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No. 363, December 1999

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Japanese Companies in the US


For months, even longer, industry analysts have been saying that it was just a matter of time before NEC CORP. pulled the plug on persistently money-losing PACKARD BELL NEC, INC. That time has arrived. The Sacramento, California manufacturer of personal computers for the consumer or home market, once the number one in that segment but now fifth or sixth in the United States, basically is being reorganized out of existence. Only 500 or so of Packard Bell NEC's current North American and European work force of 2,600 will have jobs when this process is completed. Production of the PCs made in Sacramento will be outsourced, and operations there essentially will be closed. A call center in Magna, Utah is expected to be sold. Most notably perhaps, the Packard Bell brand name will disappear from the U.S. retail market. The commercial division of Packard Bell NEC — the NEC Computer Systems Division, which markets Express5800 servers, PowerMate desktop computers, Versa notebook computers and MobilePro handheld PCs to the corporate, government and educational markets under the NEC brand name — will remain in business. It will become NEC COMPUTERS, INC. effective January 1, 2000, part of NEC COMPUTERS INTERNATIONAL B.V., which will be in charge of all of NEC's personal computer operations outside of Japan and the People's Republic of China. Since 1995, when Packard Bell NEC's problems began, then new investor NEC and minority (12 percent now) partner GROUPE BULL pumped in excess of $2 billion into the company. The PC manufacturer's losses narrowed to a projected $150 million for 1999, but with NEC itself having problems and announcing a restructuring plan in September, executives decided that the electronics giant no longer could afford to keep Packard Bell NEC afloat.

Mainframe systems marketer AMDAHL CORP. of San Jose, California, a wholly owned FUJITSU, LTD. company, is taking over the U.S. sales and marketing operations of SIEMENS INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION PRODUCTS LLC. The arrangement is an outgrowth of the global distribution agreement that Fujitsu and SIEMENS AG signed earlier this year. The Siemens computer systems product portfolio consists of Intel-based Primergy servers and Unix-based Reliant servers.

The next generation of the wildly popular PALM COMPUTING, INC. handheld platform will be codeveloped with SONY CORP. The starting point for the collaboration is Sony's decision to license the Palm OS operating system and the commitment by Palm Computing, a 3COM CORP. company, to support Sony's flash memory-based Memory Stick technology as part of the Palm Computing platform. The Japanese electronics powerhouse plans to use the Palm Computing platform to develop an entirely new line of information appliances — in short, mobile wireless electronics products that include not only today's electronic organizer functions but also audio-video capabilities. On paper at least, these devices will be able to access a broad range of wireless-based network services and content. At the same time, Sony and Palm Computing will work together to develop a version of Palm OS that supports the Memory Stick technology — a portable, rerecordable device about the size of a stick of chewing gum that can store digital data, audio, video and music — as well as other Sony AV technologies. Palm Computing will be able to license the bulked-up Palm OS to third parties.

The last products released by PACKARD BELL NEC, INC.'s NEC CSD were three additions to the Versa notebook line targeted at different groups of users. The Versa LXi is aimed at people looking for a desktop replacement at prices starting at $3,000. Running off a 500-MHz mobile Pentium III processor, it incorporates such features as a built-in floppy drive, modular VersaBay III technology and a 15-inch TFT (thin-film-transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) screen with a XGA (extended graphics array) resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels. The Versa VX notebooks deliver convenience and ease of use in a package that weighs 6.4 pounds and measures 1.6 inches thick. They offer a choice of processors, whether Pentium IIIs with a clock speed of up to 500 MHz or 400-MHz and 433-MHz Celeron processors. The same goes for the display: a 12.1-inch TFT screen with a SVGA (super video graphics array) resolution of 800 x 600 or a 14.1-inch XGA TFT display. Hard-drive storage capacity runs from 6 gigabytes to 12 GB. A port replicator for easy connections to peripherals and local area networks also is included in the prices of the Versa VX, which range from $1,700 to $3,600. Finally, for highly mobile users, NEC CSD has the Versa FX, which weighs just 3.5 pounds and has a profile of less than an inch. Inside this slim form is a 400-MHz mobile Pentium III processor, a 12-GB hard drive, a 12.1-inch TFT display and extended battery capability. The price of $2,500 and up also includes external CD-ROM (compact disc-read-only memory) and floppy disk drives.

The next generation of the ePlate handheld PC from HITACHI AMERICA, LTD. will debut in the first quarter of 2000. Among other innovations, the HPW-630ETR incorporates an 8.2-inch color transflective LCD display that allows use of the device in all conditions, including direct sunlight. It also features a ruggedized case and a cradle option. Wireless LAN connectivity is built in. The new ePlate runs off the latest version of HITACHI, LTD.'s SuperH SH-4 RISC (reduced instruction-set computing) processor operating at 128 MHz. This engine was developed specifically for portable appliances like handheld PCs. The operating system is Windows CE Handheld PC Professional Edition Version 3.0.

MITSUBISHI CHEMICAL CORP. will develop the media for MAXOPTIX CORP.'s next-generation Optical Super Density high-capacity, removable, magneto-optical storage devices. The new OSD drives, which combine near-hard drive data-transfer rates and direct overwrite capabilities, will provide storage of 20 gigabytes per side and a growth path to 200 GB per cartridge. The OSD drives and media are designed so that today's MO jukeboxes can be upgraded to the new technology for an almost 800 percent increase in capacity without any changes in the jukebox robotics. Fremont, California-based Maxoptix plans to ship the new OSD drives and media by the fourth quarter of 2000.

In their second tie-up, KENWOOD CORP. and ZEN RESEARCH INC. have codeveloped a CD-ROM drive with an industry-leading read speed of 72X. Like their earlier 52X drive (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 355, April 1999, p. 4), the new one is based on the Cupertino, California company's TrueX technology. A Kenwood affiliate was scheduled to start shipping the drive on an original equipment manufacturer basis in late November. Samples were priced around $240 each.


Hard drive OEM customers of FUJITSU COMPUTER PRODUCTS OF AMERICA, INC. will have two new families of enterprise products available by the end of the first quarter of 2000 as well as the San Jose, California firm's next generation of entry-level desktop drives in December. The Enterprise 36LP Series is designed for the most demanding server and workstation applications. Available in capacities of 9.1 GB, 18.2 GB and 36.4 GB, this line features a spindle speed of 10,000 rotations per second, what is said to be the industry's fastest maximum internal data-transfer rate — up to 62.5 MB per second — and an improved average seek time of 4.7 milliseconds. It is available with either a Fibre Channel or an Ultra3 SCSI (small computer system interface) interface. For the cost- sensitive entry-level server and workstation market, the FUJITSU, LTD. unit has the Enterprise 18LP Series. Compared with their predecessors, these 9.1-GB and 18.2-GB drives, which have a 7,200-RPM spindle speed, deliver a 65 percent improvement in maximum internal data transfer and a 17 percent boost in average seek time. To meet the needs of today's low-cost consumer PC devices, Fujitsu Computer Products rolled out the XV10 family. This line comprises a single-platter 10.2-GB, 5,400-RPM drive and multiplatter 15.3-GB and 20.4-GB, 5,400-RPM drives. According to the company, the industry-leading transfer rate of up to 37.8 MB per second of these products as well as an access time of 9.5 milliseconds and a beefed-up arial density allow the high-speed access to large files that current data-intensive consumer and business applications require.

HITACHI, LTD. intends to be a major player in the market for digital video disc-random access memory drives, which, given their high speed, large storage capacity and rewritability, it sees as the medium of choice in the multimedia world of the future. For now, though, the company is focusing on DVD-RAM drives for PC applications. Its second- generation such product, the GF-2000, will begin sampling in January 2000. With single- sided storage of 4.7 GB, the forthcoming DVD-RAM drive offers some 1.8 times the capacity of its April 1998 predecessor. Moreover, during writing operations, it transfers data twice as fast. .....In the meantime, HITACHI, LTD.'s Brisbane, California marketing unit is shipping a fifth-generation DVD-ROM drive to computer OEMs and multimedia PC upgrade kit suppliers. The GD-5000 can read data from all standard removable optical discs, including both DVD-RAM and DVD-Recordable as well as the full range of CD technologies. It provides a data-transfer rate as high as 11.08 MB per second for DVD- ROM media and 6 MB per second (40X maximum) for CD-ROMs, plus enhanced data- access times for all types of media.

The main promoter of combination drives, RICOH CO., LTD., has moved up the release of its latest product, a four-in-one, CD-Recordable/CD-ReWritable/DVD-ROM drive, in response to strong initial business and consumer interest. The MP9060A drive, part of the MediaMaster line, will allow users to read DVD-ROM and CD-ROM, write to CD-R and rewrite to CD-RW media. Expected to cost less than $400, the drive will have a 6X CD- Recording speed, a 4X CD-ReWriting speed, a 24X CD-ROM reading time and a 4X DVD-ROM reading time.

Small businesses and workgroups never again will have trouble locating an electronic or a paper document. That is the promise made by RICOH SILICON VALLEY, INC. for its novel eCabinet information-management solution. With eCabinet plugged into the office network, all workflow information is routed through it and automatically captured with optical character reading and indexing technologies. Once documents are stored, they then can be searched and retrieved using eCabinet's Web-user interface. Cupertino, California-based Ricoh Silicon Valley, a wholly owned RICOH CO., LTD. subsidiary, specializes in networked office products that harness the powers of the Internet and thin-server hardware/software technologies.

KYOCERA ELECTRONICS, INC.'s strategy for making headway in the extremely competitive U.S. market for laser printers is to emphasize the low cost of ownership of its products just as much as their performance and quality. The latest printer to get this sendoff from the Duluth, Georgia company is the FS-1200, which outputs 12 pages per minute of black text. Based on a suggested price of $650, a long-lasting drum and toner cartridge and low consumable costs, Kyocera Electronics claims that the FS-1200 has the lowest total cost of ownership of any product in its class.

Rounding out its coverage of the ink-jet printer market, SEIKO EPSON CORP.'s Long Beach, California marketing unit introduced a wide-format business graphics printer. The EPSON Stylus Color 1160 prints up to 9.5 pages per minute of black text and 7 ppm of color material with a photo-quality resolution of 1440 dots per inch. It can handle paper sizes ranging from 3.5 x 3.5 inches up to 13 x 44 inches. Compatible with both Windows and Macintosh machines, the EPSON Stylus Color 1160 features built-in USB (universal serial bus) and PC parallel interfaces. It also can be connected to an optional Ethernet print server to serve network requirements. After a $50 mail-in rebate, the printer costs an estimated $400.

Multifunction peripherals have proved to be a tough sale for suppliers, in part because they do not necessarily improve productivity. SHARP CORP. has taken on this complaint in its FO-3800M multifunction digital laser fax/copier/printer/scanner. A true multitasking device, the system simultaneously performs two functions — for example, sending or receiving faxes at the same time that printing or copying is going on. The FO-3800M prints or copies at a rate of 8 ppm. .....In a related move, SHARP CORP.'s American marketing unit introduced a multifunction device with one-touch scan to electronic mail for less expensive Internet faxing. The UX-4000M, which will be available in the first quarter of 2000 at an estimated price of $500, also features fax forwarding. In addition to scanning and Internet faxing, the system functions as a digital copier and an 8-ppm laser printer as well as a regular fax machine.

SONY ELECTRONICS, INC. continues to push the envelope on flat-panel displays. The 15-inch Multiscan N50 XGA TFT active-matrix LCD panel showcases the company's latest engineering efforts. The sleek black design measures just a half-inch at the edge and weighs less than 6 pounds. It also incorporates SONY CORP.'s single interface cable, which allows all the circuitry to be designed into a separate module that can be placed out of sight. Other Multiscan N50 innovations are a user sensor that powers the display down or up depending on where the user is and a light sensor that adjusts the monitor's brightness to the ambient light in the room. The Multiscan N50 will be available in January at an estimated price of $1,500. Currently shipping for $1,300 is Sony Electronics' Multiscan M151, a 15.1-inch XGA TFT active-matrix LCD panel. Although measuring 8.2 inches deep and weighing 11.2 pounds, this monitor occupies half the desk space of a conventional 17-inch cathode-ray tube display while weighing 25 percent less.

Although touting its flat-panel display expertise, SONY ELECTRONICS, INC. continues to advance its lineup of CRT computer displays, all of which now have been converted to the company's "virtually flat" FD Trinitron technology. Marking the switchover are three Multiscan E Series FD Trinitron displays: the Multiscan E100 15-inch (14-inch viewable image size), Multiscan E200 17-inch (16 inches) and Multiscan E400 19-inch (18 inches) monitors. These products are priced at roughly $230, $380 and $650, respectively.

Low-temperature polysilicon TFT LCDs have an edge on amorphous silicon TFT LCDs in terms of both resolution and brightness for new generations of mobile personal devices, TOSHIBA CORP. maintains. Its latest effort in this field is the world's first 6.3-inch display with XGA resolution. That capability makes the display suitable for such products as electronic books or personal digital picture viewers. The new LCD will be available in the spring of 2000. The sample price will be about $1,000. Toshiba's lineup of low- temperature polysilicon TFT LCDs already includes a 4-inch product with VGA resolution (640 x 480 pixels), an 8.4-inch SVGA model and a 10.4-inch XGA display.

An exchange rate of ¥105=$1.00 was used in this report.aaaaa

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