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Notebook, screen makers agree on display standard

Notebook PC companies and display manufacturers agree to a standard for current and future notebook displays, a plan which may eventually help alleviate display shortages.

    Notebook PC companies and display manufacturers have agreed to a standard for current and future notebook displays, a plan which may eventually help alleviate display shortages.

    Many of the industry's leading firms have settled on a mechanical and electrical standard for notebook displays, the companies jointly announced today. Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Toshiba participated in the working group that hammered out the new specification, along with market research firm DisplaySearch.

    Industry consensus on common components will benefit consumers, analysts have said. Previously, each manufacturer used a proprietary technology to connect displays to its notebook models, which meant that notebook manufacturers were vulnerable to even the slightest fluctuations in availability.

    Shortages of notebook displays have been common in the last few years, especially as laptop prices have come down and systems become more widely available. This year, Dell has had an especially hard time getting its hands on enough displays, and suffered notebook shipping delays as a result. Recent revenue would have been higher, executives have said, if it weren't for such shortages.

    Dell hasn't been the only PC maker affected by shortages: Compaq recently warned of delays in some of its consumer PC lines, and supplies of Apple's new iBook notebook computer have been late because of display shortages.

    Regional catastrophes, like the recent earthquake in Taiwan, have further impacted component prices and availability. Many analysts have predicted shortages of most PC components manufactured in Taiwan, including displays, motherboards, and memory.

    The situation has exposed a flaw in Dell's direct sales and build-to-order business model, to-date so successful that it has spurred the rest of the industry to shorten manufacturing cycles to better respond to market shifts. Under Dell's scheme, PC manufacturers keep a small inventory of components on hand.

    The newly agreed-upon display standard should lessen these types of problems, member companies and analysts said.

    "This new standard should help improve notebook PC display availability and allow each of us to reduce our time to market," the companies said in a group statement, because PC manufacturers won't have to worry about stocking large inventories of soon-to-be obsolete displays.

    "The standard should reduce the overabundance of custom display module designs that has forced notebook [manufacturers] to modify their packaging, interface design, and tooling nearly every time a new panel supplier or display module is adopted," the group said.

    The agreement between notebook and display manufacturers should also open up potential partnerships and alliances, analysts say.

    "This standard should finally allow notebook vendors to use a variety of displays in their machines, and will allow panel vendors to work with a larger number of notebook vendors," Brian Phillips, a retail analyst with ARS, said in a report, noting that standard displays will allow notebook manufacturers to easily switch suppliers when necessary, alleviating shipping delays due to shortages.

    Notebook product cycles may also be shortened by the agreement, according to Phillips.

    "Until now," Phillips said, "proprietary connections had to be developed between the notebook and display, which kept notebook vendors from easily switching to another flat-panel vendor should supply problems occur."