Recently, Compaq released the legacy-free iPaq, a Windows 2000 computer aimed towards the corporate environment. Will this type of machine make a good addition to your computer network? Here are some of the issues to consider.

It’s the end of the PC as we know it
More and more computer companies are trying to do away with legacy designs. One of the first steps in that process was Apple’s move to ship its most recent lines of products (G3s and G4s) without floppy drives. Up until this point, most of the new “legacy-free” systems were aimed at the consumer market. Compaq is trying to change that.

Compaq recently announced the launch of its legacy-free iPaq. This version of the iPaq is designed specifically for Windows 2000. It features an Intel Celeron or Pentium III processor running at 500 MHz, as well as 64 to 256 MB of RAM, plus an Ethernet port, 16-bit sound card, 4-MB integrated video card, and five USB ports (three in back, two in front). It lacks the so-called “legacy” features like ISA/PCI expansion slots, serial ports, parallel ports, and PS/2 ports. Plus, it comes in a rather unique shape.

Why should we buy?
The big question this release raises is whether corporations will adopt this legacy-free design. Well, to start on the positive side:

  • Win2K friendly. The iPaq is designed to integrate well with Windows 2000. Considering all the hardware (driver) and software compatibility problems that are initially present with the launch of Windows 2000, it’s reassuring that the iPaq system was built from the ground up with Windows 2000 in mind.
  • Easier migration. Compaq has implemented a feature called PC transplant, which allows IT managers to easily gather settings from old computers and install them on the new iPaqs.
  • Remote control software. The iPaq includes a 30-day trial version (the full version will cost an additional $30 per system) of Altiris eXpress software, which allows IT managers to remotely backup, restore, configure, and update all of the systems.
  • Modular design. Compaq has also taken a modular design into practice, similar to those of laptops. Modules for a 24X Max CD-ROM, 4X DVD-ROM, LS-120 Drive, or a second 6-GB hard drive are available.
  • Price. The list price is fairly attractive—from $499.

Should we pass?
Unfortunately, the legacy-free design may cause problems in many cases. Here’s my short list of complaints:

  • Integration. At least in my experience, devices integrated into the motherboard are more trouble than they are worth.
  • Video RAM. Many applications require more than the standard 4 MB of video RAM, but unfortunately, a different video card cannot be installed—so don’t plan on doing any 3-D rendering on this machine.
  • Sound card. The same goes for the sound card.
  • USB modem. If you don’t have a corporate network, you’re going to have to shell out another $100-$250 for a USB modem if you want to get on the Internet.
  • Firewire ports. Additionally, I was disappointed when I found out that it lacked IEEE 1394 (firewire) ports.
  • No parallel ports. Without parallel ports, you are going to have a hard time plugging a printer into it unless you have a USB printer already.

Some of the weaknesses I’ve mentioned are, of course, intentional. Compaq also touts that because it is “legacy-free,” the iPaq lacks many of the devices that often break down in systems. Unfortunately, in the iPaq, because most everything is integrated into the system, if any part fails, there is no easy fix—almost all problems require major surgery.

Adopt or pass
So, now the question comes—adopt it or dump it. I feel that legacy-free systems like the iPaq (but perhaps with a modem) have a fair chance of succeeding in the home market, where all one really needs is e-mail and word processing. In the corporate market, however, many computers need to be tweaked to fit the needs of the person using them. Depending on the tasks the user performs on a daily basis, a more powerful processor might be necessary, or perhaps a better graphics card. Unfortunately, Compaq’s one-size-fits-all iPaq doesn’t facilitate customization.

In cases where just basic computing (word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, and Web browsing) is needed, the iPaq is a good, cheap solution, assuming that you have a good corporate network (with network printers). On the other hand, if you need to do any tweaking or customization of any kind to end-user systems, I’d go with the old-fashioned beige box for now.
Have you invested in any legacy-free systems? Is the return on investment what you expected? To comment on this article or to share your thoughts on legacy-free systems in the corporate environment, please post a comment below or follow this link to write to Kyle