Laptops, Mininotebooks to Grab the Spotlight at CES

While the U.S. economy remains in a recession and the CES expo has been scaled back, PC vendors such as Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard are using the show to highlight new laptops and mininotebooks for consumers that are thinner, lighter and much cheaper. At the same time, AMD and Freescale Semiconductor are launching platforms that look to challenge the market that Intel has created with its Atom processor.

At the CES expo, it's all about laptops, ultraportables and mininotebooks.

When this year's CES officially kicks off Jan. 7 in Las Vegas with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer delivering the opening keynote address, PC makers such as Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard along with companies such as Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, Freescale Semiconductor and Qualcomm are offering their visions for next-generation laptops that are lighter, thinner and more affordable than their predecessors.

For instance, HP and AMD combined together to offer the HP Pavilion dv2, a lightweight, 1-inch-thick laptop that costs less than $700 and offers a new AMD notebook platform called "Yukon." With this laptop, HP and AMD are looking to carve out a space between full-featured notebooks with 15- and 16-inch displays and the mininotebooks or netbooks created around the Intel Atom platform.

Lenovo unveiled a number of new laptops that range from the 16-inch IdeaPad Y650, a fully featured laptop with the latest Intel processor technology, to an updated version of its own mininotebook, the IdeaPad S10, which uses an Intel Atom chip, has a 10-inch display and costs less than $350.

Click here to take a look at HP's new notebooks.

Then there are those companies that want to create their own market for the types of netbooks and mininotebooks that use the Intel Atom. The first is AMD with its Yukon platform, but other chip companies, such as Freescale, with its i.MX51, and Qualcomm, with its Snapdragon platform, aim to offer consumers netbooks that cost less than $200, run on ARM processors and support Linux. Texas Instruments is also searching for its place in this new landscape.

The fact the laptops and mininotebooks are hot items at CES should come as no surprise. In December, research company iSuppli released a report showing laptop sales have now finally outstripped desktop sales, which should make notebooks even more important to business buyers and consumers.

Just before the CES expo kicked off, Forrester Research released a report that found that 34 percent of those surveyed were interested in a netbook as a second or third PC, while 23 percent thought a netbook or mininotebook could replace a more expensive laptop.

"We are seeing thinner designs at every price range," said Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC.

"We are also seeing a trend toward lower prices," Shim added. "There are couple things driving that. The first is this trend toward mininotebooks, and they are gathering momentum and market influence. The second trend is the economy. So what we are going to see in 2009 is more price adjustments and consumers will adjust their attitudes toward what a notebook should cost."

Still, getting consumers and even business buyers interested in these new platforms, laptops and mininotebooks could prove more challenging than in past years.

This year's CES expo is expected to be smaller than the 2008 show, reflecting the recession in the United States and the gloomy financial picture for the rest of the world. According to Reuters, there are 2,700 exhibits planned for CES, down from 3,000 in 2008. In addition, about 10,000 fewer people are expected to attend the 2009 show, according to Reuters.

Then there is the matter of the Macworld Conference and Expo, which kicks off Jan. 6 and has managed to steal the spotlight from CES in the past. In addition to the usual buzz surrounding the show-Apple released a 17-inch MacBook that it calls the world's thinnest and lightest-Apple CEO Steve Jobs' recent disclosure about his health and the fact that this is the last Macworld also mean that more eyes are now focused on San Francisco than Las Vegas this year.

However, those obstacles have not stopped PC vendors. For example, HP released its Mini 2140 notebook Jan. 6. While this notebook, which offers an Intel Atom N270 processor (1.6GHz) and a 10.1-inch display, is typical of a netbook, HP is positioning the Mini 2140 as a laptop for enterprise and business users.

Unlike some other netbooks and mininotebooks, the HP Mini 2140 offers configurations that resemble a more mainstream business laptop. These include 2GB of DDR2 (double data rate 2) main memory, a 160GB hard disk drive and a tough aluminum casing. In keeping with current trends, HP also kept the Mini 2140's weight to only 2.6 pounds.

What HP and others are trying to do is expand the audience for these mininotebooks in order to cash in on the current trends. Right now, IDC is predicting that 18.9 million mininotebooks will ship in 2009 and that number will jump to 32.6 million by 2012.