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IBM rethinks ThinkPads

IBM adds a new line of ultraportable 560 series notebooks with MMX processors and a new high-end, big-screen 765 model.

IBM (IBM) today added a new line of ultraportable 560 series notebooks with MMX processors and introduced a new high-end 765 notebook, packing an extra-large 13-inch screen.

IBM unveiled the 560e, a follow-up to its highly successful thin-and-wide 560 series of ultraportable notebooks. As reported June 3 by CNET's NEWS.COM, the 560e will be offered with either a 150- or 166-MHz MMX Pentium processor. Estimated street prices for the 560e start at $2,799, depending on configuration.

The computer giant has already built over 20,000 of the 560e models and does not expect any availability problems, according to Steve Ward, general manager of IBM's mobile computing division.

IBM also announced the new 765D, which will crown its mobile offerings. The company claims this is the only "notebook" on the market with a 13.3-inch screen. Other vendors have 13.3-inch screens, but these are heavier "laptop" class systems, Ward said.

As reported in March, the 765D's 13.3-inch active-matrix display is one of the largest on the market. A 13.3-inch LCD screen approaches 16- and 17-inch CRT monitors in viewable area. Pricing for the 765s with a 166-MHz MMX Pentium processor starts at $6,399.

Looking to future designs due possibly later this year or early next year, IBM may introduce notebooks with 14-inch screens, Ward said. He added that a 14-inch screen was the limit for what IBM could fit into a "notebook" design. He said anything larger than this would constitute a heavy, "luggable" computer, which Ward notes IBM has no plans for in the ThinkPad line.

Ward also said that IBM will begin to use Intel's compact notebook motherboard, referred to as the "MMO," in future 300 and 700 series notebooks. The motherboard will allow IBM to quickly come out with new models based on faster Intel processors. Intel is expected to release 200- and 233-MHz versions of its mobile Pentium processors later this year. These processors are candidates for MMO motherboards.

IBM has the right to manufacture the MMO notebook motherboard, according to Ward. This could give IBM a leg up on the competition. The MMO includes the major electronics of a notebook, including the MMX Pentium processor, high-speed cache memory, the processor's power supply, and circuitry for controlling the PCI bus and memory.

On another front, Ward also addressed a recent Gartner Group study on notebook quality problems. The report stated that notebook manufacturers, in general, tend to ship new systems too quickly because of the fast pace of processor introductions, which results in quality control problems. IBM was not mentioned in the report and has generally fared better than most vendors on quality issues.

"I think some of the companies in the industry are trying to blame Intel for their problems," Ward noted. He said the main problem is that designs are not standardized and neither are the internal components. "It's like a body, where the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone," meaning that components are so interrelated that changes to one mean changes to other components, and any small change can affect the quality of the whole system.

To address these concerns, Ward said IBM ships 5,000 notebooks before announcing the new systems to make sure they are working properly. As a result, the repair rate on ThinkPads is down 30 percent over last year for each 1,000 units sold, he added.

IBM is also the only top-tier notebook vendor to use Intel chipsets, Ward claimed. Intel chipsets are used widely in the desktop PC market and, as a result, have undergone extensive testing.