smaller than our existing small form factor, and it’s a full function desktop in that we have not made compromises.”

Just how much has IBM reduced the form factor of its new slimline ThinkCentre systems? O’Sullivan claims the ThinkCentre S50 is even smaller than Big Blue’s ThinkPad T41 laptop – even though it features a PCI expansion slot, along with a CD-ROM drive, USB ports, integrated networking support, and other goodies. For the record, the new system weighs 13 lbs. and measures 11 inches wide by 10.2 inches deep by 3.3 inches high.

The new ThinkCentre S50 boxes also ship with IBM’s ThinkVantage software, O’Sullivan says, which supports scenarios like rapid recovery in the event of system failures. “[This enables] one button recovery, you can be up and running within in 15 to 20 minutes, if you get a disruptive worm, virus, your system has become corrupted,” she explains.

So why hype the release of a new slimline desktop client? For starters, IBM anticipates that more than 200 million desktop PCs will be replaced over the next two years. “Almost 100 million PCs will be replaced this year, and 120 million more next year,” O'Sullivan says. “[T]hese PCs are old. We’ve seen the lifecycle of our desktops expand, and the desktops that will be [replaced] are at least three years old.”

Big Blue has had great success in the server blade space, and was the first of the large, commodity vendors to introduce dual-processor Xeon blades, in September of 2002. So why doesn’t it simply market a desktop blade system? O’Sullivan deflects the question: “What we’re announcing today is the full function desktop … so we’re not commenting on a blade solution in today’s preview. This is targeted to our customers that want a full-function PC.”

She argues that there are two types of desktop users, those who want full-featured, high-end desktops and those who “want full desktop function but they want it in the smallest form factor possible.”

The ThinkCentre S50 will ship with Pentium 4 Celeron processors and should sell for around $600.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.