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Gateway heats up lightweight laptop competition

The PC maker unveils its ultra-portable notebook, achieving parity with Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, IBM, Toshiba and other rivals.

Gateway today unveiled its lightest notebook, achieving parity with Compaq Computer, Dell Computer, IBM, Toshiba and other rivals.

The San Diego-based PC maker is a late entrant into the ultra-portable market, where it faces stiff competition from entrenched models, such as Compaq's Armada M300, the Dell Latitude LS and the Toshiba Protégé.

Gateway's 3.5-pound Solo 3300 is one of the cheapest ultra-portables around, starting around $2,200. While the Dell Latitude LS is similarly priced, the Gateway packs more processing power and storage.

"It appears to be priced competitively compared to competitors," said ARS analyst Matt Sargeant. "You'll see them doing more of this to compete in the corporate space. Gateway is probably looking at Toshiba and its Protégé models, which are some of its best-selling models to the corporate market."

Toshiba is the worldwide leader in notebooks, with 17 percent market share last year, followed by IBM at 13.3 percent, according to market research firm Dataquest. Compaq captured the third spot with 12.4 percent, closely followed by Dell at 11.1 percent.

Toshiba's newest Protégé, the 3440CT, is lighter than the Solo 3300 but costs more and comes with a smaller display. The 3110CT sells for around $2,500 and features an 11.3 TFT display versus the 12.1-inch screen available with the Gateway model.

The Solo 3300 features a blue magnesium alloy case, 500-MHz Pentium III processor, 64MB of RAM, 6GB hard drive and 12.1-inch display.

With the Solo 3300, Gateway is extending a new approach to selling portables: limited customization. Although Gateway, like Dell, earned its stripes building systems to customer specifications, the PC maker is finding less is more when selling portables.

In February, Gateway radically departed from build-to-order with the Solo 1100, which was available in a few limited configurations. Customers ordering the Solo 3300 will be able to change memory and storage options or to choose a DVD drive over a CD-ROM drive, but little else.

Gateway isn't the only company releasing new lightweight models. In the coming weeks, IBM is expected to add at least two new ThinkPad 240 models, one with a 450-MHz Celeron processor and another with a 500-MHz Pentium III chip.

The 2.9-pound ThinkPad 240 is more a sub-notebook than ultra-portable because of its small size and tiny 10.4-inch display.