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IBM aims ThinkPads at consumer market

IBM is preparing a large-scale assault on the consumer market with its popular ThinkPad.

IBM is preparing to launch a large-scale assault on the consumer market with its popular ThinkPad notebook line, the first time IBM is aiming its notebooks at consumers and the first time the company is taking on market leader Toshiba in the retail arena.

IBM is gearing up to supply large numbers of its low-end 365 ThinkPads and mid-range 760 models to the consumer market, said Ben Kempner, IBM program director for brand promotion and marketing programs. IBM is also developing additional models for consumers, according to Kempner.

"The key [to the consumer market] is plentiful supply at the right price at the right time," Kempner said.

To fill those criteria, IBM will start selling its ThinkPads at large retailers, including CompUSA, Computer City, Circuit City, and Radio Shack, starting next month, Kempner said.

In related news, IBM today announced its slim ThinkPad 560 notebook line. This weighs just 4.1 pounds, is only 1.1 inches thick but packs a 12.1-inch active-matrix LCD screen, a full-sized keyboard, and uses processors running as fast as 133 MHz. The notebooks range in price from $2,699 to about $4,200.

Initially, these will be targeted exclusively at the corporate market, but IBM will begin to ask for feedback from consumers as well. "If we find out people want to buy it [in the consumer channel] we'll sell it," Kempner said.

Analysts believe that IBM has to make a move since the visibility of the ThinkPad brand name is greatly overshadowed by other notebook vendors at retail outlets. "When a consumer walks into a CompUSA today, they see Toshiba, NEC, Apple, but you don't see IBM. Part of [the challenge for IBM] is the mind share," said Diana Hwang, an analyst at industry research firm International Data Corporation.

IBM ranks fourth in worldwide notebook shipments, while Toshiba is number one, according to Dataquest, a market research firm that tracks notebook sales. But IBM could close that gap if the consumer campaign is successful.

IBM ThinkPads starting to trickle into retail stores now include the 365ED, the 760E, and the 760EL.

The 365ED comes with a 100-MHz Cyrix 5x86 processor, 540MB hard disk drive, and a 10.4-inch dual-scan color LCD screen for a street price of around $2,700. The $3,400 760E has a 100-MHz Pentium processor, an 810MB hard disk drive, and an 11.3-inch dual-scan LCD.

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