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Apple to zoom past Intel notebooks

Apple may get a leg up on Pentium notebooks with a superfast 240-MHz PowerBook.

Apple Computer (AAPL) may get a leg up on notebook PC vendors that rely on Intel processors by announcing a superfast 240-MHz PowerBook.

The company has evidently decided to move aggressively against Pentium-based notebooks from companies such as IBM, Compaq Computer, and Toshiba, which are expected to top out at speeds of 166 MHz for the forseeable future.

Apple's strategy signals the company's intent to use pent-up demand for powerful notebooks to drive sales and profits. Sales of powerful but expensive notebooks are rung up largely at big corporations where users need a computer that is mobile but has the power of a high-end desktop model.

Not only is this a huge market, but profit margins on these products typically are higher than on boxes destined for consumer use.

By concentrating on PowerBooks, Apple is killing two birds with one stone: proving that it can outperform Intel and promoting a product with the fattest profits to boost its revenue decline.

As previously reported by CNET, Apple is expected to introduce the PowerBook 3400 line--code-named Hooper--at Macworld Expo in Tokyo, which opens February 19.

The 3400 is expected to have cutting-edge features such as a 3GB hard disk drive, a 12X CD-ROM, and a 12.1-inch active-matrix LCD screen, according to industry sources. These are all firsts for PowerBooks and are badly needed to make them competitive, feature for feature, with Intel-based notebooks.

But most important, the new line will feature really fast chips.

The 240-MHz PowerBook 3400 is not expected to ship until sometime in April, according to industry sources. But a 180-MHz and 200-MHz version will likely be available, at least in limited supply, at the time of announcement.

Apple originally intended to announce new 3400 notebooks that would top out at a speed of 200 MHz. But the 603e PowerPC processor tuned specifically for use in notebooks is now being manufactured at higher speeds, and Apple will take advantage of those gains.

The 3400 is expected to feature a PCI bus and 64-bit memory and video paths. The PCI bus is a high-performance data path for components such as video chips that helps the rest of the computer keep up with the performance of the main processor. PCI is now used on almost all of Intel's new Pentium-based notebooks.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.