The New Thin for Notebooks

Ultraportable notebooks gain more features and lower prices in the new round.

A new wave of lightweight notebooks promises to be more livable for the road warrior, by offering more advanced features and built-in optical drives.

Among them are new entries from Lenovo and Toshiba, each of which announced on May 31 a new business-oriented notebook line built around a 12.1-inch wide screen and an internal optical drive. The new machines each weigh about 4 pounds.

Smaller is usually thought of as better, when it comes to business notebooks. Lightweight machines are easier to tote to meetings and on planes.

But the more diminutive machines—often called ultraportables—have generally forced compromises, including asking buyers to use cramped keyboards and to carry peripherals such as CD-RW drives separately, in addition to selling for higher prices than somewhat larger notebooks.

The two newest machines, however, eliminate many of those drawbacks, observers say.

"Manufacturers are trying to attract consumers to whats always been a highly coveted form factor" in ultraportables, said Richard Shim, an analyst at IDC in San Mateo, Calif.

"The limitation has always been price. Now with competition, prices have come down. Whats also notable is that these are coming with optical [drives] built in. Thats a very new feature. Its not just that theyre pricing it down, but theyre actually adding innovation to the systems."

Lenovo is aiming its Lenovo 3000 V100 mainly at small businesses. The 4-pound machine, which starts at $1,099 and ranges up to about $1,650, packages one of Intels Core Duo processors with a 12.1-inch widescreen display and an optical drive.

Among its other standard features are a 5-in-1 memory card reader and a built-in 1.3 megapixel camera for videoconferencing, Lenovo executives said.


Toshibas Tecra M6, at 4.1-pounds, offers a 12.1-inch widescreen display, an Intel Core Duo processor as well as a multi-format DVD writer drive. The machine will start at $1,059 with a Celeron M processor and a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, Toshibas Web site shows.

Ultraportables, which generally weigh 4 pounds or less and have a 12-inch screen, have always been a relatively small niche in the overall notebook market.

The category, which historically represented around 10 percent of shipments, could benefit more than others from a changing market thats expected to see worldwide notebook shipments rise from about 65 million in 2005 to about 140 million in 2010, by IDCs calculations.

Generally, "Were seeing prices come down in all notebooks as competition heats up the category," Shim said.

However, manufacturers "are not just taking a 12-inch ultraportable from two years ago and pricing it down. Theyre adding new technologies to it and theyre lowering the price. This is a sign that the manufacturers recognize...just dropping price isnt going to be enough."

Next Page: Hitting a nerve.