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IBM revamps its ultraportable notebook

The computing giant is enhancing the X30 model's wireless access features and extending battery life to eight hours.

IBM has revamped its ultraportable ThinkPad X30 notebook computer, enhancing wireless access and extending battery life to eight hours.

The new ThinkPad X30, appearing Thursday, combines a number of features found on larger notebooks and puts them into a 3.6-pound frame.

The notebook comes with built-in WiFi wireless networking and Bluetooth capabilities, software for network hopping, a security chip for hardened authentication and encryption, and a FireWire port for plugging in consumer-electronics devices such as digital cameras.

"We see a dramatic rise in wireless adoption," said Leo Suarez, vice president of worldwide product marketing at IBM. A year from now, 40 percent to 50 percent of notebooks will come with built-in wireless, he said. Two years from now the figure will climb past 70 percent.

The new ThinkPad X30 also comes with a portable docking bay that plugs into the back of the notebook, giving it an extra battery and an optical drive. With the bay plugged in, the ThinkPad X30 can run for more than eight hours, the company said.

Despite a slump in PC sales in general, notebook sales continue to climb. Prices have been steadily declining, and consumers and IT managers have begun to more readily see the advantages of wireless computing, said Alan Promisel, an analyst with market research firm IDC. Notebook sales will increase 16.3 percent in 2003, he predicted.

Increasing sales, combined with customer demands for performance, are prompting manufacturers to tweak and enhance their designs. Wireless connectivity, for instance, can sap battery power. To tackle this performance problem, IBM has installed power management software to improve overall energy conservation, especially during steady-state periods, when the system isn't handling taxing projects such as data transmission.

In all, more than 25 new patents are embodied in the design of the ThinkPad X30, the company said.

The new notebook also comes with many of the security features found on IBM's larger notebooks. Rapid Restore, for instance, lets consumers replicate their applications and data below a partition in the hard drive. If the computer gets infected, all of the data above the partition can be scraped away and the restored desktop can be brought up in a few clicks.

The ThinkPad X30 also features the IBM Embedded Security Subsystem 2.0, an internal chip that conforms to the standards from the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance for authentication and encryption/decryption.

Despite these features, the ThinkPad X30 could prove to be a tough sell in the United States. Ultraportables, which feature 12-inch or smaller screens and ultralow power processors from Intel or Transmeta, have enjoyed some success in Europe and Japan, but they have yet to become hugely popular in the United States, according to Promisel and others.