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Dell goes wide

The PC maker launches the Inspiron 8500 with a 15.4-inch wide-aspect display to compete with big-screen models from competitors like HP, Sony and Toshiba.

Dell Computer is taking a wider view with its newest notebook.

The PC maker on Wednesday launched the Inspiron 8500 with a 15.4-inch wide-aspect screen featuring a resolution of up to 1,920 pixels by 1,200 pixels.

While rivals Hewlett-Packard, Sony and Toshiba have moved to 16-inch traditional screens for their notebooks, Dell asserts that it chose the 15.4-inch wide-aspect display mainly for aesthetics, including the higher resolution than what is found on 15-inch or 16-inch traditional displays.

"It doesn't look like a pizza box," said Gretchen Miller, director of product marketing for the Inspiron line at Dell.

Dell's 15.4-inch display, which has an aspect ratio of 16:10, can fit more content on screen than 15-inch and 16-inch traditional displays, which have an aspect ratio of 4:3. Dell said its 15.4-inch screens let people view two view documents or Web browsers side-by-side or watch a movie without black bars appearing on the top or bottom of the screen.

At the same time, Dell said, 15.4-inch displays are more readily available than 16-inch screens.

The Inspiron 8500, which is part of a larger refresh of Dell's notebook line, will start at about $2,300. That version will come with a 2GHz Pentium 4-M processor, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a display with SXGA+ resolution (1,680 pixels by 1,050 pixels). An 8500 with a 2.4GHz Pentium 4-M, a 60GB drive and a screen with WUXGA resolution (1,920 pixels by 1,200 pixels) will be close to $2,500, Miller said.

Many other big-screen notebooks--with the exception of Apple Computer's PowerBook Titanium (the first wide-aspect notebook on the market) and one Sony Vaio model--are so-called desknotes. Desknotes are larger and heavier than most notebooks in order to incorporate desktop Pentium 4 processors and sell at lower prices.

Because of its mix of relatively low price and high computing power, the desknote has been wildly popular with consumers. This week, Dell launched a desktop Pentium 4-based Inspiron 5100 for that market segment.

At 6.9 pounds, the 8500 is lighter than the 7.8-pound Inspiron 5100 with a 15-inch display. The 8500 is also thinner at 1.5 inches thick versus 1.8 inches for the 5100.

"We believe the Pentium 4-M (in the 8500) is really seen as the best performance given the needs of the mobile customer," Miller said. Those needs include the lightest weight possible and reasonably long battery life, she said.

The competition
Competing machines include HP's Compaq Presario 3000, Sony's Vaio GRX 700 and Toshiba's Satellite 1955, which features a 16-inch screen and detachable wireless keyboard.

Models like the new 8-pound Presario 3000 sell for around $1,800 but feature relatively low resolution. The Presario 3000's 16-inch display offers SXGA resolution (1,280 pixels by 1,024 pixels).

Meanwhile, Sony's Vaio GRX 700, which can be ordered directly from the company, offers an optional display with UXGA resolution (1,600 pixels by 1,200 pixels). When fitted with a 2.4GHz Pentium 4-M and that screen, the machine costs $2,459, according to Sony's Web site. The 8.6-pound notebook comes standard with an Intel Celeron or desktop Pentium 4 chip and a 16-inch SXGA screen.

Meanwhile, Apple can claim the largest notebook screen with its newest PowerBook, which features a 17-inch screen with a resolution of 1,440 pixels by 900 pixels.

While the Dell Inspiron 8500's most prominent feature is the screen, the company also incorporates a new chassis design, a color scheme of silver and metallic blue, and new components, such as Nvidia's GeForce 4200 Go notebook graphics board.

The 8500 will replace the Inspiron 8200 as Dell's flagship notebook for consumers and small businesses.

Dell plans to introduce new technology into the 8500 before it shows up in its other consumer and small-business portables. Round Rock, Texas-based Dell expects to offer faster Pentium 4-M chips, DVD burners and larger 80GB hard drives in the Inspiron 8500 as soon as they become available.

A DVD burner option, a DVD+RW drive and the 80GB hard drive are expected to come later this spring. Meanwhile, Intel is expected to introduce a 2.6GHz Pentium 4-M later in the year.

Dell may also install a Pentium-M, the major component of Intel's new Centrino chip family, in the Inspiron 8500 at a later date. As part of its notebook refresh, Dell is also expected to fit its Inspiron 4550 and several Latitude models with the Centrino chip family when it launches next week.

The Inspiron 8500 will be available only in the United States at first, Dell said. The machine will begin shipping elsewhere at a later date.