Personal computers have become standard fixtures in just about every executive office. But many execs don't really want a big PC dominating their desktop. That, as much as the need for mobility, is driving a lot of people to pick a laptop as their primary computer.
Now there's another choice for folks who want the small desktop footprint of a notebook without the cramped keyboard and other limitations--or the steep cost. The Fusion OneBox from Akia (800 936-5481 or 512 339-4804) is an intelligently designed package, starting at $2,999, that combines a notebook-style, flat-panel display with miniaturized PC built in. The package, which is being sold by phone and on Akia's Web site (www.akia.com), takes up just a 7 1/2-in.-by-11-in. space on your desk, plus room for a compact keyboard and mouse. This is no more than is needed for a laptop with a desktop keyboard and mouse, and a great deal less than required for laptops with docking stations that permit you to hook up to a conventional monitor and keyboard.
True, the Fusion sacrifices portability. It weighs just under 20 pounds and has a handle for easy carrying, but it's more luggable than portable and needs AC power. It still offers a number of advantages over a laptop.
To start with, there's the display, which is available in a freestanding version for use with standard PCs at $1,399. The 14.5-in., active-matrix LCD screen is bigger and brighter than anything found on a laptop and, for many purposes, is superior to a standard monitor. Freed from concerns about battery life, which limit laptop design, desktop LCDs can offer brightness and contrast superior to cathode-ray tubes. LCDs are dead-flat and flicker-free. And their hard-edged pixels provide sharper images than the fuzzy dots on TV-type designs. The biggest drawback: LCDs don't do very well with rapidly moving images, limiting their use with arcade-style games or full-motion video.
The Fusion gives a readable 1,024-by-768-pixel display. And while an LCD can't be viewed from as wide an angle as a CRT, the Fusion screen swivels vertically through an angle of more than 90 degrees, allowing for a wide range of seating positions.
The computer part of the Fusion outperforms any current Windows laptop. The base model includes a 233-megahertz Pentium II processor, 32 megabytes of memory, a CD-ROM drive, and a 4.3-gigabyte disk drive. For an extra $400, you can upgrade the processor to 266 Mhz, double the RAM to 64 MB, and boost the disk capacity to 6.4 GB. The size of the chassis limits expansion capacity. The box includes a single slot for a PCI expansion card. Just about everything you might want in a business computer is already there, including an Ethernet connection, a 56-kilobit-per-second modem, and a sound system using small but adequate speakers.
Micro-PCs like the Fusion are popular in Japan, where desk space is at a great premium. Until recently, I wouldn't have given them a chance in markets outside of Asia. But I've reconsidered since the cost of flat-panel displays has dropped by at least half in the past year--even as their quality has equaled and surpassed CRTs.
As a result, I expect to see a profusion of flat displays, both in all-in-one units like Fusion and together with conventional PCs. The cost difference between a 14.5-in. LCD and a 17-in. monitor with a viewing area just a bit larger is down to about $700. For an executive, that may not be a lot to pay to get that monster monitor off the desk.