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IBM to get colorful with new notebooks

Big Blue will adopt one of the revolutionary advances in personal electronics--colored plastic--when it debuts a series of new notebook computers next week.

IBM will adopt one of the revolutionary advances in personal electronics--colored plastic--when it debuts a series of new notebook computers next week.

Big Blue's notebook division next week will debut new ThinkPad "i" laptops for the consumer market that will tout, among other features, inexpensive, snap-on colored covers that allow users to personalize their notebooks, sources close to the company said.

Seven different colors, including silver, metallic green, two kinds of red, and IBM blue, will be available to start, while more may come in the future. The covers, which fit over the part of the case that holds the screen, will cost less than $30, sources said.

IBM's foray into the world of computer fashion underscores the trend toward style in electronics. Apple Computer started the ball rolling with its curvaceous, blue iMac in 1998. Apple has continued the push with the new iBook laptop.

Since then, many have jumped on the trend. Nokia has come out with phones in groovy colors, pagers are available with a variety of colorful cases, and scanner, mouse, and printer companies have released equipment laced with all manner of day-glo accents.

Ironically, IBM was one of the first companies to attempt to incorporate a new look for the PC. In 1997, the company launched a series of Aptiva computers, housed in stylish black cases, emphasizing industrial design and top-notch performance.

Unfortunately for IBM, 1997 was the year the sub-$1,000 computer took off. IBM's consumer sales dived. The models soon after left the market.

Beyond color, PC companies have also been experimenting with overall form. Earlier this year, Gateway released an all-in-one computer that incorporates a flat-panel screen. Ultra-small PCs, which resemble Krups coffee grinders and will come in a variety of hues, will come out later in the fall from Dell Computer and others.

One extreme in the form category is the Ottoman PC. Intel recently showed off a prototype of this design, which resembles a footstool.

Earlier this month, Dell also announced Inspiron notebooks in "Tahoe Blue" or "Storm Grey" colors. Other companies, such as Sony, have found success with notebooks that feature brushed-magnesium cases.

Looks, of course, aren't everything. The upcoming ThinkPad i systems, which are geared toward the consumer and small-business markets, will also come with 13.1- and 14.1-inch screens and feature Celeron processors running at 466 MHz and 433 MHz.

Although the new i series notebooks at first glance look similar to previous models, they are thinner, lighter, and pack new features designed for the consumer and education markets.

Two of the new models come with backlit keyboards for low-light conditions. Battery life for normal use is an estimated three hours for all the new models, which weigh about seven pounds.

The ThinkPad i Series 1420 will be available for $1,499 with a 433-MHz Celeron processor, 13-inch display, 32MB of SDRAM, 4.8GB hard drive, and 56-kbps modem.