Sony, Toshiba upgrade notebooks

The two release new laptops aimed at different markets amid continuing optimism for the portable market.

Sony and Toshiba released new notebooks today amid continuing optimism for the portable market.

Although there are still more desktops sold than notebooks, notebook sales are growing at a faster rate in a variety of markets, according to various estimates.

One big sticking point is that a shortage of displays kept notebook prices relatively high last year. Although opinions vary, the shortage has improved, which could lead to lower prices and greater market penetration.

Consumers as well as PC makers benefit from increased sales. Laptops generally deliver higher profit margins because, among other reasons, manufacturers can more easily add features or use design to differentiate their products from competitors.

For example, Sony's revised Vaio CIXS PictureBook, released today, weighs a mere 2.2 pounds and measures just over an inch thick. Unlike other notebooks, the PictureBook is rectangular, rather than square, and opens more like a book. The PictureBook depends upon a 400-MHz Pentium II, which is not at the cutting edge of processor speed, but the user gains style and function that he or she otherwise might not get. In addition, it comes with a built-in camera to make it easier to take and exchange digital photos.

"We see a significant trend toward smaller, more functional and highly portable computing products," Mark Hanson, senior vice president for the Personal Network Solutions Company at Sony, said in a statement. The PictureBook will retail for an estimated $2,300.

In a similar vein, Gateway, for instance, recently released a notebook with a 15.7-inch screen, larger than most of its competitors. Asian manufacturers, however, are touting designs for the future with 16-inch screens, sources said recently.

By contrast, Toshiba's new satellite notebooks aim for budget buyers. The Satellite 1605CDS and 1625CDT both come in more conventional designs but sell for much less. The 1605 comes with a 450-MHz AMD K6-2, 32MB of memory and a 12.1-inch screen and sells for a suggested retail price of $1,199. Meanwhile, the 1625 comes with a 475-MHz K6-2 and twice as much memory. It sells for $,1599.

More bargain notebooks will come out later in February when Intel releases new mobile Celeron chips, sources have said.