PC vendors break new ground

There's no question portable computers were hot at last month's Comdex trade show in Las Vegas, but they also shared the spotlight with some noteworthy nonportable products. Here we round up a sampling of both types, including two notebooks that fall somewhere in between.

In the portable category aimed at road warriors, IBM Corp. and Panasonic introduced new notebooks with innovative features.

IBM's ThinkPad R50 notebooks come with the company's new Active Protection System, an integrated technology that parks the hard disk drive head when it detects a fall. IBM combines the system with its Hard Disk Drive Shock Absorber to reduce the chance of notebook failure when the machine suffers a fall or bump.

For added security, the ThinkPad R50 comes with IBM's Embedded Security Subsystem 2.0, a combination of hardware and software protection. Another interesting feature is a one-button backup and recovery solution called IBM Rapid Restore Ultra.

IBM markets the R series as its best blend of portability and essential features for users who are frequently on the go. A sample R50 configuration includes a 1.4 GHz Intel Corp. Pentium M processor, 40G hard drive, 15-inch display and 256M of memory, and costs $2,460 on IBM's Web site (www.ibm.com/us). Depending on the battery size, the notebook weighs between 6.2 and 6.8 pounds with the 15-inch display.

Panasonic's latest Toughbook ruggedized notebook, the Toughbook 29, is ideal for government users because of its ability to simultaneously support up to four wireless communications protocols: 802.11b, Bluetooth, Global Positioning System, and Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service or 1x Radio Transmission Technology.

The Toughbook 29 meets Mil-Std 810F standards for ruggedization and is the first Toughbook to use Panasonic's new double-cross-rib technology to increase the rigidity of the case.

Other enhancements include a dispense gasket for increased water resistance, improved drop-shock resistance, hardened case hinges and anti-twist LCD mounting technology. In addition, fanless heat distribution technology prevents dirt, dust and moisture from entering the machine.

A sample configuration costing $3,876 on the General Services Administration schedule includes an Intel 1.2 GHz Pentium M processor, 13.3-inch touch screen display, 40G hard drive, 256M of memory and an internal floppy drive. For more information, visit www.panasonic.com/toughbook.

Gateway Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. both showed off desktop replacement notebooks with wide-format displays, otherwise known as widescreen notebooks.

The models we saw were Gateway's M675 and HP's Pavilion zd7001us. These notebooks weigh around nine pounds each, so they're portable but not designed for road warriors. Instead, they're aimed at users who want desktop and multimedia features in a system they can take home in the evenings or on weekends.

With the wide screens, DVD-RW/R/CD-RW optical drives and high-end graphics, these notebooks are perfect for graphics buffs and power users. Desktop processors power both systems — 3.06 GHz Intel Pentium 4 with Hyper-Threading Technology.

A Gateway M675 configuration costing $2,000 features a 17.1-inch display, ATI Technologies Inc.'s Mobility Radeon 9600 8x graphics interface with 64M of video memory, a 60G hard drive, Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11g wireless. For more information, visit www.gateway.com.

The HP Pavilion zd7001us features a 17-inch display, nVidia Corp. GeForce FX Go5600 graphics processor with 64M of video memory, an 80G hard drive and 10/100 Ethernet. It does not have wireless capability.

In addition to the optical multimedia drive, the system features an integrated digital reader for Secure Digital Cards, MultiMedia Cards, Memory Sticks, Memory Stick Pros and SmartMediaCards. This configuration costs $2,100 on the Web after a $100 rebate at www.hp.com.

HP is also breaking new ground with its blade PC solution called the Consolidated Client Infrastructure. The CCI consists of an HP Compaq thin client that connects to a blade PC residing in a data center.

Users are not assigned to a specific blade; instead, the system dynamically allocates blades to users depending on availability. Because each user's personal settings are maintained in a separate network storage device, users experience the look and feel of a personal desktop computer no matter which blade PC they are using. This also means users maintain the same profile even when logging on to different thin clients.

Customized CCI solutions start at less than $1,500 per seat.

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