Intel pressures vendors

When Intel's Mobile Pentium II processor debuts on April 2, the chip giant has promised a wide variety of form factors and price points from notebook vendors that plan to base systems on the chip. But some vendors are singing a slightly different tune. While Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, NEC, Toshiba, and others prepare notebooks based on the Mobile Pentium II, some find themselves unable to fulfill Intel's promises for the chip.

When Intel's Mobile Pentium II processor debuts on April 2, the chip giant has promised a wide variety of form factors and price points from notebook vendors that plan to base systems on the chip. But some vendors are singing a slightly different tune.

While Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, NEC, Toshiba, and others prepare notebooks based on the Mobile Pentium II, some find themselves unable to fulfill Intel's promises for the chip -- particularly that it will proliferate among high- and low-end notebooks alike.

"We would love to make an inexpensive system based on the Pentium II, but the fact is that the chip is still too expensive," said one vendor official who asked to remain anonymous.

As a result, prices will vary widely upon the introduction of the systems. Compaq's plans include the Armada 7800, priced from $US4,000 to $5,000 and featuring the 266MHz version of the Mobile Pentium II, 64Mb of synchronous DRAM, and a 5Gbdrive, sources said.

Dell intends to reach the sub-$3,000 price point with its Inspiron line, which features systems with a 233MHz Pentium II and a 13.3-inch thin-film transistor display. It will include the 266MHz Pentium II in its corporate Latitude line, which features a 13.3-inch display, a height of 1.7 inches, and a built-to-order configuration at prices less than $4,000, sources said.

Intel attributes such price disparity to variations in marketing.

"We will see systems similar to what we've seen in the past, not the Everyman's affordable computer," said John Antone, worldwide product marketing manager at Intel. "We also anticipate $2,995 and below from a number of [vendors], as well as some thin-and-light machines. But in terms of chip pricing it is a level playing field.

As for various form factors, the thinnest product to take on the Mobile Pentium II is NEC's Versa 5000, at 1.3 inches, featuring a 233MHz or 266MHz chip and a built-to-order configuration At prices starting at about $3,500.

Beyond that, form factors are not expected to change much. IBM will include it in its ThinkPad 380, 600, and 770 lines, and it aims to make the Mobile Pentium II systems affordable, at prices less than $4,000.

Analysts said April 2 will not be unlike previous Intel chip announcements, with several expensive systems making their debut. The company's plan to aggressively cut prices on the Mobile Pentium II with 300MHz version should enliven the market this fourth quarter.

Other products expected to be announced on the Mobile Pentium II launch date include a Tecra 700 from Toshiba and a very high-end OmniBook 7100 from HP that includes an 8G-byte hard drive at prices less than $6,000.

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