Looking for laptops

NASA is in the market for about 1,000 new laptops, most bound for the International Space Station and for Shuttle missions, but some will head to the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

The Houston-based center expects to release a formal request for proposals this month. At a cost of $5,000 per unit—based on an earlier estimate by the center—NASA can expect to pay about $5 million for the laptops.

Monte Goforth, chief of laptop development and production at Johnson, described what NASA is looking for as "basically, a technology refresh for an on-orbit machine."

He said the new machines would have some new features, but otherwise be more powerful versions of the laptops now used.

"The only new capability is DVD and a USB port," he said. "We've upped the requirements on processor speed, memory and disk capacity."

The IBM Corp.'s ThinkPads, now used for on-orbit missions, have 166 MHz of processing speed, 64M of RAM and a 3G hard drive, he said. For the next round of buys, NASA wants a laptop with a processing speed of 700 MHz or better, 256M of RAM and a 10G hard drive, Goforth said.

The laptops being replaced were bought in 1995, he said, "and you can do lots better on the market now."

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