IBM ultraportable sports larger screen

Firing the first shot in an expected salvo of thin-and-wide notebooks, the IBM PC company is introducing its version of an ultraportable: a sleek, sub-2kg machine priced in the midrange.

The Pentium-based ThinkPad 560, which will be available in a week, sports a 12.1in active-matrix screen and a full-size keyboard in its slender form factor.

"It's a dream machine for a certain segment of the marketplace," says Bill Ablondi, a senior analyst with Giga Information Group, in Westport, Connecticut. "For those highly mobile people who don't have to have an internal floppy drive, this is a nice machine."

Sources say the design of the machine reflects customers' reluctance to sacrifice a large LCD and full-size keyboard to get a more compact, lighter notebook.

"In researching for our 701 butterfly-keyboard ThinkPad, we found out why subnotebooks have not succeeded. People don't want to trade off the size of the screen and keyboard," a source close to IBM says.

Sources also say that IBM sold a couple hundred thousand ThinkPad 701s, which were distinguished by the butterflylike, fold-out keyboard. But that model sported only a 10.4in screen.

The 560 is targeted at experienced notebook owners, Larsen says, and is being positioned as a desktop replacement, although the machine lacks an internal CD-ROM drive and other multimedia capabilities.

"Our definition of the mobile worker is anyone away from his or her desk more than 20% of the time," one source says. "The market for this machine will be those corporate employees who bring their work home with them or spend most of their day in a conference room."

The machine is built to support OS/2 and all the Windows-based operating systems, including NT.

For corporate accounts, the 560s will come with blank hard drives so that IS managers have the flexibility to load and configure the notebook with their operating system of choice. Machines sold through retail stores will come pre-loaded with Windows 95, sources say.

The three 560 models will be priced between US$2700 and US$4200, sources say.

Systems come equipped with a 100, 120, or 133MHz Pentium processor, PCI bus architecture, an 810Mb or 1.08Gb hard drive, 8Mb of RAM, a detachable 1.44Mb disk drive, 16-bit audio with support for Sound Blaster Pro applications and infrared file-transfer capability.

Users will be able to choose from a 12.1in active-matrix colour screen and an 11.3in passive-matrix colour display.

IBM expects the new system will be popular among its corporate accounts, which increasingly roll out mission-critical applications that are designed to work on portables. Also fueling interest in buying more notebooks for such applications is the increasingly aggressive price-performance ratio of systems such as the 560, sources say.

Optional features include a US$400 external CD-ROM drive that runs on its own batteries.

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