IBM, Sony update lightweight laptops

Big Blue tries to wow businesses with weight loss as it preps another ThinkPad for release in the United States. Meanwhile, Sony revamps its smallest, lightest portables.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
IBM and Sony are planning to revamp their smallest notebooks this month.

Big Blue is preparing another lightweight ThinkPad, the X40, for release in the United States this month, according to sources familiar with the company's plans. The X40, which is already available in Japan, weighs 2.7 pounds, about 25 percent lighter than the already svelte ThinkPad X31, according to IBM.

The machine, which will cost between $1,800 and $2,000, will come with a 12.1-inch display, a full-size keyboard and an Intel Pentium M processor, the sources said.

Meanwhile, Sony on Tuesday said it will update its Vaio PCG-V505 and PCG-TR3A notebook lines.

The company's latest Vaio PCG-V505, the V505EX model, will come with a 12.1-inch screen. It's considered to be a so-called two-spindle machine, meaning it contains a hard drive and can accommodate an optical drive. Two-spindle notebooks weigh a little more to make room for an additional drive but are considered to be more practical, said Alan Promisel, an analyst at IDC.

The 4.4-pound V505EX, which uses the latest version of Intel's Centrino chip bundle, will sell for about $1,900 and will be available later this month, Sony said.

The company also fitted its 3-pound PCG-TR3A notebook with a DVD burner. The DVD burner model, dubbed PCG-TR3AP3, will offer a 10.6-inch wide-angle display, a 1GHz Pentium M processor, 1GB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive and a dual-band wireless module for about $3,000, Sony said. The machine will be sold starting later this month via Sony's SonyStyle Web site.

Small notebooks, such as IBM's ThinkPad X series, traditionally have been more popular with businesses, because corporate executives and others who travel frequently tend to want smaller, lighter machines.

But the machines, which often come with 12.1-inch or smaller screens and weigh less than 4.5-pounds, have been a tough sell with consumers and make up a minor portion of the overall notebook market. Small notebooks typically account for between 5 percent and 10 percent of laptop shipments each year, according to research firm IDC.

Part of the reason for the machines' lackluster market performance is that businesses often opt for 5-pound to 6-pound notebooks, which cost less and offer larger screens. Furthermore, many consumers--especially first-time notebook buyers--adopt 8-pound or larger machines with 15-inch or greater screens as replacements for desktops.

Still, lightweight notebooks have the potential to take on a larger portion of the market over the next few years, as businesses spend more on technology, Promisel said. In addition, consumers' notebook requirements are becoming more sophisticated, as they move to their second or third machines.

The "near-term opportunity (for lightweight notebooks) is in business, but over the next three years, we will see more sales...to consumers," Promisel said. "Over time, we expect consumers to become more conscious of mobility."

A number of other PC makers, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu and Toshiba, also offer lightweight notebooks.

In other notebook news, Sony plans to update its Vaio PCG-Z1WA notebook with the latest Centrino bundle. The machine, which will cost about $2,300, will come with a 14-inch display, a 1.7GHz Pentium M, 512MB of RAM, a 60GB hard drive, a combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM and Intel's combination 802.11a/g wireless module, Sony said.

Meanwhile, Toshiba introduced a new Satellite P15 notebook for consumers. The machine, which offers a 3GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor, a 15.4-inch wide-angle display and a DVD burner, will start at $1,899, the company said.