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AOpen Looks To Create A New Computer Niche For Retailers

AOpen is testing the waters of the U.S. market with three new shoebox-shaped desktop computers that it hopes to sell as something similar to a store brand in big-box retailers.

The relationship AOpen hopes to strike with retailers falls between a conventional white-box arrangement and full-fledged branded products, said Al Peng, AOpen’s senior director, business integration division. The company will keep is XC Cube name tag on the devices, but the retailers can build the models to whatever specification required through a third-party configuring firm.

AOpen, a division of the Taiwanese Acer Computing company, already manufactures desktop, notebooks and a wide variety of computer components and peripherals for sale under its brand and as an OEM.

“We make everything except CPUs, hard drives and memory,” said Anthony Ma, XC Cube’s line product manager,

The company is selling its desktop EZ Series through Tiger Direct, and it expects e-tailers to pick up the XC Cube first. Peng said AOpen has no desire to build and sell preconfigured models directly to retailers because it does not have the back-office customer support operation in place to support such a move. However, the subcontractors that would configure the computers for retailers are prepared to handle this task.

The three initial models are based on a small rectangular chassis that looks a bit like the Apple Mac Mini or Shuttle computer. The base model, the XC Cube Mini MZ855-II, can incorporate an Intel Pentium M processor, but despite being built on a mobile chip it can support a desktop hard drive and up to 2GB of memory. The Mini can be upgraded.

The next product is an add-on device called the Buddy that houses two optical drives and additional space for upgrading the unit. It is designed to stack on top of the Mini. The final SKU is a tower version that combines the basic computer with the Buddy in a single case.

Pricing will be determined by how the retailer configures the model, but AOpen expects it to range between $599 and $799 for the shoebox model and somewhat lower for the tower version.

Coming up is an A/V model intended to act as a hub for a home’s consumer electronic products. Like all the AOpen desktops it can be modified to run on Windows Media Center.

The one area the company might try its hand at selling branded products directly through retailers is in accessories and peripherals. Peng said he would like to put together an end cap containing AOpen monitors, keyboards, speakers and other products so consumers would have the option of buying a family of matched products.