On Monday, both MicronPC and Gateway began offering new notebooks that let people connect wirelessly to corporate networks that use the 802.11b standard.
The real attention-getter, however, is likely to be MicronPC's fingerprint reader, which is designed to verify a person's rights to access data inside the system. With its Transport GX2, MicronPC becomes one of the first manufacturers to build into a notebook so-called biometric security, which is based on unique aspects of a person's physiology.
MicronPC's notebook launch is part of the Nampa, Idaho-based company's plan, begun earlier this year, to revamp its entire product line, including notebooks, desktops and servers. The revamping, the company has said, will make the new products more competitive on price and will fit better with a renewed effort to focus on small business and government sales.
The fingerprint-recognition device, located inside the GX2's palm rest, offers an added layer of data security. It works by taking a kind of snapshot of a person's fingerprint, which is then used as a BIOS-level password. The machine will not start up without having seen the necessary print. (The BIOS controls system hardware in a PC.)
"If someone wants to access your system, they can't. It just won't boot" without the right print, said Jay White, manager of MicronPC's Portables Product Group.
MicronPC claims to be the first name-brand PC maker to market a fingerprint device in the United States. Chipmaker STMicroelectronics provided the fingerprint reader and software.
Both the Transport GX2 and a second notebook being introduced Monday, the Transport XT2, also offer built-in 802.11b wireless networking, an IEEE 1394 port, larger screens than earlier models, and Intel's latest Pentium III-M processors. The XT2 does not offer the fingerprint reader.
Wireless networking is a feature popular in the education market and for small and medium-sized businesses. MicronPC says as many as 30 percent of customers buying notebooks opt for wireless installed at the the factory.
The Transport GX2 and XT2 are fitted with an internal antenna, making the addition of an internal 802.11b wireless LAN card a $99 option.
Despite the changes, the new systems retain compatibility with docking stations and disk drives from MicronPC's previous Transport models, including the Transport GX and XT, the company said.
Pricing for the new notebooks starts around $1,950. At that price, each comes with a 1GHz Pentium III-M processor, a 14.1-inch screen, 128MB of RAM and a 10GB hard drive.
At about 5 pounds, the XT2 is designed for greater portability. It lacks the 6.5-pound GX2's fingerprint security feature and built-in floppy drive. Both models are about a half-pound lighter than their predecessors.
Gateway's new Solo 5350XL, meanwhile, will offer a basic configuration of a 1GHz Pentium III-M processor and a 14.1-inch display with 256MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, and a combination CD-RW/DVD drive, starting at $1,900.
The San Diego-based company also launched a low-priced Solo 1400SE. That machine offers an 850MHz Intel Celeron chip, a 14.1-inch display, 128MB of RAM, a 10GB hard drive and a CD-ROM for $1,199. Customers can add 802.11b wireless LAN and a spare battery for $150.
The new Solo notebooks officially launch Tuesday, but they were available via Gateway's Web site as of Monday morning.