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Dell sees opening for Atom-based PCs in small business

Could computers based on Intel's Atom processors, already popular among consumers, catch on for cash-strapped business? Dell seems to think so — at least in some markets.

“We're exploring that, and there is some potential,” said Steve Felice, president of Dell's small- and midsize-business group, during a conference call with reporters.

Dell is already offering Atom-based computers to businesses in some markets. However, demand remains relatively small compared with demand for systems that use mainstream Intel processors, especially the low-end Celeron line, Felice said.

Atom-based laptops have been a rare bright spot for computer makers, which have taken a beating in recent months. However, popular laptops like Asustek Computer's Eee PC and Acer's Aspire One are primarily aimed at consumers, not at businesses.

Dell, which was late responding to demand for Atom-powered computers, eventually released its own Atom laptops for consumers, as well as the Vostro A100 desktop, a business PC that runs Ubuntu Linux and uses Intel's 1.6-GHz Atom 230 processor.

The relative popularity of Dell's Celeron-based desktops compared with the Atom systems may be partly due to availability. For example, the Atom-based A100 does not appear to be available on a list of Vostro desktops offered for sale on Dell's U.S. Web site, while Celeron-based systems are offered.

Performance doesn't appear to be an issue for using Atom-based machines in an office environment.

While Intel executives frequently deride the inexpensive Atom processors for lacking the performance of their multicore cousin, Dell's Web site for Middle East sales says the chip “delivers the performance required for basic office computing.”

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