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Asus and HP's big fight for tiny hearts, minds and digits

We're living in a miniaturised world. Small is beautiful and it's all Asus' fault.

After a recent impromptu bout of pub olympics, PC Advisor emerged the triumphant winners of a ‘pool table'. Alas, our dreams of dotcom-boom office chic (and time-wasting) were dashed when our prize turned out to be a miniature toy, useful only to light-fingered Lilliputians. Tiny frisbees and inflatable chairs remain on order.

Blame Asus and the Eee PC.

When the Asus Eee PC 701 was thrust upon UK punters late last year, the fervour generated resembled a piranha attack. The combination of ultraportability, quirky style and sweetspot pricing sent a tsunami of gadget-fiends, suits and, shockingly, actual female ladies hurtling to the high street.

The success continues - April's Hong Kong launch of the Eee PC 900 sold out within hours, for instance. But having opened the world's eyes to small price, small form factor computing, Asus has inevitably drawn the fire of the big boys.

Take HP's 2133 Mini-Note (you know you want to). It's a stylish ultraportable that sits in a similar price space to the Eee PC, but enjoys HP build quality and manufacturing clout. In particular, the Mini-Note boasts a spacious keyboard that makes the Eee PC's feel as cramped as our ill-gotten pool ‘table'.

But will the Mini-Note, and similar efforts from other major manufacturers, blast the Asus out of the water? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps not. Big budgets don't always help clarity of purpose, after all. Apple's iPod shows that savvy marketing and relentless R&D can equal ubiquity if you get out early and grab the public's attention. People talk about ‘iPods' , not ‘MP3 players', and the Eee PC has a stab at achieving something similar, albeit in a less well-defined space.

Either way, the world's top manufacturers are going to throw money at developing ultraportable low-cost PCs, which can only be good news for the punters. Those of us with small hands, anyway.

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