IBM counting on PC extras

Big Blue's new lineup of seven NetVista desktop PC and ThinkPad notebook models includes a host of security and manageability features.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
Price isn't everything, according to IBM executives.

Instead, the keys to the kingdom are manageability, security and wireless communications, three elements IBM has included in its PC fall fashions.

To that end, Big Blue's new lineup of seven NetVista desktop PC and ThinkPad notebook models includes a host of security and manageability features, including an embedded security subsystem and IBM's ImageUltra.

And although they might cost a little more than offerings from competitors, IBM's PC chief says that's OK.

"We clearly have been a business that has been focused on quality, and quality rarely comes as the cheapest in the industry," said Jon Judge, general manager of IBM's Personal Computing Division. "It?s not that we don't think low price is important; we do. The point where we differ...is that we believe that our customers are smart enough to realize the price of their PC is only part of the total equation."

On Tuesday, IBM will take the wraps off four new ThinkPads and officially introduce three new NetVista lines including the A, M and X models. The new computers offer faster Intel processors. But IBM is putting greater emphasis on the total package, tossing in new security and systems management features it says help rein in the overall cost of managing PCs.

IBM's bells-and-whistles approach means the new PCs come with an embedded security subsystem, designed to better protect corporate data and passwords. The subsystem includes IBM's latest security chip as well as encryption and identification software, allowing consumers to encrypt sensitive files or folders on the PC.

ThinkPads X For the ThinkPads, IBM has combined wireless capabilities, such as 802.11b wireless networking, with the security subsystem. Combined, consumers can send and receive encrypted data over wireless networks.

Because wireless changes the way people use PCs, "security will become much more important than it has been in the past," Judge said.

The new PCs make their debut as the already traumatized PC market tries to find its footing in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and as the broader economy continues to show signs of trouble. Price competition, spurred by Dell Computer, has also taken its toll on some players in the market.

Being in the PC business, Judge said, entitles IBM to "lifetime dance lessons on managing cost."

The new NetVista desktops, as previously reported, start as low as $799. The NetVista A series offers Intel's 1.5GHz Pentium 4 chip, 128MB of SDRAM memory, and a CD-ROM drive for $879. That's about $80 more than a comparably equipped Dell OptiPlex GX150.

Not a problem, Judge says. IBM offers savings in other ways.

Each of the new PCs is loaded with ImageUltra, software that allows customers to build a super-image of a hard disk--including all the operating systems, applications and communications software needed--and then selectively load the proper mix on a new PC the first time it boots. This alone offers savings of about $100 a year for corporate consumers, IBM says.

Meanwhile, the new ThinkPads will incorporate Intel's newest Pentium III-M processors, along with the built-in wireless and security features and, in some cases, lower prices.

A new ThinkPad X Series, the X22, will offer integrated wireless in a 3.5-pound package. Its price will range from $1,949 to $2,399. Another new series, the A30, will offer two-drive bays, integrated wireless and Bluetooth. It will be priced between $1,599 and $3,649.

The newest ThinkPad T Series, T23, integrates wireless as well. It will range between $2,849 and $3,749. A brand-new R Series, meanwhile, aims at providing a lower entry price. The R30 will range from $1,249 to $2,099.

IBM introduced the NetVista in May 2000 as part of a plan to revitalize its Personal Systems Group PC business. Shortly after that, the company made NetVista the focus of its desktop PC offerings.

All of the new PCs, except for the R30, are available now. The R30 ships at the end of October.