Sony Shows Smallest Vaio PC Yet

TOKYO -- For the first time in two years Sony is updating its Vaio U ultra-compact PC line with a new model that is the smallest Vaio yet developed, the company said today.

The UX50 packs a Windows XP-based PC into a case about the size of a paperback book. Like previous models it has a touchscreen display. This model's screen slides up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard underneath. The keyboard was added because some customers expressed frustration with the previous model that using the touchscreen was troublesome, said Yoshihisa Ishida, head of Sony's Vaio division, at a news conference here.

We were given a chance to play with the device, albeit for a very brief time, at the news conference. To read our first impressions of the Vaio U, click here.

More to Come

The model announced Tuesday has a 30GB hard drive but Sony is also developing a model that uses 16GB of flash memory in place of the disk drive. More details on this computer, a prototype of which Ishida showed today, are due in late June and the computer will likely go on sale in the middle of this year, he said.

Compared to a hard drive, flash memory uses less power, is lighter and smaller; however drives are also more expensive. That coupled with supply constraints is one reason why flash memory hasn't been put to more widespread use in computers, said Ishida.

The flash-based Vaio U will be more expensive than the hard drive-based model, he said, but he wouldn't disclose any pricing details of the yet-to-be announced machine.

Currently a 16 gigabit flash-memory chip is selling for about $36 on the spot market, according to prices quoted by DRAMExchange. That would make the cost of the chips alone for the 16GB drive around $288 if they were purchased on the spot market.

Other features of the UX50 computer announced today include an Intel Centrino Core Solo U1300 (1.06-GHz) processor, 512MB of memory, a 30GB hard drive, wireless LAN, Bluetooth, a built-in camera, fingerprint sensor, and reader for Felica contactless smart cards. It measures 5.9 inches by 1.3 inches by 3.7 inches and weighs 1.1 pounds.

It will go on sale in Japan on May 27 and in the U.S. in July. It will cost about $1800 in the U.S., Sony said.

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