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IBM ThinkPad goes for desktop appeal

The G-series notebooks, scheduled to launch Tuesday, are meant to offer mobility but still perform like desktop PCs, Big Blue said.

IBM is preparing to launch on Tuesday a new family of ThinkPads for small businesses considering a switch from desktop PCs to notebooks.

The G-series ThinkPads are meant to offer mobility but still perform like desktop PCs, IBM said. For example, they will include a desktop Pentium 4 processor from Intel and will have a wedge shape intended to make the keyboard feel like a desktop computer's keyboard.

The G-series family also has a floppy drive, an optical drive and two front universal serial bus (USB) ports, mimicking a desktop, but in a smaller and lighter package.

The G-series ThinkPads, which weigh in at 7.5 pounds, still act like notebooks, however. They will offer wireless networking and include a battery that lets them run for up to 3.5 hours.

While manufactures have whittled down the size and weight of their business notebooks to 5 pounds or less, and many businesses have adopted thinner, lighter models over the past few years, a contingent of customers is looking for weightier notebooks, IBM contends.

A large number of customers, particularly small businesses and government and educational institutions, desire a less-expensive portable machine with features such as built-in floppy drives, said Chris Mantin, product manager for IBM's Personal Computer Division.

These customers are also typically less worried about weight and battery life, and more concerned about screen size and processor power. IBM built the new G-series with these customers in mind.

"There's a percentage of the (notebook computer) user base that's going to (continue) using this type of notebook," Mantin said.

In addition, "We've found that there are a lot of customers who still want the safety net of having a floppy," he said.

The first model in the G-series line is the G40. It will come with a choice of a desktop Pentium 4 or a Celeron processor from Intel, a 14-inch or 15-inch screen, one of several optical drives and built-in wireless networking.

The G40 will start at $949, when outfitted with a 2GHz Celeron and a 14-inch screen. A ThinkPad G40 configured with the high-end options--a 3GHz Pentium 4, 15-inch display, a CD burner and wireless networking--will cost about $2,000 when it becomes available, an IBM representative said.

IBM plans to offer a number of G40 machines with different screen and processor configurations. If these are successful, the company said it will update the line with additional models.

IBM, which built the G-series around a desktop Pentium 4 processor, is one of the last brand-name manufacturers to start selling a notebook with the chip.

Manufacturers, starting with Toshiba and Hewlett-Packard and later Dell Computer, now offer a wide range of notebooks with the desktop Pentium 4.

While notebooks with desktop processors have been available for some time, they did not really become a mainstream item until manufacturers incorporated desktop Pentium 4 chips into their notebooks, creating a combination of price and performance that appealed broadly to consumers.

Like the G-series G40 from IBM, desktop Pentium 4 notebooks from Toshiba, HP and Dell offer 15-inch or larger screens and sell for between about $1,400 and $2,000.

Collectively, these other notebooks offer performance that's close to a desktop's and some portability. They generally weigh in between 7.5 and 10 pounds. The machines are used most often while plugged in at a desk, so weight and battery life are not big selling points, manufacturers say.

These desktop Pentium 4 notebooks have sold so well with consumers that manufacturers like HP believe this category of computers will have staying power for first-time notebook buyers stepping up from desktop PCs. Intel has even begun work on a new Pentium 4-based chip line to accommodate them.

IBM said it believes that the G-series can find as much success with small businesses, governments and educational buyers as its competitors have had with general consumers.