Laptops still in short supply

Notebook vendors still haven't erased the year-long US shortage of the portable PCs.

Notebook vendors still haven't erased the year-long US shortage of the portable PCs. And it is a problem that won't go away soon, according to industry observers.

"Our users are not pleased when they have to wait, but we don't seem to have a choice," says Asmar Madyun, technical support manager at the network services division of AT&T in Berkeley, New Jersey.

The shortages run across the industry. The wait for notebooks from Compaq and Toshiba typically ranges from six to eight weeks, Madyun says.

Likewise, those who use the IBM 560 and the high-end IBM 760 model face waits of six to eight weeks.

Current lead times for some of Digital's high-end, Hi-Note Ultra notebooks are in excess of two months. Compaq officials say orders for some models, such as the Armada 4100, are backlogged into next year.

Demand is likely to remain high, despite a new survey from H&M Consulting in Sunnyvale, California, which tracked high dissatisfaction levels across 2000 laptop computer users in the US and Europe.

Vendors are pushing faster modems and advances such as video. But users want simple features, such as long-running battery life and easy configurations, according to Mark Macgillivray, an analyst at H&M Consulting.

According to International Data in Framingham, Massachusetts, the number of portables sold in the US will rise next year by 34%, to 4.8 million machines.

This figure assumes there are products to ship.

One theory behind the undersupply of laptops is that vendors underestimated the demand, as they have for at least a year.

The new twist -- which is being denied by laptop executives -- is that in a bid to avoid being stuck with older models, vendors have limited production of the newer models, industry observers say.

Some industry watchers blame Intel, the maker of the Pentium processors used in market-leading laptops, for pushing the vendors to support faster and faster chips.

That forces laptop makers to ramp up production in continuous cycles before they can adequately assess the market.

Laptop vendors say the reason for the continuing problem of getting notebooks into the hands of desperate users is simple: runaway, unprecedented demand. They had a year to get it right, but laptop makers interviewed last week insist they couldn't forecast the huge demand that has been thrust upon them.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Group, in San Jose, California, says his company has been telling corporate users for more than a year to have

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