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Hitachi getting into notebook business

Hitachi's imminent entry into the U.S. notebook PC market will be marked by two lines of feature-rich machines.

Hitachi will make a grand entrance into the U.S. notebook PC market in May with two lines of notebook PCs that span the mid-range and high end of the market.

The "communications-centric" Hitachi M and C series notebooks will be targeted at corporations and vie with machines from heavyweights Compaq, IBM, and Toshiba.

Both series will use the PCI bus, a high-performance technology for transferring data inside a PC. PCI has become de rigueur for desktop PCs and is quickly becoming the standard for notebooks.

IBM this week announced the first ThinkPad notebooks to use the PCI bus. Both Toshiba and Compaq already offer notebooks that use the technology.

The Hitachi M series will include models with 90-, 100-, 120-, and 133-MHz Mobile Pentium processors and use Intel's Mobile Triton PCI chipset.

Standard features built into the notebooks in this series include a LAN adapter, fax-modem, infrared port, CD-ROM drive, stereo speakers, and internal AC adapter.

The 133-MHz model will come with a built-in 10-BaseT LAN port, removable 6X CD-ROM drive, a high-resolution 11.8-inch active-matrix LCD screen, 1GB hard disk drive, sound card, built-in stereo speakers, and a built-in 28.8-kbps modem, according to sources familiar with the products.

The M series will use a video subsystem from Cirrus Logic.

But despite the strong features, Hitachi faces an uphill battle in the U.S. market, where it has relatively little name recognition and must contend with a host of formidable competitors.

"This is a start but beyond that we don1t really know," said one source familiar with the new line. The source added that Hitachi's desktop PC strategy has been weak.

Although Hitachi is one of the largest established electronics manufacturers in Japan, its presence in the Japanese PC market has been insignificant, at best.

"They're a mainframe manufacturer trying to get into PCs," added the source.

The less expensive C series will use 90-, 100-, and 120-MHz processors but not include some of the hardware in the feature-laden M series. The C series, for example, will drop the CD-ROM drive and LAN adapter.

The C series will use a PCI chip set from VLSI Technology and a video subsystem from Chips and Technologies.

Pricing information for the two series is not yet available. Hitachi has said it will not compete at the low end of the notebook market but target the mid-range and high-end segments instead. Mid-range and high-end notebooks from top-tier vendors currently range from about $3,000 to $5,500.

The PCs will come with a five-year warranty, one of the longest in the industry.