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IBM to unveil ultra-portable notebooks

IBM is expected to announce a radically new series of "ultra-portable" ThinkPads early next week.

IBM is expected to announce a radically new series of its ThinkPads early next week that will fall into a new category of "ultra-portable" notebooks.

The novel ThinkPad design will be wider and thinner than traditional subnotebooks to accommodate a large LCD screen--up to 12.1 inches--and a full-sized keyboard, said an industry source familiar with the new line.

"There's less compromise [than traditional subnotebooks]. This goes beyond Digital's HiNote notebooks," the source said, referring to Digital Equipment's ultra-thin HiNote line of notebook PCs.

Small screens have plagued the subnotebook category to date, but IBM believes that it has solved this shortcoming with the new design. A 12.1-inch screen has to date only been offered for hefty, high-end notebooks such as IBM's 760 ThinkPad line and Toshiba's Tecra notebook line.

The wider design will also accommodate a full-sized keyboard without having to use the special "butterfly" fold-out keyboard design now found in IBM's 701 ThinkPads, which will be replaced by the new line. Until the introduction of the widely popular 701, subnotebooks had to scale the keyboard to the size of the notebook, a compromise that many users found uncomfortable.

As with Digital's HiNote, the floppy drive will be separate. The notebook will also use fast Mobile Pentium processors running at 100 MHz and faster and is expected to be based on the high-performance PCI bus, the source said.

With this introduction, IBM will also try to break with its tradition of cutting-edge but expensive notebook designs. Instead, these notebooks will have "mainstream" pricing, a source said. These prices will range from $2,000 to $4,000.

Compaq and Toshiba are also readying ultra-portable notebooks.