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IBM preps $1,499 ThinkPad

Big Blue takes a second stab at consumer portables with today's introduction of new "I" series.

IBM is taking a second stab at the consumer market for notebooks with today's introduction of new "I" series ThinkPads, with prices starting at $1,499 for systems with high-quality, active-matrix screens.

IBM ThinkPad
IBM ThinkPad
"I" series notebook
Big Blue is setting its sights on individual consumers who want to use notebooks as their primary computers, and as a result, Compaq and others will face stiffer competition for individual purchasers, analysts say.

Compaq has targeted this market aggressively with its Presario line of notebooks.

The new IBM 1410 comes with a 12.1-inch active-matrix display, a 266-MHz Pentium MMX processor, CD-ROM drive, built-in modem, and 32MB of memory for $1,499. The top-line 1450 adds a 13.3-inch active matrix display, a 266-MHz Pentium II, and 64MB of memory, and tops out at $2,499.

Most low-priced notebooks only offer dual-scan displays at prices below $2,000, including IBM's current low-end offering, the 380XD.

Highlights of IBM's "I" series laptops
  • IBM's new "I" series ThinkPads feature active matrix displays and are priced starting at $1,499. They represent IBM's most serious effort to date to capture a growing market for home and small-office notebook users.

  • The systems have a similar design to IBM's 600 series notebooks, but have added multimedia features such as speakers that are housed next to the display.

  • The top line system has a modular bay that allows users to add a second battery to the unit.
  • Source: IBM

    The company's first efforts for the consumer market came out in May of 1996 and were basically "dumbed-down [corporate-use] ThinkPads," said Dr. Gerry Purdy, president of Mobile Insights.

    The new systems, however, are "designed to have the reputation and look and feel of a ThinkPad," as well as features that consumers want, Purdy said.

    For example, the I-series ThinkPad systems will look like the recently introduced 600 series ThinkPads but will include consumer-oriented features, such as speakers that are mounted on the inside of the lid, next to the display, for better sound. Speakers are often mounted on either side of the notebook's wrist rest, which means they get covered when a user is typing. Front-mounted controls can be used to play audio CDs when the notebook is off--a feature first popularized on Compaq's Presario notebooks.

    The 1720 features a modular bay so that the CD-ROM drive can be swapped out for an extra battery, according to IBM. This is significant as modularity is usually reserved for higher-end business notebooks.

    Future models will be available with a DVD-ROM drive, executives said. They declined to give a time line for introduction.

    IBM is also offering a special service program that gives ThinkPad users priority over other callers when they make a toll-free call for service, and software that can be used to remotely diagnose and update system software on the notebook.

    "Compaq has been pounding away at this market without notice. [IBM's new ThinkPad] will set a mark that will cause Compaq, Dell, and maybe Toshiba to respond," Purdy said.

    For vendors, IBM's presence means the battle to roll in more features at better prices "may get a little bloody," Purdy quipped.

    "This is a notebook born of watching a large segment grow at about 30 percent annually [and yet] go largely unserved," said Michael Braun, the recently installed general manager of IBM's Consumer Division. "There's no reason we can't be No. 1 in this space."

    In the fall of 1997, IBM consolidated its home PC division with its commercial PC unit after failing to make inroads into the consumer market. The move also was intended to cut the costs of operating the two units separately, and has now resulted in a cooperative venture between the mobile computing and home divisions at IBM.

    Braun said he thinks there will be pent-up demand for an affordable ThinkPad, but the company is also going to roll out a targeted ad campaign that will play on radio stations and billboards in major markets to spark demand.

    "IBM's biggest problem will be making sure enough of these are available," Purdy noted.

    IBM said the new notebooks will be available in November at computer retailers, mail-order catalogs, and the company's own Web site.

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