IBM hypes high-end notebook

Big Blue dubs its new ThinkPad A31P a "portable workstation." The machine is fitted with high-speed hardware, including Intel's new Pentium 4-M processor.

IBM is pitching its latest ThinkPad notebook as a portable design studio.

Big Blue on Wednesday dubbed the new ThinkPad A31P a "portable workstation." The machine is fitted with the fastest hardware, including Intel's new Pentium 4-M processor and ATI Technologies' ATI Mobility FireGL 7800 graphics card.

With the launch of the Pentium 4-M this week and the advent of new, better-performing graphics for notebooks, IBM believes notebooks finally have enough power to do the job of portable workstations for high-end technical applications--for example, on the factory floor when a problem crops up on an assembly line.

Typically, workstations are desktop machines that combine the fastest processors, the best available graphics and the largest hard drives, in an effort to tackle applications that include mechanical design. Computer makers offer a wide variety of these machines, some based on Windows and others using the Linux or Unix operating system.

IBM says its customers wanted something more portable to run these high-end applications, said Chris Mantin, a worldwide marketing manager for ThinkPad.

"We tried, but notebooks just weren't powerful enough" at that time, he said.

Both IBM and Dell Computer recently announced models based on Intel's 1.2GHz Pentium III-M, but IBM says that even these machines lacked the performance needed to be effective as workstations.

Since then, processor and graphics technologies have improved to the point that it is possible to build a mobile workstation that will offer adequate performance. The technology "intersection point was...with the Pentium 4-M," Mantin said.

IBM is working to certify its new machine to work with about 25 applications, including the Catia-a mechanical design application from Dassault Systems used to design cars, among other things. Certification usually means that the software maker has approved the system for use with its applications.

Dell is also expected to update its mobile workstation, the Precision M40, with the Pentium 4-M in the coming months.

IBM's new A31P weighs in at 7.1 pounds. The machine incorporates a 15-inch Flexview display, which IBM says is 50 percent brighter than traditional screens and offers a 170-degree viewing angle, along with a 1.7GHz Pentium 4-M, 256MB of RAM and a 60GB hard drive. The machine sells for $3,349 to $3,699, IBM said.

IBM also announced a ThinkPad A31, a more pedestrian version of the notebook, for a price starting at $2,499. IBM will begin shipping both notebooks on March 19.