Asus readies slim multimedia PC-in-a-keyboard

Atom-based Eee includes mini-LCD touch screen where numeric keypad would be.

Taiwan's AsusTek Computer Inc. plans to launch early this summer the most radical member of its popular Eee family of petite PCs, a full multimedia computer encased in a sleek keyboard that includes a 5-inch LCD touch screen.

With its 800x480 resolution screen, the slim, aluminum-encased Eee Keyboard PC can be used as standalone computer. But Asus expects most users of the Wi-Fi enabled computer to hook it up to an external monitor or television, allowing users to quickly turn any screen in the house into a Web surfing station or multimedia center.

First announced at International CES in January, Asus also had the 2-pound Keyboard PC on display at the CeBIT trade show earlier this month, according to a five-minute YouTube video posted this week by gadget blog, UMPCportal.com. Asus chairman Jonney Shih reportedly said at CeBIT that the Keyboard PC will arrive in June.

Asus trailblazed netbooks in the fall of 2007 with its original Eee PC netbook. Since then, it has launched a wide variety of Eee netbook models, as well as net-top miniature desktop PCs such as its Mac Mini-like Eee Box and its Eee Top, a touch-screen all-in-one PC with LCD monitor.

The Keyboard PC is Asus' latest, most creative experiment in net-top, or small desktop PCs. Like its netbook and net-top Eees, the Keyboard PC will be powered by an Intel Atom N270 1.6 GHz processor. It will come with 1GB of RAM and either 16GB or 32GB of solid-state disk storage.

It will run Windows XP Home Edition and will come with wireless 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.0 connectivity. It sports flat wide keys, similar to Apple Inc.'s MacBook Pro, and appears, according to UMPCportal.com's video, to be able to run just on battery power, like a notebook computer.

As it did with its original 7-inch LCD Eee netbook, Asus has created a user interface optimized for the Keyboard PC's small on-board screen. Called EeeFun, it uses large icons so that even sausage-fingered users can press them.

Though optimized for Web surfing, the Keyboard PC also works as a media center PC, allowing users to watch movies on their home theater television or listen to music. Users might also choose to add an external DVD drive via an USB port, or stream video from a home server or network-attached drive via the Keyboard PC's Wi-Fi.

The Keyboard PC's price will reportedly start at about US$400 for the model with VGA connectivity, scaling up to $600 for one that can wirelessly connect to HDMI televisions.

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Eric Lai

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