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Toshiba notebooks add wireless options

The new notebook models being launched this week will come with built-in 802.11b wireless networking technology and Bluetooth wireless support.

! EDS: original story posted 9/18, 2:10 pm PDT --> Toshiba is piling on wireless options with its latest notebook PCs.

The new Portege 4000 and Tecra 9000 notebook models being launched this week will come with built-in 802.11b wireless networking technology and Bluetooth wireless support. The new notebooks also add a Secure Digital media slot and an IEEE 1394 connection.

The notebooks offer five ways to share data: using wireless technology, a built-in modem, a built-in Ethernet, Secure Digital modules and I. link, according to Toshiba.

Toshiba says it has offered 802.11b technology since last January in its Tecra notebooks. But the new Cisco Systems Aironet 802.11b hardware included in the new models will support new services such as 128-bit data encryption.

"The fact that it's Cisco is going to allow customers to put some value-added software on it," said Steve Andler, Toshiba's vice president of marketing. It also serves to "broaden the acceptance of 802.11b in very large corporations."

The new wireless options help Toshiba differentiate itself from competitors such as Dell Computer. While it was once the notebook market share leader, Toshiba has fallen on hard times of late. Dell has intensified its focus on corporate sales, a Toshiba mainstay, and used manufacturing efficiencies to cut prices and boost market share.

But Toshiba claims technological superiority on several fronts. Aironet adds capabilities such as encryption not present in other 802.11b products, while Bluetooth and the Secure Digital media slot allow users to share data in different ways. The media slot, which Toshiba says is the first of its kind in a notebook, allows consumers to share data with devices such as PDAs or digital cameras.

When pitching wireless technology to corporations "it's definitely important to partner with a respected connectivity company such as Cisco," said Allen Promisel, an IDC analyst.

Most notebook makers, including Apple Computer, Dell and IBM, have begun offering 802.11b in their notebooks.

As notebooks become more of a commodity "every little bit helps," Promisel added.

Despite its shorter range and lower bandwidth than 802.11, Bluetooth has gained support from many of the leading manufacturers of PDAs, mobile phones and other portable devices. Bluetooth offers a range of 10 meters and bandwidth of about 1 megabit per second, while 802.11b typically offers a 150-meter range and bandwidth of 10 to 11 megabits per second.

The new Tecra 9000 series notebooks are also Toshiba's first to offer Intel's Pentium III-M processor. The recently introduced chip runs at clock speeds of up to 1.13GHz.

Tecra 9000 models will be priced from $2,500 to $3,000, while the Portege 4000 will range from about $2,000 to $2,500, Andler said.

A typical Tecra 9000 will offer a 1GHz Pentium III-M, 14.1-inch screen, 256MB of RAM, 20GB hard drive, a DVD drive and 802.11b wireless. A typical Portege 4000 will have a 12-inch display, 750MHz Pentium III processor and 128MB of RAM, along with 802.11 wireless.

Both notebooks go on sale later this week and should ship before the end of the month.

Toshiba will offer new Cisco Aironet cards along with its current 802.11b offering and the new Bluetooth option through its build-to-order product business, where customers place orders directly.

Potentially, a customer could order a notebook fitted with both 802.11b and Bluetooth and use the two technologies for different applications. However, it's more likely customers will choose one or the other.

Meanwhile, the company will also offer a small number of fixed configurations via retailers.

The Bluetooth module is priced at $100, while the Aironet module costs $150. Toshiba's existing 802.11b module, manufactured by Agere, is priced at $100.