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Gateway's New Systems Leave More Elbow Room

Bigger isn't always better. At least, that's what the folks at Gateway Inc. are betting on.

The San Diego-based personal computer maker announced Monday its new line of LCD computers, which have a flat-screen liquid-crystal display panel, keyboard and a mouse, for the U.S. markets. The machines, dubbed the Gateway Profile, will be targeted toward space-conscious users who are tired of finding room on their desks for large towers, monitors, speakers and other equipment that is becoming standard on PCs.

"Customers of all kinds have been demanding sleeker and more attractive designs," said Aaron Goldberg, vice president and principal analyst at Ziff-Davis, in a statement issued by Gateway. "This class of product is poised for real success, as it literally stands apart from the crowd."

The company will launch two versions of the machine this week in the United States. The lower-end model, priced at $1,999, carries a 4.3-Gigabyte hard drive. Another model, priced at $2,299, has a 6.4GB hard drive.

Both systems are powered by a 400-MHz processor from Advanced Micro Devices. They will also include a modem, DVD drive, network card, speakers and an ATI Technologies Rage LT Pro graphics chip designed for playing video graphics.

The system's key attraction, however, is the 15-inch LCD screen. Liquid-crystal display panels typically offer sharper resolution than standard CRT monitors sold with most desktops. They are also more power-efficient, using about 70 percent less energy than standard monitors. In addition, they take up far less desk space than CRTs -- about 3 inches vs. the 16 inches of desk space required for CRT monitors.

Although LCD technology is used commonly in laptop computers, their use with desktop systems has been limited mainly because consumers were not ready to pay the higher price. LCD monitors used to cost more than $1,000, but recently the monitors have been selling for as low as $800.

Because of their small size, LCD systems have been popular in Japan in recent years. Gateway has already launched its Profile line there, and other manufacturers such as Sony, NEC and Matsushita Electric sell similar systems.

Digital TV enthusiasts may want to keep an eye on the Cable '99 industry trade show going on this week in Chicago. General Instrument Corp. will be taking the opportunity to introduce a new technology designed to allow cable operators to add more than 140 digital channels to their systems without making costly upgrades.

The so-called Satellite/Cable Overlay system, developed jointly by General Instrument and a company called Headend In The Sky (HITS), will make its first live demonstration at the show. Dubbed HITS2HOME, the system is designed to deliver digital satellite signals to a customer's home, which will be integrated with analog signals coming in through the customer's landline cable.

Such a hybrid system may prove to be popular within the cable industry, which for the most part is still pondering its role in the current move toward digital television. While broadcasters are facing government mandates to switch to digital, high-definition signals sometime within the next few years, cable operators are under no such conditions. Many are hesitant to spend the billions that would be necessary to upgrade their systems for such a service.

General Instrument, which manufactures digital set-top boxes out of its San Diego facilities, will provide a special box that integrates the satellite signals with the analog signals. The system will feature an on-screen interactive guide similar to that used in digital-TV services offered by Cox Communications and Daniels Cablevision in San Diego. Authorization for the service will be provided from GI's operations center in San Diego.

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