Luring businesses with low-price laptops

Manufacturers are angling for business customers with several new, relatively inexpensive notebook models.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
PC makers are grabbing for a rung on the corporate ladder with their latest crop of inexpensive business notebooks.

This week, Gateway is expected to introduce the M405, a notebook designed to offer a competitive set of features for a relatively low price.

The M405 will become the latest in a string of new or revised notebook models offered to businesses in recent weeks by PC makers such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard. The manufacturers want to entice businesses with the appeal of relatively inexpensive computers that offer workers more mobility, while hoping to gain from predicted increases in PC shipments, as the worldwide economy improves. Some businesses are also expected to move from desktops to notebooks, as they replace their aging computers.

Gateway's M405X model will include Intel's 1.2GHz Celeron M processor, a 15-inch screen, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a combination CD-burner/DVD-ROM drive and an 802.11b module for wireless networking. The 6.1-pound machine's starting price of $1,199 also includes a one-year warranty and Microsoft's Windows XP Home Edition operating system.

A 405XL model will come with Intel's 1.5GHz Pentium M processor and an 802.11b/g wireless networking module for a starting price of $1,399.

"For a system (selling) at these price points," said Ajay Gupta, vice president of notebook products, "it has got great battery life, great performance. It hits every single buying criterion for the corporate side."

Gateway will offer the M405 to consumers as well, although many of them have recently been opting for larger, more powerful notebooks that serve as desktop replacements.

Gateway's business notebook launch is similar to efforts by Dell and Hewlett-Packard, which have also added new entry-level business notebooks in recent weeks.

Dell's 5-pound Latitude D505, launched earlier this year, starts at about $1,300. When configured to match the Gateway 405M's 1.2GHz Celeron M, screen, memory, wireless module and other features, it comes to just more than $1,500, according to Dell's Medium & Large Business Web site. Although its price is higher, Dell includes a standard three-year warranty with the Latitude D505, versus the Gateway M405's one-year warranty.

HP offers a version of its 5.75-pound HP Compaq nx5000 with the 1.2GHz Celeron M chip, a 15-inch display, 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive, a DVD-ROM drive and 802.11b wireless for $1,199, according to its Small & Medium Business Web site. HP adds a twist by offering the machine with Windows XP Professional Edition and a one-year warranty. Windows XP Professional Edition generally costs more than the Home Edition. It adds $60 to the price, when ordered on the Dell notebook, for example. And it adds $79 when added to the Gateway M405.

While the latest notebook models aren't as low in price as some other business notebooks or consumer-oriented machines--which often sell for prices below $1,000--they typically offer better components, weigh less and come with wireless networking capabilities. Meanwhile, business notebooks in general have improved. Laptops such the new Gateway M405 and the Dell Latitude D505 offer faster processors, larger hard drives and cost hundreds of dollars less than past models.

Back in May 1999, Dell touted its then brand-new Latitude CPt, as its first business notebook less than $2,000. The machine, which was also its first Celeron notebook, came with a 333MHz Celeron, a 14.1-inch display, 32MB of RAM, a 4.3GB hard drive and a CD-ROM for a starting price of $1,899.

Toshiba also revamped its Tecra business notebook this week, with a 5-pound M2 model. Although it's not considered to be a low-price notebook--the most basic Tecra M2 is nearly 1 pound lighter and has a faster processor than the other notebooks--it has also benefited from the same pricing trends.

Toshiba's Tecra M2 starts at about $1,400. A Tecra M2-S430, priced at $1,499, offers a 1.4GHz Intel Pentium M, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a combination CD burner/DVD-ROM drive, an Nvidia GeForce FX Go5200 graphics card and 802.11 wireless networking, according to Toshiba's Web site.

The Tecra M2 may be similar in purpose, but it's a major departure in price from Tecra models in the past. Toshiba's Tecra 8200--its first 1GHz Pentium III Tecra model--hit the market at about $4,500 in March 2001.