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Compaq Attempts to Muscle eMachines in Court 91

Anonymous Coward writes "Compaq is suing eMachines for patent infringement, but the real reason might be that eMachines is invading their sub-$1000 market. Sounds too similar to the Packard Bell story. " (The Packard Bell reference is explained in the linked-to article in case you don't remember Compaq's similar suit against Packard Bell back in 1994.)
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Compaq attempts to muscle out EMachines?

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  • 1) the joystick and USB ports on the front. Has Compaq patented this?

    The Amiga 1500 had this (well, the mouse and joystick ports, no USB obviously), and they've been around for donkey's years.

  • in the for what it's worth department, emachines also offers machines with k6 and celeron processors.. my dad, for example, has the 333k, which has a 333mhz k6.
  • I've been following the development of the eMachines over the past year or so, and finally got to try one out last month.

    I don't think I'd use one as my primary machine, but as a low cost mid-range server running FreeBSD they'd be excellent. Just pop in a NIC and there you go.

    Now if only you didn't have to pay the M$ tax...

  • The only "unusual" things I can think of regarding the eMachines:

    1) the joystick and USB ports on the front. Has Compaq patented this?

    2) The non-standard power supply. Compaq loves putting non-standard components into their computers, have they patented non-standard power supplies?

    3) The "eMachine" logo instead of the normal BIOS screen upon bootup. Has Compaq patented having the company logo on the BIOS screen?

    My impression is that these are stock generic machines using a generic chipset, but with a sorta nifty case. At best Compaq might be saying that the case is too similar?

    Oh, regarding quality of eMachines: Buy the refurbished ones (you can get them at Fry's and etc.). The nice thing about buying a refurbished one is that you know that anything broken was fixed.

  • Innovation train? You mean being able to boot off of the CD-ROM? For cryin' out loud, eMachines didn't even add that capability to their computer, it was built into the AMI BIOS that they purchased to use in their machine. What next, is Compaq going to sue me because I have an ASUS P2B motherboard in my machine that will boot off of CD-ROM?

    I repeat: These eMachines are so generic that it's pitiful. They don't make a single component in their system with possibly the exception of the case, and every component in their system (except the case) is identical to that in millions of other computers sold every year by manufacturers large and small. It is obvious that this is just a blatant attempt by Compaq to destroy competition in the low-end computer market. I'm ashamed that a company that has paid so much attention to Linux in the past year or so has done such a thing. But oh, I forget, it was the Digital side of the company that paid attention to Linux, not the Texans in Houston...

  • Compaq cloned the IBM PC BIOS (was it in 1983?), and thus was able to start selling PC-compatible computers.

    Now, in 1999, they are suing someone for allegedly cloning them.


  • Yup

    Well I must be bored to rise to this, oh well.

    A PC can boot from a CD with a bios setting. Usually the floppy or CD can be given priority.

    A Linux (and FreeBSD etc) PC can boot from almost anything imaginable. Read some HOWTOs and a few Docs. You can boot of a :floppy,CD,tape,HD(of course),a network or the sound of Alan Cox muttering nearby;).
  • by jonr ( 1130 )
    You can disable the stupid backspacebar;
    Hold down (left, I think) ctrl+shift+alt and press teh backspacebar tvice. You should now have 2 spacebars... Just don't drink too much!

  • I don't think I'd use one as my primary machine, but as a low cost mid-range server running FreeBSD they'd be excellent. Just pop in a NIC and there you go.

    Now if only you didn't have to pay the M$ tax...

    The Linux equivalent of these is at [] I have a feeling that FreeBSD would run on those, too. ;) The Linux Store [] is also pretty cheap.. Neither feature the M$ Tax [tm]. :)

    Either way, I'll stick to building my own with each component picked out by me, personally, with tender loving care.

  • This feature has been around for a while now. I am guessing it was around before AGP become widely available. We now need PC machines to boot off the network, a feature comming soon with Mac OS X, I believe, and was available for many a Unix system for a long time.
  • The 1994 lawsuit against Packard Bell brought to light what most of us who had been doing computer support had known for a long time...

    Packard Bell used crappy components in their computers.

    The lawsuit brought this out in public, made the public aware of how crappy Packard Bell was... and as an end result I no longer immediately respond to every problem computer question with "You bought a Packard Bell didn't you?"

    Unfortunately people don't learn from others mistakes, and we now have eMachines and the like. Ohwell haven't actually seen one yet, maybe they're not as bad as the previous sub-$1000 computers from CTX, Acer, Packard Bell etc.
  • Unfortunately people don't learn from others mistakes, and we now have eMachines and the like. Ohwell haven't actually seen one yet, maybe they're not as bad as the previous sub-$1000 computers from CTX, Acer, Packard Bell etc.

    The emachines are not without their quirks and weirdness, but I have two friends who own them, and overall, they're worth if it you don't/can't spend a lot of money on a computer. I've thought about getting one for a Starcraft box for around the house, since it would probably be cheaper than me building my own.

    They're cheap, but not as horrible as the other cheapo machines I've dealt with.
  • E-boxes are not meant to be a really high end PC/Workstation... Just a decent mom and pop PC.
    So if you go buy one just be sure to get a decent modem too.

    Oh.. and yes Linux likes it just fine ;-)

    One friend with emachine is my roommate, and he doesn't have a use for the modem, we have DSL. One friend seems to have no problem with hers connecting to her ISP.

    As for Linux, don't know, I expect it would work okay except the USB? I do know that the manual says it's okay and even encourages opening the case if you need to. Installing a network card was a snap for my roomie, but then he's always been more of a hardware guy than I am. I keep buying machines with NICs in them already. :)
  • Well, eMachines ain't gonna get outta this one alive. Not that they don't make *CRAP* systems. (CYRIX PROCESSORS?! STILL!? Gods.) But they're going to take one HELL of a PR beating.

    I'm no fan of Cyrix and their processors, but I think you're counting emachines out a little early. So far, we don't even know that there's any substance to these claims. The things COmpaq suggests as infringing sound like everyone under the sun has infringed that.
  • Would your friends exchange their *wunderbar* Emachines to my F8%4@ EMachine...

    Bullshit..I do not how the these bastards sell some thing called a computer branded as "Emachi" and get away with it...Emachine you rot in Hell!!!!

    My friends were also smart enough to buy the 3 month deal so they weren't up a creek without a paddle.
  • One that stands out in my mind is 5,724,226: Housing Access Door Construction for a Portable Computer Docking Station. I didn't think emachines made either portables or docking stations.

    IIRC, there's a door on the front that covers the front USB and joystick ports. Very nifty.

    Looking over the rest of the patents... this is bullshit. Compaq doesn't have a leg to stand on. But a lot of cash.

  • My problem here is this: My first IBM compat computer was a PB 386SX-16. A computer that lasted for 5 long years w/o any major problems. When the Class Action Suit came out for all PB users I had to laugh... It stated that any machine bought before a certain time was guaranteed another 5 years of warranty... Now, the reason that this is so funny is #1 -- I had a 386SX-16 that was already 5 years old and had been relinquished to serving as a BBS. #2 -- How many people really use the same machine for 5 years? #3 -- If they were so terrible that we needed to file a classaction suit, why would you want to have the items in the lawsuit add more to a warranty for a computer that wasn't working for you in the first place?

    Now, as far as PB using crappy parts in their machines (and as far as the class action suit stated, refurbished parts in new machines) -- what company on the market today doesn't sell their machines w/Winmodems (as we all know the lowest of the low on our hardware lists) or w/Winprinters, or w/some other god awful device that really only works in Windows? I think that we just need to stop crying and fess up that you get what you pay for...

    Just my worthless .02
  • Don't let the sh*tty consumer Presarios shape your opinion of Compaq hardware. The business class Deskpros (except for the EP - I *hate* that thing) and the Proliants are pretty nice.
  • Yes, I have gotten one of those. One. It went back. Typically those arn't shipped out unless it's requested, though. Is your sysadmin a BOFH?
  • Compaq hasn't proven themselves to be abysmally stupid in the past, but there's always a first time. As always, I'd prefer to see the specifics of the complaint rather than relying on clueless journos...but lawyers generally are the last refuge of the incompetent.

    (For those in other threads who were saying a Bar Association might be a good group to form for the high tech industry, see What License? or, Why you can sue your doctor but not your lawyer. [])

  • I had a Compaq 286 for a while that was built like a tank; the only thing I really hated about it at the time was the non-standard screws that held everything together (Torx?). I think lingering resentment over this is one of the things that's always attracted me to real open standards as opposed to proprietary cries of Not Invented Here. The hard drive ended up crashing its bearings, making a really interesting (and loud) grinding sound as it gave up the ghost, and the generally nonstandard case design kept me from recycling most of the pieces.

    Anyway, there's stupid and there's abysmally stupid. I know we see a lot of it in general, and the technical world is no exception, but we still need to distinguish between the two. Judgment call, arguably, on whether Compaq qualifies as abysmal when there are so many more worthy contenders, most of whom can be identified by cruising alt.sysadmin.recovery [alt.sysadmin.recovery], as well as grepping for the F-word in the Linux source [].

  • Some PCs can boot off the network. IBM supports or defines somemthing called the "Preboot Execution Environment" so that they can "netboot" a special version of OS/2. I suspect that this technique is IBM-specific and has nothing to do with standards such as Open Firmware.
  • I bought an eMachine 366si recently. It's got a Celeron 366 processor, 32 MB RAM (gotta upgrade that), 40x CD, and USB on the front. With a 17" monitor it was $550 (the CPU was $400). It's a very nice box for he money. It seems to be well-manufactured, and the case is easy to get into and out of. I stuck in an ethernet card and hooked it into my hub, and now it's on the internet. I have not ever (and will not ever) use the modem, so it's a non-issue for me. I'm going to stick my Voodoo1 card in its slot when I get a Voodoo3 for my Mac.

    For what my wife wanted, it's perfect. Quicken, solitaire, web surfing and email.

  • Man, haven't you ever played with one of those keyboards with the "backspace bar"?

    Those came with a LOT of deskpros. Imagine looking up at your screen and seeing that you'd accidentally erased a large number of your letters.

  • I bought a Presario 5630. And yes it is my fault. The sleep mode locks up the computer. After hours of downloading what Compaq calls softpaqs, one softpaq solves a problem and another problem crops up. Could i charge them for the time i've spent trying to get this 5630 to work? Compaq was the first PC i owned, a Presario 954, i thought i was upgrading... The moral of this story, don't even pay compaq shipping.
  • A few points as you enlighten yon Mac user...

    A new PC can probably boot from a CD, depending on its BIOS. Not all PC's can, however; booting from a CD-ROM drive isn't always supported in older machines' BIOS. With those older machines, just running Linux or a *BSD won't help you boot from a CD if your BIOS won't allow it.

  • If you can't compete, use patents and lawyers. Lots of them.

    I'm so glad to see once again that patents and IP encourage innovation... [cough].
  • People like us should be careful of attacking the IP system. Patents are the reason a lot of companies fund R&D, thus giving us half a change to make a decent wage. Without patents Microsoft would just copy EVERYTHING.

  • Gee, and WITH patents we have absurd claims on amazingly obvious technologies. I'd say that patents DO have their place, but not with how utterly idiotic the US Patent Office tends to be. Lets see what I can recall from recent memory:

    #1. The recent 'Digital Audio' patent.
    #2. Microsofts apparent patent on anything resembling Style Sheets.

    I'd like to see this list extended, and while were at it, find the patents that EMachines has been violating and see if they fit the 'bonehead' descriptor too.
  • As fast as news travels these days it'll be interesting to see if this backlashes on Compaq. They don't really need to alienate consumers with a bully image right now.

  • I just happened to buy one of these little
    eMachine beauties this last weekend. I was a little
    skeptical at first, but for $550 I got a 400MHz
    Celeron with 128k on chip cache, 5x DVD (with
    software decoding - which works fine, BTW), a
    6.4GB hard drive, 4MB ATI Rage Pro AGP 2x,
    and 32MB 66MHz RAM. And the
    manual and the website both claim it runs Linux -
    I'll have to try that out this weekend. I also had
    no problem installing a 2940UW with a couple gigs of MP3's and a zip drive.

    As an MP3 stereo system, I'd say it's a pretty
    good deal. I'm happy.
  • Lots of people, i assume, otherwise the companys wouldn't be in exsistance.

    some people don't know how easy it really is to build a computer
    "Subtle mind control? Why do all these HTML buttons say 'Submit' ?"
  • I read in the artical that it had somthing to do with pasword stuff and bios splash screens.

    pretty god damn pathetic if you ask me...

    I can't imagen you would have trouble finding "prior art" with relation to passwords
    "Subtle mind control? Why do all these HTML buttons say 'Submit' ?"
  • What the HELL!?

    What, Compaq patented BIOS passwording with a pretty logo?

    It's a petty lawsuit. Welcome to the PC OEM world. Undercut the competition, and should the competition be several hundred times larger than you, yet you're gaining on their market, you get sued.

    Well, eMachines ain't gonna get outta this one alive. Not that they don't make *CRAP* systems. (CYRIX PROCESSORS?! STILL!? Gods.) But they're going to take one HELL of a PR beating.

    Rest In Peace, eMachines.

    -RISCy Business | Rabid System Administrator and BOFH
  • But the method that pc's use to boot from a CD is at best a hack. What it basicly boils down to is taking an image of a bootable floppy diskette and modifying a small bit of it and then writing it out to the CD. When the system boots from the CD the CD "replaces" the floppy and becomes a:\ the floppy becomes b:\ .
  • Compaq has posted a list of the 13 patents it alleges are infringed by emachines h ere [].

    One that stands out in my mind is 5,724,226: Housing Access Door Construction for a Portable Computer Docking Station. I didn't think emachines made either portables or docking stations.

    The other patents cover a variety of generic PC stuff, including one that looks a lot like the infamous XOR cursor patent. IMHO, Compaq is casting a pretty wide net here, throwing any of its patents marginally related to generic PC hardware at emachines. They wouldn't dare do this to a bigger player without expecting countersuits for violating that company's patent portfolio. I guess they think that emachines doesn't have any patent portfolio of their own.

    Prediction: this will get settled out of court for "an undisclosed sum." It's entirely FUD.

  • I care. I wouldn't buy a Compaq since they sell proprietary crap, and especially after they were stupid enough to stop internet sales of Comnpaq computers to keep the store prices higher. But I don't know anything about eMachines, and have no reason to think they're a bad company...if Compaq wants to self-destruct that's fine, but they're even worse assholes than I thought if they try to drag others down with them.
  • by ShawnP ( 34239 ) on Monday July 26, 1999 @06:00PM (#1782766)
    Apparently, when one computer maker comes up with a new revolutionary idea, they cross license it to other manufacturers and the other manufacturers do the same. Apparently, emachines was taking a free ride on the innovation train run by the other manufacturers
    (From MSNBC [])

    From Yahoo []

    The technology in question, including selectable resolution monitor systems and a system designed to boot from CD-ROM or tape, is basic to PC systems.

    (They also mention that the result of the earlier PB lawsuits that Compaq filed was the PB had to pay Compaq for 5 years of Patent royalties. The other sources don't mention that)

    Information for your digestion on the matter

  • Emachines are definitely not targetted at people who can build their own systems. It's for the "little people" who don't need a powerhouse, just something to do their homework and check their Juno email with :)

    Sure, they're pieces of crap, but you pay for what you get.

  • Okay, I work at Compaq (as a summer intern), and I saw the internal story on this. There are about 13 patents in question, and I would say at least half of them shouldn't have been approved in the first place. I can't give the details because the stupid screen says "Compaq Confidential: Need to Know".
    The patents are all vague and trivial. Yeah, Compaq may be going down. But to be fair, they are really trying to turn it around, not just sue everybody because they can't think of anything else.
  • Compaq's screen resolution patent might be one of their few serious ones. It was filed in 1982, but not approved until '86 so it still is valid for a few years.

    I owned an original Compaq portable and it had the innovative ability to work in both IBM compatible video modes -- monochrome and CGA -- with a special keyboard combination to switch between the two. The key combination changed the scan rate of the monitor, not just the resolution. I'm not sure that they invented this, but I hadn't seen it before and it gave the Compaq a huge advantage over the IBM PC.

    NEC came out with a multiscan monitor much later.

    Most of the other patents are garbage IMHO. Very obvious solutions to anyone "trained in that field".
  • ...if Compaq wants to self-destruct that's fine, but they're even worse ... than I thought if they try to drag others down with them.
    I care because:
    1. I have a Compaq Presario notebook.
    2. It sucks.
    3. If Compaq sucks this bad, that means they don't know what they're doing (already obvious, I realize), therefore, if they don't know what they're doing, how much less do they know what eMachines, and/or any other company is doing! (esp. to be suing someone.. those morons)
    4. One must wonder (I know a lot do) how the heck they think they were infringed upon...

    In conclusion.. I hate my computer!
  • Pardon me for asking.. I'm a full-time Mac user (hey, no flames pls) so excuse my ignorance.. how long have desktop PCs had the ability to boot from anything other than their floppy drive (well, at least without a major hack to their startup sequence script)? I know most Macintoshes can boot from a CD by holding down "C" for a few seconds after powerup/restart.

    Linux user: if (nt == unstable) { switchTo.linux() }
  • I've seen the inside of an eMachine. Aside from having a very clean layout, the machine sucks from a hardware standpoint.

    #1) They use Samsung drives. Any hardware tech has seen far and away more than his fair share of Samsung drives fail. I swear if someone gave me a Samsung drive, I wouldn't accept it. If I did, I'd sell it to my worst enemy.

    #2) They use TriGem motherboards. TriGem? No thanks. I'll pass.

    #3)WinModems. 'nuff said.

    You'd be better off building one yourself.

  • Yes, I too would love to see just what the brilliant Compaq patents are that E Machines is using without permission. I've seen too many trivial and unoriginal patents to believe this without so much as a description of the intellectual property involved.

    Is anyone aware of the substance of this suit?
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't IBM sue the original BIOS cloners out of business? They won their case though, so companies like Compaq could make clones. Compaq was one of the first ones to do this.

    However, this whole post is only valid IIRC, so someone back me up on this... please?
  • The technology in question, including selectable resolution monitor systems and a system designed to boot from CD-ROM or tape, is basic to PC systems.

    Unless I am forgetting my computer history lessons, Apple actually designed the first computers that could boot off of a CDROM (Quadra 66AV and 850AV). Could be wrong, but those machines predate PowerPC.
  • Just curious, have you ever used and EISA machine? I don't know about the Compaq Presarion 2200, probably pretty new, but EISA motherboards needed specific software for each specific motherboard. It was an interesting dilema because the software for each specific motherboard was generally only for DOS.

    The idea of placing something that is absolutely necessary for the machine to run on a hard drive to make it hard to upgrade is not new, stupid, but not new.
  • I had a roommate who had a sub-$1000 compaq computer. It was the most proprietary piece of ?hi? I had seen in a long time. I had problems intalling NT instead of 95 on it due to problems with the drivers for the modem and other things, never mind trying to get Linux to work. The case was a desktop and about a thick as a SPARC 10 with one expansion slot filled with this wierd modem that could fit in that box.

    Unless you know what you are getting into, or are building your own box, don't buy sub-$1000 machines. The number of corners they cut to drop the price that low is not worth the hastle that you will run into.
  • Hey, if MS just copied everything and didn't release any code themselves then maybe they would have a product that was worth something! :)
  • I don't know how long Linux has had bootable CD's but I know that NT 4.0 has always been bootable via CD. 95 and 98 straight out of the box can not boot from the CD but OEM versions generally can. I understood why 95 couldn't, but the idea that they thought that the average Joe couldn't remember to remove the CD from the drive after the install for reboot for 98 is just plain stupid.

    There were several problems with booting from CD on the PC. The bios need to support one of two things, either boot from CD-Rom or state to boot from SCSI first, in general if you have both and IDE and SCSI the IDE has to be hda, c: if you are a DOS person, which complicates booting unless you bios specifically offers boot from SCSI as an option. If the bios allowed a boot from SCSI, which almost all do, you still needed a SCSI CD-rom that was boot capable. I believe that the Toshiba XM-3401, 4X SCSI CD-rom (one of the best CD-roms out there but hasn't been produced for a while, it was replaced by the mass production model XM-5401), was on of the first bootable CD-roms, and those were available before IDE CD-roms popped onto the scene. Also, plain IDE CD-roms are NOT bootable, they MUST BE ATAPI! Before the ATAPI standard there were several IDE CD-roms out there includeing the Toshiba XM-5602, which due to their proprietary coding are not bootable CD-rom drives.
  • Jesus Christ!

    Anyone had a look at the list? Some highlights:

    • Some of the advancements include the ability to display text and graphics on one computer monitor
    • Video Display System Having Multiple Selectable Screen Formats

    Gee, I guess that includes about every single computer on the planet. Maybe they'll start suing TV companies and anyone else using CRTs.

    • Device for Mapping a set of Interrupt Signals Generated on a First Type Bus to a set of Interrupt Signals Defined by a Second Type Bus and Combing the Mapped Interrupt Signals with a set of Interrupt Signals of the Second Type Bus
    • Interfacing Direct Memory Access Devices to a Non-ISA Bus

    PCI bridge, anyone?

    There's plenty more but the jist of the page is that Compaq is full of shit. Oh well. Let's /. Compaq. All hail "the freedom to innovate."

    Jonathan Wang

  • The first point is in the text above the list. It's not in the actual list of patents; it seems to be Compaq's attempt to clarify exactly what it's trying to prove.

    Jonathan Wang
  • I recently purchased a $300 eMachines computer, and that was such a mistake..... within two months, the power supply died, and they use a non-standard (small) form-factor power supply. Of course, they don't sell parts.

    Your only choice is to pay $89.95 to get the three year extended service warranty, *plus* an additional $50 to get a replacement machine shipped to you. Of course, this ends up being a substantial fraction of a cost of the machine to begin with. The original intent was to buy a cheap, trashy machine for those times when I absolutely had to run Windows applications. I didn't realize how trashy machine I had purchased, although I suppose the $299 price should have been a tipoff.

  • I have an Emachines PC, 333i. The hardware on it is pretty much standard, but the WinModem that comes with it stinks. I replaced my modem with a Zoom External, which works fine. It uses a Mini ATX motherboard and an on-board Crystal sound card. The Video card is OK for games like quake, etc. I upgraded to 96 megs of RAM and it improved a lot. These are pretty solid machines, well compared to my old 486 I had just a few months ago.
  • they use a Samsung CD-ROM drive. The hard drive is a Seagate. I have never seen a Seagate hard drive fail.
  • Time to send a note home to Compaq's parents...This is just another example of a company that can't compete outside of the court room. Gimme a break.

    Besides, I don't know anyone who'd buy computers from any of the companies listed above...And I've yet to see a manufacturer than can build a better computer for less money than I can build one myself. Sub-$1000 or not.

  • Oh look, you have an equal or better product than us, you are in our market, you our eating our cash. We can do 1 or 2 things.

    1) develop a better product, put an extra %200 percent in, and give it all we got, to push our product into a fine tuned piece of art.

    2) or pay some lawyer to sue your punk ass.

    My lawyer is going to eat you to shreads, Bitch...
  • Compaq's are just plain crappy. There's my 3 pence...
  • You know compaq has gotta lot nerve, asa anyone who used there 2200 ppresarion can attest to, anyone who puts the bios of a machine on the hard drive and not a chip just to make sure you don't upgrade or that they need to save ten cents on a machine, has no right to sue anyone anywhere over any copyrights. Smack compaq in the face for a obvious attempt at crushing compettition, and let them take there toys and go home. Who really controls this industry anyways, lawyer's or people with know how?? I do tech for a companey that deals with alot of lawyers, and honestly, if you gave them machines with three things, a word prosseror, a billing program, and a web browser they would be happy. Remember compaq we know what you're up to, and you're last restructre was because you were failing, you whineyu ass crybabies
  • sorry about my spelling it's early here

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