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Toshiba beefs up notebook line

The company plans to release three new notebooks Tuesday; consumers will have to wait a little longer for what may be the first notebook equipped with a DVD burner.

Toshiba plans to release three new notebooks Tuesday, though consumers will have to wait a little longer for what may be the first laptop equipped with a DVD burner.

The consumer electronics maker's new notebooks include a Satellite 1905 with a faster 2.4GHz Pentium 4, a Satellite 1955 with a 2.5GHz Pentium 4 and a 16-inch screen, and a Satellite 5205-S503 with a 2GHz Pentium 4-M and a DVD player. Another Satellite 5205 with a DVD burner is expected to begin shipping later this month.

The notebooks offer faster processors, better graphics and richer sound than their predecessors, which helps close the feature gap between notebooks and desktop computers for consumers, analysts said.

The new Satellite 5205-S503, for example, pairs a 2GHz Pentium 4-M with a high-resolution 15-inch screen, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a combination CD-rewritable/DVD-ROM drive. The machine also offers Nvidia's new GeForce4 460 graphics chip and improved speakers from Harmon Kardon in response to customers who asked for better sound quality, executives said. It will cost $2,199.

Toshiba hasn't yet released the configuration of the DVD-burning 5205, but the machine is expected to offer Toshiba's new mobile DVD-RW/R drive introduced last week, along with a larger 60GB hard drive and 32MB of extra video memory for a total of 64MB. The upgrades are expected to add about $500 to the price, bringing it to $2,699.

There will still a fairly big price gap between the new DVD-burning Satellite and a similar desktop PC with a DVD burner and a flat panel monitor. The desktop PC would be priced between $1,600 and $2,000, depending on the size of the screen. But Toshiba believes that people will be willing to pay extra for exclusivity; the company believes it will be first to market with a DVD-burning notebook.

"The idea is to target consumers who need both data storage and multimedia," said Carl Pinto, director of product marketing for Toshiba. "The usage model we see is, for example, you have a camcorder and record your movie...then burn it right to a DVD using the notebook."

A consumer could use the DVD to store that movie or make a copy to give to a friend or relative, he said.

But DVD burning isn't for everyone--at least not right now, analysts say.

"DVD burning is a high-ticket...item," said Alan Promisel, an analyst with IDC. "Not every consumer is going to be able to afford this."

Toshiba believes it will be the first notebook manufacturer to ship a model with a DVD burner installed inside. But it may be a close race. Sony, which refreshed its PC line for the holidays last week, will also have notebooks with DVD-RW drives out this month.

While Toshiba and Sony will offer notebooks this month, other PC makers such as Dell Computer will wait for mobile DVD+RW drives, due early next year, which they say are more compatible with devices such as DVD players.

Toshiba asserts that its drive, which can record DVDs using the DVD-RW or DVD-R formats, is compatible with the most home DVD players, which use DVD-R.

"We can't bring out a device (that creates discs) that you can't play on your regular DVD player," Pinto said.

Power in small packages
For notebook buyers looking for a more powerful but less expensive notebook, Toshiba will offer a new version of its Satellite 1905. The Satellite 1905-S303 will offer a 2.4GHz Pentium 4, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a combination CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive. It will sell for $1,999.

Toshiba designed the 1905 and its bigger sibling, the 1955, to offer consumers a lot of computing power in a package that's still fairly portable. The 1905 weighs about 8 pounds, making it relatively easy to move between rooms or take on the road. The use of a desktop Pentium 4--a trend that's been growing among notebook makers since early in the year--allows Toshiba to keep costs down and offer relatively good performance.

Meanwhile, Toshiba also updated its biggest portable. The company boosted processor speed and hard drive size of its 9.6 pound Satellite 1955.

The new 1955-S803 will pair a 2.5GHz desktop Pentium 4 with the machine's trademark 16-inch display and a detachable wireless keyboard.

Toshiba upped the machine's hard drive to 60GB, increased the video memory to 64MB and added 802.11b wireless to the machine, which will sell for $2,799. The previous version of the notebook, Toshiba's 1955-S801, was introduced in July with a 2.2GHz Pentium 4 and a 40GB hard drive.