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Computer makers gird for holiday battle

Rival notebook makers Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard and Sony are readying their new 2002 models--and preparing for a holiday joust.

Notebook computer makers are revving up for battle: Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard and Sony are readying their holiday 2002 models.

Toshiba is preparing faster, more multimedia-savvy models for consumers to compete with expected new models from HP and Sony. Meanwhile, all three are gearing up tablet PCs, new notebooklike computers that can capture handwritten notes, for introduction in November.

Toshiba introduced two new Satellite notebook models earlier this week. But in early October, it is expected to introduce its holiday lineup, which will include the first laptop to be sold with a DVD burner, sources familiar with its plans said.

Creating hit products is paramount for notebook manufacturers this year. Laptops have been the only bright spot in an otherwise dour PC market throughout the year, generating good revenue in lean times. The portables have enjoyed steady year-over-year unit sales growth at retail. In the second quarter, portables have outstripped the rest of the world PC market, growing just over 6 percent, while overall unit shipments dropped 1 percent, according to research firm Gartner.

The steady notebook prices may help retailers reach their revenue goals for the holiday season, analysts said.

"Despite everything else, notebooks aren't immune to things that are going on in the computer market," said Steve Baker, analyst with NPD Techworld. But no one has "any doubt that notebooks are going to outperform desktops" during this holiday season, he said.

Retailers will push the holiday models hard, in hopes of driving higher revenue for the fourth quarter. Even though notebook sales are much lower than desktop sales, the average notebook sells for roughly twice the price of a desktop PC, which is around $800, Baker said.

Toshiba's holiday onslaught will include the new Satellite 1410 and 2410 models, which were introduced this week. The new machines aim to combine a competitive price with some high-end features such as a combination CD-rewritable/DVD drive. The new machine includes Intel's new 1.8GHz mobile Celeron chip along with a 15-inch screen, 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive and the combination drive. It will start at $1,399. A new Satellite 2410 model offers a similar configuration, but with a 1.8GHz Pentium 4-M chip.

Best Buy has also jumped into the notebook space with a VPR Matrix notebook. VPR Matrix is the company's relatively new in-house PC brand.

The lightweight VPR Matrix 120 sells for a low price. It pairs a 1.7GHz Pentium 4-M chip from Intel with a 14.1-inch display in a 5.4-pound chassis. It also includes 256MB of memory, 20GB hard drive and a combination CD-RW/DVD drive for price starting at $1,499, or $1,299 after rebates.

HP--which introduced a new Compaq Presario desktop lineup for the holidays on Tuesday--is expected to follow suit next month with new holiday models of Compaq Presario and HP Pavilion notebooks.

Even Emachines plans to join the notebook fray, but not until next year. The company, known for its low-price desktops, is working to introduce a notebook line early in 2003, executives told CNET's News.com in a recent interview.