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Low-cost laptops shedding weight

WinBook, Dell touting reduced notebook size as additional draw to cheaper machines. Photo: Lighter laptops

Price isn't the only thing shrinking on a new generation of low-cost laptops. Some are losing weight, as well.

WinBook, a division of Micro Electronics, announced on Monday that it will put a $699 price tag on a LX 300 portable PC that comes with Linux and weighs 4.6 pounds. Dell has also updated its low-price laptop line for consumers, adding the Inspiron 1200, which starts at $749 and has a 14.1-inch screen. It weights 6.3 pounds, less than predecessors such as the 6.8-pound, $949 SmartStep 100N. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart continues to offer budget Balance notebooks on its Web site, starting at less than $500.

Lighter laptops

Creating a low-price notebook is usually an exercise in managing component costs. Manufacturers pick less-expensive parts and sometimes choose to offer the Linux operating system instead of Microsoft's Windows XP. Other times, they might offer rebates to drop the price on existing models and drive up sales at retail.

However, WinBook is also using size and weight to woo consumers to its inexpensive machines.

The difference between the WinBook LX 300 and other inexpensive laptops is "the size and weight and the fact that it's very easy to carry," said Ed Lukens, WinBook's marketing manager.

"It looks exactly the same as a notebook that cost $1,699," he said. "The only difference is the OS, the hard drive, the RAM and the processor--it's using the Celeron M 350 instead of a higher-end Intel processor--and no wireless."

Still, WinBook made some trade-offs when configuring its low-priced LX 300. It chose, for example, to include less RAM and a smaller hard drive than some of its other notebooks have. The $699 model also comes with Linspire's Linspire 4.5 operating system.

"There's savings in a lot of different component areas. There's also a savings using the Linspire OS," Lukens said. "You can cut the amount of RAM on the unit and still have good performance with Linspire."

The portable LX 300 will come with a 12.1-inch wide-screen display, a 1.3GHz Intel Celeron M 350 processor, 128MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM drive for $699. It will be preloaded with Linspire 4.5 when it starts shipping in April.

The base price on a WinBook LX 300 with Windows XP Home Edition, which will come with 256MB of RAM, is $798, Lukens said.

Dell has kept its Inspiron 1200 priced at about the same as its predecessor, the Inspiron 1000, but moved it to Intel's newer Celeron M chip and made combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM drive a standard feature. The Inspiron 1200, which carries a $749 list price before rebates, comes with a 14.1-inch screen, a 1.3GHz Intel Celeron M 350, 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive and the CD burner. The Inspiron 1200 is available now.

Still, despite offering numerous improvements, the inexpensive new notebooks offered by WinBook and Dell lack items some notebook buyers might expect to see. Neither comes with wireless networking capabilities as a standard feature, for example.

Dell offers a wireless module as a $39 upgrade on its Inspiron 1200, and upgrading from a 90-day warranty to a one-year warranty on the machine costs $19. Wal-Mart's Balance laptop line starts at $498 for a model based on Linspire 4.5, and $548 for one with Windows XP and wireless, according to the site.