A major distributor believes system builders will welcome a new option for building home entertainment PCs from a chassis manufacturer.

After limiting distribution of its XC Cube barebones computers to smaller companies in North America, AOpen Inc. has signed up the big guns in both Canada

and the U.S.: Tech Data, Ingram Micro, Synnex and Hartco.

“There’s definitely a lot of interest in the Media PC and the XC Cube form factor,” says Ray Gonsalves, Tech Data Canada’s director of product management.

The XC Cube, which has a small footprint frame, comes in four configurations (the EZ for families, the EX for gamers, and the UI for those who want what the company calls an “elegant” box). But it is the EA that will first be carried by the Tier 1 distributors.

The current model, the EA65 II, had already been carried by EMJ Data Systems (now folded into Synnex Canada), Hartco and ALC Micro.

“We changed to Tier 1 distribution to reach a broader audience,” explained James Chen, XC Cube product manager at AOpen in San Jose, Calif.

“They cover more system builders and resellers. We want to increase our market.”

The XC Cube is particularly suitable for resellers who want to build around Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Centre Edition, he said.

Until the fall, Hewlett-Packard was the only OEM allowed to build Media PCs. However, late in the year Microsoft released the OS to system builders.

That helped Tech Data, because it doesn’t distribute HP’s consumer line of PCs. The deal with AOpen will help it even more through sales of components, said Gonsalves.

“We see as the PC moves into the living room and kitchen ergonomics plays an important role, and XC Cube fits very well.”

While Tech Data is starting with distribution of the EA model, the company is looking at carrying other chassis in the line as well, he said.

AOpen hopes with the broader distribution here as many as 500 system builders in Canada will build on the EA65 in the first quarter of 2005.

All XC Cubes come with Instant Mode, which lets users share digital music and video files between Windows and Linux environments. The front of the box looks like a stereo, the company says.

Without booting into Windows users can quickly choose to listen to radio, digital music files, watch TV or play DVDs.

The EA65II comes with a seven-format flash memory card reader.

It also comes with a motherboard based on the Intel 865G chipset and an AGP 8x video card.

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