Sharp serves up beefier notebook

The company is answering customer requests for a larger, more powerful notebook that serves the needs of workers wanting desktop power with the portability of a laptop.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
Sharp is looking to build a bigger customer base in the United States with a larger, more powerful notebook computer.

The company on Monday introduced the new 8.4-pound Actius GP20, which has the desktop version of Intel's 2GHz Pentium 4 processor and a 15-inch screen, for a price just less than $2,000.

Since getting back into the North American PC market during the summer of 2001, Sharp has been best-known for its lightweight notebooks. But the new GP20 takes advantage of a growing trend among desktop buyers who wish to have a computer with some degree of portability, even if the machine will spend most of its time sitting on a desk.

"We had requests from our corporate customers to round out our line of products," said Terry Storm, product marketing manager for Sharp Systems of America, which sells Sharp notebooks in the United States. Those customers requested a beefier machine.

They "wanted the flexibility of a notebook, but it didn't matter to them if it was a three-spindle" machine, Storm said.

Three spindle notebooks, sometimes referred to as desktop replacements, are typically the largest notebooks. They include two additional spindles, or rotating elements--an optical drive, such as a CD-ROM drive, and a floppy drive--along with a hard drive, which counts as the third spindle.

The GP20, like several other new desktop replacement notebooks from brand name manufacturers, uses a desktop Pentium 4 to provide higher clock-speed but keep the price low. The desktop chip costs hundreds less than its mobile-oriented sibling, the Pentium 4-M, which is specially designed to address two big notebook concerns: battery life and overheating. Sharp can pass along its savings on the desktop chip to GP20 buyers.

Customers will have to live with trade-offs: the higher weight, of course, and shorter battery life. But Storm said those concerns are minor for GP20 buyers, who are likely to spend 80 percent of their time sitting at a desk.

Despite its push to gain customers, Sharp will try to stay away from market position brawls with the likes of Toshiba or Dell Computer by choosing its battles. Sharp will put less emphasis on notebooks built around the popular configuration of a 14-inch screen and a weight limit of 6 pounds.

"We're trying to stay away from a me-too product line," Storm said, where vendors compete mainly on price.

Instead, Sharp will concentrate on its two lightweight notebook lines, the 3-pound Actius UM Series and the 4-pound Actius MV Series, as well as on its new heavyweight, Storm said.

An Actius UM10 starts at $1,299 and includes a 600MHz Pentium III-M mobile chip from Intel, a 12.1-inch screen, 128MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive. The Actius MV10, which includes a bay for a floppy or CD-drive, packs a 1GHz Pentium III-M along with 256MB of RAM and a 30GB hard drive, as well as a 12.1-inch screen. It starts at $2,199.

The desktop replacement GP20 will include the 2GHz Pentium 4 chip, a 15-inch screen, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a combination CD-Rewritable/DVD drive and built-in wireless networking. It will sell for $1,999.

Meanwhile, competitors such as Sony and Toshiba are also trying to win more customers in the United States. Like Sharp, Toshiba is focusing on desktop replacements, selling a wide range of desktop Pentium 4-based notebooks at retail. Sony launched a program late last year designed to sell its notebooks to business buyers via distributors.

The practice of using desktop chips in notebooks has not been without controversy, though, most recently among Toshiba customers. A group of Toshiba Satellite owners recently filed suit against the company, claiming two Satellite models using Pentium III desktop chips have faulty designs.