Compaq to unveil wireless Armada

Compaq Computer will unveil wireless networking technology for its Armada commercial notebooks on Monday.

Compaq Computer will on Monday unveil wireless networking technology for its Armada commercial notebooks.

The Houston, Texas-based PC maker will also launch two new Armada notebooks and refresh existing models with Pentium III processors. Prices range from $1,499 to $2,999.

Wireless notebook networking is one of the hottest trends in mobile computing, particularly among corporations and educational institutions. Market research firm International Data Corporation expects the boom to start next year, with an estimated $839 million in sales and $1.56 billion in 2001.

Wireless notebook networking typically uses a PC card to send and receive data to a base station, or access point, connected to a corporate network. Because users can connect to network resources without using wires, they can move unfettered from, say, the cubicle to the conference room, all the while remaining connected to the Internet.

Compaq isn't the only PC maker chasing wireless networking. In September, Dell Computer partnered with AiroNet to offer wireless technology for its Latitude notebooks. Apple hopes to woo consumers and educational institutions with AirPort, a wireless option available with the iBook portable, G4 desktops, and the iMac DVs.

Compaq first offered wireless access in June, with a 2-Mbps wireless card for its small- and medium-business customers. But that card did not conform with the IEEE 802.11 wireless local area network (LAN) standard.

"Universities are particularly interested, because students can use a wireless LAN card to be on the network all time," said Gregg Sholeen, Compaq's product manager for emerging desktop and peripheral markets. Wireless is also cheaper than laying down network cable, he said.

Compaq will introduce four wireless LAN products, the WL100 PC card for notebooks, WL200 PCI card for desktop systems, WL300 Software Access Point, and WL400 Hardware Access Point.

Buyers have a number of configuration options, the most expensive and reliable being the PC Card connecting wirelessly to the access point. Once attached to the LAN, the access point gives mobile users full network access up to 300 feet indoors and 1,000 feet outdoors.

Performance degrades over distance: 11Mbps up to 75 feet; 5.5Mbps from 75 to 150 fee; and 2.2Mbps from 150 to 300 feet.

Compaq's PC card sells for $199 and the access point for $899. Most companies must buy at least several access points to ensure full coverage.

A cheaper solution is to spend $199 for the WL200 PCI card and $125 for the software access point. Range is the same as the hardware access point, but performance degradation depends on the number of users.

"It's a trade off between cost and reliability," said Sholeen.

On November 15, Compaq will begin shipping all four products, which will support Windows 95, 98, and CE. Windows NT and 2000 support will be available in December.

Compaq will add two new notebook lines that use the Pentium III processor. The Armada E500 Series, a full-featured business notebook line, and the Armada V300 Series, a value notebook.

Compaq will also update the Armada E700, its high-end desktop-replacement, and the M700, a slim-and-wide design that competes with the IBM 600E ThinkPad. Compaq introduced these latter two lines in July, which were designed specifically to accommodate the Pentium III processor.

The new E500 will use Pentium III chips as fast as 450 MHz, displays ranging from 12- to 14-inches diagonally in size, and up to 12 gigabytes of storage. A model with the 450-MHz chip will sell for $2,999.

The Armada E700 will add a 500-MHz chip and a 15-inch display, bettering the current version, which uses a 400-MHz Pentium II and 14-inch screen. It will also sport an 18-GB hard drive, 128-MB of memory, a DVD-ROM drive, and an integrated "Mini PCI" circuit board that combines a modem with a 10/100 Ethernet Network Interface Card.

The Armada M700, which has become the best-selling of the new Armadas, will include models with a 500-MHz Pentium III processor, a 14.1-inch displays, and hard drives ranging up to 12GB. This compares with current models using a 400-MHz Pentium II processors and a 10GB hard drive. Some models will also include the10/100 modem-Ethernet card.