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Compaq remakes notebook PC lines

Compaq revamps its corporate Armada notebook line with new models--including a sleek ultaportable--and common components.

Compaq Computer revamped its corporate notebook lineup today, including sleek designs which reveal influence from Digital Equipment, as it tries to remake itself in this important market.

Compaq is turning up the heat on rivals Toshiba, IBM and others by solving one of the biggest headaches for corporate technology managers: drives, docking stations, and power cords that are not sharable between models.

Compaq is No. 2 in the U.S. notebook market behind Toshiba, according to various market surveys. IBM is in the No. 3 spot.

Components such as hard drives and DVD drives will plug into common "bays" (receptacles), according to Bob Polsen, product manager for Compaq's North America mobile product marketing division. "Customers can now standardize on the entire Armada line and go with a common set of options."

A large customer might invest in only a few DVD drives, for example, letting executives check them out as needed, Polsen explained.

IBM also offers components swappable among models in its ThinkPad portable line. The ThinkPad 600 and 570, for example, can share the same Zip drive, while the 570, 600, and 770 models can share the same memory chips. But not all components are compatible across all models or designs, such as subnotebooks and large desktop replacement units.

To achieve this consistency, Compaq is phasing out its existing Armada line and introducing two series: the M, for mobility, and the E, for expandability.

The two M series lines bear the earmarks of previous notebooks from Digital Equipment, the company which Compaq purchased last year, according to Lindy Lesperance, analyst with Technology Business Research. Digital was a design leader in ultralight, ultraslim notebooks before it was bought out by Compaq.

The new Armadas also draw from a chapter in Compaq's Deskpro commerical PC history. Compaq simplified its Deskpro line about a year-and-a-half ago, scaling back to two models, the EN, or enterprise networking, and EP, for enterprise performance

Three base models make up the new Armada line: the M300, a 3-pound subnotenook with 95 percent-sized keyboard; the M700, a 4.8-pound thin and light portable; and the E700, a three-spindle desktop replacement supporting up to 50GB of storage.

Compaq will continue to support and sell most existing Armada models through the first quarter of next year, with the exception of its low-end corporate model, the 1500c, which will be retired in the third quarter.

The Armada 3500 and 7400 will not be upgraded beyond the 366-MHz Mobile Pentium II processor, nor will there be any new models introduced. Compaq added 400-MHz Armada 1750 and 7800 models on June 14, the last updates to these portables.

Continuing to sell existing models is a departure for Compaq, which in the past would retire them immediately after introducing replacements. One reason is past problems ramping up production and distribution of new models, where dealers couldn't get new models to sell while they had no older ones in stock.

Another reason is the Year 2000 technology glitch. Some larger customers that have completed Y2K testing are leery of introducing new systems into their environments.

"We are hearing stories of people locking down their standards," said Polsen, "although we have research that shows it is not going to be as bad as everyone thinks."

As previously reported, the M300 will be available with either a 333-MHz Celeron or Pentium II processor, 64MB of RAM, 4MB of video memory, 11.3-inch TFT screen, CD drive, 10/000 network connection, 56-kpbs modem, and Windows 95 or 98 for Celeron models or also Windows NT for Pentium II notebooks. Prices start around $2,000.

The M300, which is less than an inch thick, is 3 pounds stripped down and about 4-and-a-half pounds with the expansion bay attached.