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Compaq eyes ultraportable

The PC giant will jump into this growing notebook segment later this year, joining HP and others in chasing IBM's ThinkPad 560.

Compaq Computer will jump into the growing ultraportable notebook segment later this year, joining Hewlett-Packard (HP) and others in the attempt to match IBM's popular ThinkPad 560 model.

To fill out its Armada notebook product line, the Houston-based PC manufacturer will debut a ultraportable model by the end of the year, according to sources close to the company. Also known as "thin and light" systems, ultraportables weigh less than four pounds, measure no more than 1.5 inches in thickness, and typically dispense with drive bays for floppies or CD-ROMs.

Last month, HP debuted its Sojourn model at a European trade show. Mitsubishi too competes in this space with its Pedion model, co-designed with HP and released last November.

Targeted at corporate users, ultraportables comprise about eight to nine percent of the notebook market, according to Dataquest analyst Mike McGuire. Individual products have been successful, but as a class ultraportables are likely to remain smallish, he says.

For one thing, while professionals like the sleek form factor and the reduced weight, the IS (information systems) departments that specify corporate purchases are more interested in durability, McGuire says. Other concerns include short battery life and high price.

"But you can't not have it in your product line," McGuire admits. "If you're going to sell corporate you've got to be able to meet their needs." Top-level executives with the power to override IS are among the most common users.

Compaq declined to discuss its plans in detail. "We are looking at thin and light. We plan to be present in all the major product categories," said Chester Pribonic, vice president of Compaq's portables division.

The new Armada will be sold in both the United States and Japan, as well as other markets around the world. Some ultraportables, like the Pedion, have been targeted specifically at Japan, thought to favor small form-factor devices.

At the moment, Compaq's lightest model is its 4200 Armada series, a midrange system incorporating 166- to 266-MHz Pentium MMX chips and a 12.1-inch screen in a 5.2-pound package.