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Dell reinvents the mini

The computing giant launches a pair of similar 3-pound notebooks that it's targeting to very different consumer segments.

Dell capped off its notebook line on Tuesday with a pair of mininotebooks.

The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker's Inspiron 300m and Latitude X300 will replace its Latitude X200, rounding out a refreshment of the notebook line that it initiated earlier this year.

Though the three Dell mininotebooks share a similar design--all weigh just less than 3 pounds and offer 12.1-inch screens--the new models promise more performance by incorporating a 1.2GHz Intel Pentium M processor and the ability to share components with Dell's other notebook models, a consideration for companies' IT staff.

The Latitude X200 comes with a 933MHz Pentium III-M and necessary specialized components such as CD drives.

Instead of marketing a single model to several sets of customers, Dell designed two mininotebooks--near twins--that it hopes will appeal to distict audiences.

The company's blue-and-silver Inspiron 300m is aimed at consumers, especially students and second- or third-time notebook buyers who spend time operating while connected to wireless networks.

The Inspiron 300m is also a bit of a gamble for Dell. While the notebook offers a small, lightweight package, a large number of consumers have been buying heavyweight notebooks with 15-inch or larger screens and powerful desktop Pentium 4 processors to replace desktop PCs. These buyers are generally swayed by a feature such as a large screen rather than by the ability to operate on battery power for an extended length of time.

But the company, which offers several desktop replacement notebook models, argues that it also makes sense to offer an ultralight consumer notebook for more sophisticated customers who wish to use wireless networks and enjoy long battery life. Moreover, the 300m will offer enough power to perform tasks such as photo editing, a Dell representative said.

The Inspiron 300m comes with a 12.1-inch screen and a 1.2GHz low voltage Pentium M processor. It starts at $1,599 for a configuration that includes 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive and an Intel 802.11b wireless module. The notebook also includes Microsoft's Windows XP Home operating system, Corel's WordPerfect software a Dell music jukebox and digital photo management and editing software, along with a one-year warranty, Dell said.

Alternatively, the silver-hued Latitude X300 aims for businesses whose executives and sales staff travel frequently and thus demand lightweight notebooks. The Latitude X300 offers a 12.1-inch screen, a 1.2GHz Pentium M chip and wireless connectivity.

The Latitude X300 will start at prices as low as $1,599. Most configurations will include 256MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, Windows XP Professional, a three-year warranty and Dell's Media Base--a module that attaches to the base of the notebook and allows customers to add an optical drive, a battery and extra ports. The model will sell for about $1,950, according to the company's Medium and Large Business Web site.