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Dell bids to catch notebook rivals

The computer maker plans to unveil two portables weighing 3.5 pounds and 4.4 pounds, respectively, in an effort to broaden its corporate appeal.

Dell Computer will announce its lightest notebook models today, a move that may help the company catch up to its competition.

The Round Rock, Texas, computer maker will unveil two portables weighing 3.5 pounds and 4.4 pounds, respectively, according to company executives. The Latitude LS and a new version of the Latitude CSx are intended to win Dell new corporate accounts by filling a few gaps in the company's mobile product line.

The lightweight systems put Dell squarely at the intersection of a couple of mobile trends: a growing emphasis on cool industrial design and super-small, compact systems. At the same time, the products help the PC maker offer more of a "soup-to-nuts" pitch to potential customers.

Despite Dell's status as a top-tier PC maker, the company hasn't found the same success with its notebooks as it has in the desktop PC market. While competitors such as Compaq, IBM and Toshiba have long offered a full spectrum of notebook products for corporate accounts and other large institutional customers, Dell has had more of a limited selection, according to Gerry Purdy, editor of Mobile Insights, an industry newsletter.

"Dell has become a large-enough supplier of mobile products that they can't survive on a 'one product fits all' strategy anymore," Purdy said.

The Latitudes feature clean lines and silver magnesium cases, unlike Dell notebooks of the past. The emphasis on design comes as the company has introduced next-generation desktop systems like the WebPC.

"Dell has a lot of ground to make up," Purdy said. "Dell has to learn to play like the big guys if they want to be in that camp, which means more investment in industrial design and more investment in research and development."

Both new systems incorporate Intel's top-end Pentium III chip for notebook systems.

The new 3.5-pound Latitude LS will come with a 400-MHz Pentium III, a 12.1-inch display, up to 128MB of memory and a hard drive as big as 6.4GB. A system configured with 64MB of memory and a 4.8GB hard drive is priced at $2,299.

The Latitude CSx, which weighs 4.4 pounds, runs on the Pentium III running as fast as 500 MHz. Configured with 64MB of memory and a 4.8GB hard drive, the notebook would cost $2,899.

"The ultralight Latitude LS is ideal for customers who travel frequently and demand the lightest weight possible without sacrificing performance or usability," Tim Peters, vice president of Latitude notebooks, is expected to say in a statement.