Compaq notebooks headed for Portable-1

Last week's PC Expo in New York was the forum for Compaq Computer Corp. to announce its new Armada Pentium notebook computers, which will replace the company's older Contura models on Government Technology Services Inc.'s Army Portable-1 contract.

The Armada positions Compaq and GTSI to benefit from the summer buying season with a Pentium notebook to compete with the Pentium notebook already offered by International Data Products Corp. GTSI and IDP captured Portable-1 in late 1994. A number of other notebook and desktop PCs were also introduced or previewed at the show (see sidebar, page 34).

Compaq's new notebooks will have an impact on federal customers because of the company's plan to replace its now-discontinued Contura machines with the Armada models on the Portable-1 contract. Also, the new higher-end Armada models allow Compaq to offer a fast Pentium notebook with CD-ROM and multimedia capability on the General Services Administration schedule for the first time. The company's LTE Elite top-of-the-line notebook machine is not Buy American Act/Trade Agreements Act-compliant, so the company has been absent from the high-end notebook market on the GSA schedule, said Gary Newgaard, Compaq's manager of federal sales and marketing.

GTSI expects a surge in buying off the contract from customers who were waiting to get Pentium notebooks, said Patty Bortz, the Portable-1 program manager for GTSI. "We know the Army has customers who are waiting for this," she said.

Compaq's armada of Armadas is made up of the Armada 1100 family and the 4100 family. The Armada 1100 is the entry-level model, and its bears a strong resemblance to the Contura that it replaces. The 1100 features a 100 MHz Pentium processor, a 10.4-inch color display, either an active- or passive-matrix color display and an 810M hard disk drive. The standard 8M of RAM can be upgraded to 24M, and the color display runs at 640-by-480 resolution, displaying 256 colors. It uses nickel-metal-hydride battery technology.

The Armada 4100 features an optional CD-ROM drive and built-in stereo sound. The Armada 4100 family also offers a larger 11.8-inch active-matrix color display and a rugged magnesium chassis.

GTSI will offer the 1100 outfitted with the basic passive-matrix display as the entry-level unit on Portable-1, priced below the contract's current notebook starting price of $1,850, Bortz said. The company has also proposed to the Army that the 4100 model be added to the contract for the $2,048 price of the previous upgraded Contura model. This unit is also equipped with a passive-matrix display, measuring 11.3 inches. Active-matrix displays will be available as upgrades on the contract, Bortz said.

GTSI hopes to have the proposals to add the Armada models approved within two weeks, Bortz said. She estimated that sales will lean slightly toward the 4100 over the 1100 but said she would have to wait and see. The 4100's optional CD-ROM drive could propel its popularity because users are increasingly demanding the drives. "We are seeing a lot of interest in the CD capability," Newgaard said.

Compaq's goal on the 4100 was to make the notebook as compact and light as possible. The magnesium chassis helps conduct heat out of the machine through a radiator in the hinge area, so it has no fan to take up space, add weight and consume battery power.

The Armada 4100 can be configured to serve different roles. The basic unit is only 1.5 inches thick and weighs about 5 pounds. The 4100 can hold its lithium-ion battery inside it, or it can connect an external battery that doubles as a folding handle on the rear of the unit.

In its stripped-down role, it runs on the internal battery, which sits where the floppy disk drive would. With the floppy drive and external battery installed, the 4100's weight climbs to about 6 pounds. For longer battery life, it can be configured with both internal and external batteries, with no floppy drive. For multimedia users, Compaq has a Mobile CD Unit that attaches to the bottom of the 4100. It includes a CD-ROM drive, wavetable stereo sound, a MIDI/joystick port and room for a third battery. With the base attached, the Armada 4100 is about the same size and weight as other notebooks that have those features built in.

The 4100 family features a built-in National Television Standards Committee video output port, software MPEG support and Zoomed Video, which lets buyers run full-motion video through a hardware MPEG decoder for video capture and teleconferencing applications. It also has an infrared communications port for wireless file transfer and printing.

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