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Sony debuts multimedia notebook

The electronics giant's first notebook PC also signals its entry into the business PC market.

Sony Electronics (SNE) today announced it will enter the notebook market with two new models in its VAIO line which go further than most notebooks in closing the gap between consumer electronics devices and PCs.

The announcement is also significant since it signals Sony's entrance into the business PC market, though the company says it is initially targeting mostly individuals. To date, Sony has been a player only in the consumer PC market.

Sony Vice President Tim Errington also discussed plans for Sony to sell some of its computers and peripherals directly to consumers. But the company didn't elaborate on this strategy, claiming it was too early to discuss direct sales.

Whether Sony can compete in the competitive notebook market remains to be seen. "They're going to have their work cut out for them," said Bruce Stephens, an analyst with International Data Corporation. Stephens noted that the "Big Three" of the laptop market, IBM, Toshiba, and Compaq, are increasing their dominance, and other companies such as Gateway 2000 are trying to muscle in.

In their standard configuration, the new Sony PCG-705C and PCG-707C notebooks weigh about 5.3 pounds, relatively light for full-featured notebooks. The systems will be available in July with an estimated price of $3,500 to $5,000.

The notebooks sport the VAIO line's distinctive violet and gray color scheme, to date the biggest distinction between Sony's PCs and those of other manufacturers. Sony has had some difficulty promoting its desktop systems over the past year, partially because the system did not offer distinct advantages over other lower-cost options.

But Sony's notebooks do depart from the run-of-the-mill notebook design. Sony is one of the first to include a direct hookup for consumer electronics devices: Some Sony models come with a built-in FireWire 1394 connection.

The high-speed "port" is significant because it connects to FireWire or 1394-compatible consumer electronics products such as video cameras and VCRs. This connection taps into Sony's strength in consumer electronics "peripheral" devices.

Though the company is presenting the notebook as suitable for business use, Tac Sugiyama, director of marketing for Sony Information Technologies of America, said "Our long-term goal is definitely to make mobile computing more a part of the home market." But others have also begun to aggressively target this market including Compaq, Toshiba, and IBM.

Sony is offering personal and network docking stations for the laptops to connectg them to external displays, printers, speakers, and networks. The docking stations also have an additional drive bay, a built-in battery charger, and two Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports. USB is a technology for connecting peripheral devices such as keyboards, scanners, and cameras.

The network version has a built-in Ethernet, SCSI, and 1394-based video capture port.

The PCG-705C and PCG-707C notebook computers use Intel's Pentium chip with MMX, at speeds of 150 and 166 MHz respectively. The laptops also offer a 12.1-inch LCD screen and a 14.5X CD-ROM drive, among other multimedia features.

The CD-ROM drive can be removed and replaced with a floppy disk drive included with the machines, or with a second lithium-ion battery.