Lenovo touts notebooks, Olympics push

First IBM was the tech company behind the Olympics. Then Samsung. Now it's Lenovo's turn.

LAS VEGAS--Lenovo's quest for the worldwide acceptance will begin at the upcoming Winter Olympics.

The New York-based PC giant, which last year bought IBM's PC group, will unveil a slew of products at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, starting next month. The company will also unfurl a new branding strategy and demonstrate how it will differentiate ThinkPad--the prized notebook line it acquired from IBM--from the existing notebooks Lenovo already sells, said Sam Dusi, director of marketing for the notebook business unit at Lenovo.

Meanwhile, Lenovo released new notebooks at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. Lenovo said they consume less energy and weigh less than previous models.

In branding, the current ThinkPad line, which is mostly sold to large corporations, will keep the ThinkPad name worldwide, he said.

Lenovo, with most of its operations based in China, will begin to sell its own small business and consumer notebooks, now sold in China, to emerging countries like Brazil, Thailand and India. Until the IBM merger, Lenovo (formerly Legend) sold all of its products almost exclusively in China.

Those notebooks are sold under Chinese brand names, such as Tinyi. Although Lenovo may change those names to appeal to new markets, Dusi strongly indicated that they won't take the ThinkPad name. Instead, he company will maintain a "laser-like" focus on that brand for corporations.

"We want to take what has worked there (China) and bring it to other parts of the world," he said. "The ThinkPad family of products on a global basis will be sold to large and mid-market customers."

Lenovo will be the primary tech sponsor for next winter's Olympics in Turin, supplying PCs, servers and other IT equipment for the games. The company will also remain the primary tech sponsor when the summer games go to Beijing in 2008.

"There will be a whole set of big initiatives at the Olympics," he said.

At CES, the company also released new lines of notebooks: The ThinkPad X60 and ThinkPad T60 lines.

The X60 line is the successor to the thin-and-light X40 line and comes with Intel's Core Duo processors, formerly code-named Yonah. Although the chips have two processing cores, the computers will consume up to 37 percent less energy than current models, Dusi said. With the supplemental battery, some models will run for nearly 11 hours on a single charge. The maximum battery time on current models with the supplemental battery is about eight hours.

"In general, you might get an hour, an hour and a half more, depending on the configuration," he said.

The energy savings come in part through new circuit technology inserted by Intel, but also because the chips get tasks done much quicker.

"There has always been a trade off between battery life and performance, and while dual core doesn't close the gap, it significantly narrows it," said Sam Bhavnani, an analyst at Current Analysis.

Some models will come with built-in cellular capabilities. Lenovo has included technology that allows laptops to automatically switch from cellular connections to Wi-Fi and back, depending on the strength of the signal and the cost. A FireWire port, which was not part of the X40 line, will be in the X60, he added.

In addition, lower energy consumption allowed Lenovo to remove some cooling components, so many of the new models weigh about 11 percent less than existing models.

The T60 line, meanwhile, will not come with a parallel port, an outmoded way to connect PCs to peripherals such as printers. Leaving it out saves on weight and allows more space for the additional USB ports that most customers want. Still, some want the parallel port, so for $79 Lenovo will sell an add-on parallel port that slips into the optical drive.

"The toughest two ports I've had to take off are the parallel port and the serial port," he said.

The first members of the X60 and T60 lines will arrive this week, with more rolling out during the next two months.

The company, he added, also keeps an open mind about inserting processors from Advanced Micro Devices in ThinkPads. (AMD chips already appear in Lenovo notebooks. IBM used AMD for its servers, but Intel for its notebooks.)

Corporate IT managers have been asking Lenovo, "If it is good for my servers, why isn't it good for my laptop?" he said.

But whether AMD can land in ThinkPads, sold primarily to corporate accounts, will depend on a host of factors, he added.

"It is not going to be about speed. It is not going to be about cost. It is going to be about what will make the customer work more efficiently."

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