Dell, IBM Revamp Laptops

Dell and IBM will unveil notebook revamps that are centered around Intel's Centrino mobile processor chip set.

Dells D800 Notebook
When Intel Corp. unveils its Centrino mobile processor chip set this week, several of the companys licensees will use the launch as an opportunity to revamp their notebook lines.

Leading the pack will be Dell Computer Corp., which will announce what company officials are calling its most significant advancement since 1997, and IBM, which is staying ahead of the curve with a new line of ThinkPads.

Dell, of Round Rock, Texas, will introduce two Latitude notebooks designed to be desktop replacements: the D600, which has a 14-inch screen; and the D800 (seen on left), which has a 15.4-inch screen, officials said.

Both notebooks include integrated smart-card and Gigabit Ethernet capabilities as well as dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) wireless antennas. Bluetooth connectivity will be optional.

Intels Centrino chip set includes the Pentium-M chip—formerly known as "Banias"—an accompanying chip set and an 802.11b module, Intel officials said. Three versions will be released, with speeds ranging from 900MHz to 1.6GHz. Intel already sells Pentium notebook processors that are primarily enhanced desktop chips that consume less power but hamper battery life. The Pentium-M is designed for notebooks.

"The key to it is that it does more work per clock cycle than Pentium 4," said Howard Locker, chief architect of desktop and mobile systems at IBM, in Raleigh, N.C. "Clock frequency is linear with voltage, which is linear to power."

Dell is offering a line of the D-Family that supports the Centrino chip set as well as a D line that supports the Pentium-M processor in conjunction with Dells TrueMobile WLAN (wireless LAN) support. TrueMobile uses dual-mode WLAN components from Broadcom Corp. The TrueMobile 1300 supports 802.11b and the draft standard of 802.11g; the TrueMobile 1400 supports 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g, according to Dell officials.

The Centrino supports only 802.11b.

The D-Family notebooks ship standard with QuickSet, a customizable software application that allows users to control power management settings—for when a user is on an airplane as opposed to delivering a presentation, for example. QuickSet also lets users enlarge desktop icons for high-resolution displays, officials said.

Furthermore, Dell will unveil a line of hardware to support the new notebooks. The D/Dock is a desktop expansion station, and the D/Port is a basic port replicator. The D/View is an adjustable stand that takes advantage of the notebooks new bottom docking ports, allowing users to elevate the notebook display to eye level.

Industry observers said the D-Family launch is a sign that Dell is learning to innovate in areas other than marketing.

"They are definitely pushing the envelope," said Leslie Fiering, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif. But, Fiering added, "IBM still has the enterprise tools to beat them."

IBM, for its part, this week will launch new T-series and X-series notebooks in conjunction with the Centrino launch. Like Dell, IBM will offer Centrino models as well as Pentium-M models with third-party 802.11a and 802.11b support. Locker said the new lines are "significantly thinner and lighter" than previous models, and they will support roaming among WLANs.

The new notebook line will include the T40 and X31 models, according to sources familiar with the Armonk, N.Y., companys plans. They will also include WLAN antennas that wind around the screen to provide optimal reception. In addition, the T40 offers improved battery life.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Burt

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