Slick PC, but Not for Every SMB

By Eric Grevstad | Posted January 07, 2005


Pelham Sloane PS1500M
Okay, we admit it. Sometimes we just have to look at something because it's cool, even if it's not terribly practical for most SMBs — not until the price comes down, anyway. Case in point: British company Pelham Sloane's new computer that packs all the components into the monitor. The result is one sleek, attractive flat-panel PC.

The PS1500M might not be suitable for every SMB, especially those that rely on PCs for basic applications like Word and Excel. But for companies with a specific need — a flat-panel computer with a touch-screen display would be quite useful in medical-related fields — the extra money could be worth it.

At just 15.7 by 11.8 by 2.8 inches, the display makes the Sony Vaio or Gateway Profile screens look ponderous. While those designs put a PC into the desktop base of a monitor, the Pelham Sloane PS1500M integrates everything — Pentium M processor, memory, wired and network adapters along with your choice of EIDE hard and optical drives — into the monitor itself.

Its closest counterpart is Apple's svelte iMac G5, except the G5 has a built-in base, and the 12.2-pound PS1500M has VESA-standard hardware for wall or arm as well as desk mounting

Add a wireless keyboard and mouse, and you can install the nearly silent PC nearly anywhere. Add an optional touch screen, and you can ditch the keyboard and mouse altogether — putting an e-mail and customer service flat panel in your lobby, say, or a heating, air-conditioning and security controller that's also a fully functional PC in your office.

Specialized PCs at Specialized Prices
The Pelham Sloane idea is a simpler and smarter alternative to the "smart display" or wireless-monitor scheme that Microsoft touted a few years back, with LCD terminals deployed around the house dependent on a separate Windows server in the basement. But while it's less costly than that cockamamie concept, the custom-configurable PS1500M isn't meant to compete with — nor is it priced like — generic PCs.

Though the London-based vendor has a U.S. outpost in Connecticut, it doesn't have much mass-market presence or retail distribution apart from Office Depot's Tech Depot and Computers4Sure.com Web sites.

Its primary customers so far have been high-end home-automation integrators and hospitals that use the computers in medical carts and hospitality kiosks. Executives in need of status symbol PCs brings up the rear, though sales may shift as Pelham Sloane introduces 17-inch and wide-aspect-ratio models in 2005.

That's our way of preparing you for the sticker shock should you check out Tech Depot's configurations. A 1.7GHz Pentium M system with 512MB of memory, a 40GB hard disk, and DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive is $2,598 with no touch screen or wireless adapter. Splurging on 1GB of RAM, an 80GB hard disk, DVD1RW burner, and touch screen will set you back $3,305.

Thrifty shoppers can choose a 1.1GHz Pentium M system like our test unit, or a 2.4GHz Pentium 4 model with Intel's 845GV chipset and a slightly louder cooling fan, but the bottom line remains hundreds or even a thousand bucks more than conventional small-form-factor computers. We understand that the PS1500M isn't about price/performance so much as customizable convenience, but we don't think Pelham Sloane will have the zero-footprint-Pentium-M-desktop market to itself forever.

More Expandable Than You'd Expect
While our test unit included an 802.11b/g wireless adapter, it didn't come with a wireless keyboard and mouse. Instead, Pelham Sloane supplied a plain-vanilla PS/2 keyboard and scroll mouse. Strictly generic except for the addition of sleep and wake keys, the keyboard had a stiff, springy typing feel. The mouse was a cheap rolling-ball instead of optical design, but performed adequately.

Similarly, instead of a wall mount, our system had a desktop base with stiff but serviceable tilt and height adjustment and a lazy-susan swivel center. The Pelham Sloane doesn't pivot between landscape and portrait modes, although there's no reason it couldn't be configured that way — the company says its touch-screen models run Windows XP Tablet PC Edition with no problems.

The Lite-On 8X DVD-ROM and 24/24/24X CD-RW combo drive sit on the screen's left side, with system and monitor on/off and brightness buttons up front (as are predictably tinny stereo speakers).

You'll find the other interfaces — in our case, VGA, parallel, two serial, two PS/2, and two USB ports plus Ethernet and audio jacks — stashed along the bottom edge of the system


 Pelham Sloane PS1500M, side view

At the far left of the bottom-edge array is something you might not expect to find: a PCI slot, positioned for factory or technician instead of end-user access but ready to accommodate most off-the-shelf I/O cards or TV tuners (the company admits that the bulkiest PCI cards, like video boards with built-in fans, won't fit).

Some configurations fill the slot with a Pinnacle TV tuner, although Pelham Sloane explains that official Win XP Media Center Edition systems are still in beta testing — the platform requires 128MB of display memory, which is more than the 855GME integrated-graphics chipset can provide. Ours had an adapter with two PC Card slots for further expansion.

Speed and Screen
Our system had a 1.1GHz Pentium M 713 processor along with a modest 256MB of memory and not-too-modest 60GB Fujitsu hard drive (a 4,200-rpm unit with 2MB of cache). The company says its Pentium M computers draw as little as 45 watts (one-third that in power-save mode) from their notebook-style external power bricks.

As you'd expect, the PS1500M performed well on office-applications but not as well when it came to formidable number crunching or gaming. Our lab testing showed that our system is strictly for productivity instead of 3D rendering or gaming.

Graphics and text look good, however, on the 15-inch, 1,024 by 768-resolution display. The screen's somewhat reflective, and the touch-screen overlay keeps it from being the brightest flat panel we've seen, but we appreciated its sharp focus and vivid colors.

The OneTouch Technologies touch screen also worked well, except for a bit of trouble tapping title bars or close boxes at the very top of the display. It's a conventional, five-wire resistive design that works fine with your finger or a capped pen instead of requiring a special stylus like Tablet PCs; the software driver lets you tap an icon in a corner of the screen to tell the system your next touch will be a right- instead of left-click.

Most PS1500M customers to date have used the touch screen for home-automation applications like ELK Products', X10's, or Elan Home Systems'. But it's fun to think about how it might work in retail or service environments.

Who knows what Pelham Sloane might do next with the power and flexibility of a whole computer in the size and shape of a dumb terminal or single-purpose control panel? Right now it's a costly office choice among small-form-factor PCs, but an intriguing preview of your desktop — and maybe your whole home or office — tomorrow.

Pros:
The sleekest, slimmest PC/LCD or iMac G5 rival you can buy, with versatile arm- or wall-mount and configuration options.

Cons:
Priced for high-end home-automation or specialized industrial use instead of desktop Word and Excel users.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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