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Sony makes Vaios easy on the ear

Prototypes hope to keep MiniDisc format alive

Sony has taken the wraps off a pair of personal computers designed to strike a chord with digital music fans.

The two machines, one notebook and one desktop, were on show in prototype form at the World PC Expo which is currently taking place just outside of Tokyo. Launch dates for the products were not disclosed although they are expected to be available sometime this year, a Sony representative said.

The first of the two machines is an updated version of Sony's stylish Vaio QR notebook (old one pictured). Now in a shiny white plastic case, compared to the black case on the previous model, the new computer sports a pair of stereo speakers that clip into sockets on either side of the display and protrude rather like ears. A slot for MagicGate Memory Stick, the copy protection-enabled version of Sony's proprietary Memory Stick memory cards, is built into the machine.

Specifications for the computer were not available and no pricing was disclosed, although Sony did say the machine has a 13.3in colour TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display).

The second new computer on display was a new version of the desktop Vaio MX computer. This version, dubbed a Music Server by Sony, was also designed around a music theme and features a slot for MiniDisc disks on the front of the computer.

The new machine represents part of Sony's attempt to keep the MiniDisc format alive despite pressure from digital music players. This is centered around the concept of Net MD, something that the new Vaio MX supports. Net MD seeks to make transferring digital music to MiniDisc as easy as downloading the same tracks to a digital music player.

Falling somewhere between a music system and personal computer, the new machine has a pair of large companion speakers and a built-in 20-watt per channel amplifier. It is based on an unspecified version of Intel's Pentium 4 processor and runs the Home edition of Microsoft's new Windows XP operating system. Like the notebook computer, further details on its specifications were not available.

Alongside the new machines, Sony also unveiled two new Net MD external drives for notebook and desktop PCs. The drives connect via USB (universal serial bus) cables and allow users with suitable software to write to MiniDiscs from their PCs.

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