It's thin to win for Hewlett-Packard.
The latest crop of thin and wide notebooks are going to become the mainstay in the portable market, forcing the more powerful, and more costly, desktop replacement models further to the fringe of the market, according to executives at HP.
Thin and wide designs typically pack a robust feature set into an extra-wide but thin design. This design is exemplified in the IBM Thinkpad 600, the Compaq Armada 6500, and the Hewlett-Packard 4100 series.
The push toward thin, in fact, is already happening at HP, said Marc Jourlait, director of worldwide product marketing for mobile products at HP, which released a new version of its slimline OmniBook 4100 today.
The 4100, introduced in April, already accounts for more than half of all of HP's notebook sales, he said. Today's new release, the OmniBook 4150, brings the fastest mobile chip from Intel, the 300-MHz Pentium II, to the 4100 line. So far, the 300-MHz chip has only been available on HP's more upscale, and bulky, 7150 OmniBook.
"A lot of corporate users are into their second or third generation of notebooks. They don't want to carry around an 8 or 9 pound box," he said. "The 4100 has been the big seller in terms of units."
Technological advances in battery technology will further reduce notebook sizes, he said. Thinness will also start to come to the value line of notebooks in the near future, resulting in thinner value notebooks with 12-inch screens.
Compared to desktops, thin notebooks like the 4100 or IBM's ThinkPad 600 are neither short on features or cheap. Where these machines tend to shine, however, is in comparison to the big, bulky desktop replacement models that have often been upheld as paragons of portable computing. Slimline notebooks typically come with smaller hard drives and often fewer modular drive bays, according to Jourlait. In exchange, the overall notebook comes in at under 6 pounds.
The OmniBook 4150 notebook comes with a 300-MHz Pentium II, a 14.1-inch active matrix screen, a 6.4GB hard drive, a drive bay, a NeoMagic graphics chip, and 64MB of memory. It sells for $4,299. The OmniBook 7150, by contrast, comes with a 8GB hard drive and a more powerful graphics engine, among other features. It also weighs more.
While some vendors have experimented with expanding the footprint of the machines to accommodate 15-inch screens, Jourlait said that the next advances in form factor will come in further reducing notebook thickness.
One likely avenue for reducing thickness will come through the proliferation of prismatic lithium ion cells. Unlike current battery cells, which are cylinders, the prismatic cells are shaped like prisms. This means that they can be arranged in an interlocking pattern inside a notebook with very little wasted space, unlike cylinders, which sit together like logs. The height on some prismatic cells is also shorter than the diameter on cylindrical cells.
"You can fill almost every crevice with battery material," he said. "The thickest element of a notebook today is the battery."
Case materials will also improve. A number of companies have released ultraslim notebooks with magnesium or carbon fiber cases, both of which are more sturdy than plastic and allow for thinner boxes. As the materials come down in price, they will proliferate across product lines.