All-in-One Z1

With the notable exceptions of the iMac and now the iBook, computers have been a pretty dull lot design-wise since they came on the scene in the 1980s. Come to think of it, some of the earliest PCs (like the long-defunct Kaypro) had some design innovations that would still draw praise today. For the most part, PC has meant a big clunky monitor, a "desktop" or tower unit, an often cumbersome keyboard, and a jumble of cables and wires, all done up in the lovely shade of vanilla beige we’ve come to know and love.

The times are finally changing, mainly because of the new affordability of larger "flat panel" screen displays that offer great resolution and give industrial designers new flexibility. The latest PC to take advantage of this is the NEC Z-1, a futuristic looking machine that would be at home on the most elegant desk.

The Z-1 has a small "footprint", occupying only about one-fifth of the desk area of a conventional PC and weighing in at about 30 pounds total. NEC is the fourth major computer manufacturer to offer a new all-in-one flat panel machine, joining Toshiba, Matsushita and Gateway in what promises to be a hot new market segme.

Priced at $3999 and available at Radio Shack in Canada, the Z-1 has a 15-inch screen and runs a very fast 450-MHz Intel Pentium III processor. The system comes complete with 96MB of memory, an 8.4GB hard disk, DVD-ROM drive, a floppy drive, and a modem. All of this is packed into a single (and elegantly designed) compact unit that houses the flat panel display and sits on the desktop.

What makes the Z-1 even more appealing is its standard wireless keyboard with built-in point-and-click mouse controls. No cables cluttering up your desktop landscape, unless you use the separate USB mouse that plugs into the display base.

At four thousand dollars, this system is for those who can afford the best and also want it to look good in their home or office environment. The Z-1 comes with a comprehensive software bundle that includes Windows 98 and Microsoft titles Money, Word 97, Works 4.5, Encarta, Puzzle Collection, and Greetings Workshop 99.

NEC has been selling a similar system in Japan for the past year, and analysts believe that these new well-designed and compact systems are what consumers want and are willing to pay for. The sales manager at my local Radio Shack in Toronto reports that sales of the Z-1 are "brisk". Take a look at the new machine, and you’ll see why.