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New notebooks powerful--and invisible

Just as notebooks get full desktop features, supply has all but dried up.

Just when vendors have finally brought out notebook PCs endowed with true desktop features, supply has all but dried up and buyers are facing a wait of up to two or three months.

In many cases, notebooks with 11.3- and 12.1-inch active-matrix screens from such popular manufacturers as Compaq Computer, Toshiba, and IBM are simply not available, according to resellers and industry analysts who track shipments.

"It's very tight. There's been a swell in demand. The 11.3 and 12.1 screens have been very well received, and corporations are in the midst of major upgrades [to these notebooks]," said Randy Giusto, manager of mobile market research at International Data Corporation.

Not surprisingly, resellers are having great difficulty meeting orders. "You could wait forever," one reseller said in reference to Compaq, Toshiba, and IBM notebooks. Another reseller said his company is having "large, large availability problems," including back orders of 6,000 units for one model of a new Compaq notebook with a large LCD screen.

Dell Computer, a direct marketer of PCs, has also had trouble meeting demand for some models, a source close to the company said.

Driving this demand are new notebook offerings from top-tier vendors over the last few months that boast a complement of features previously found only on desktops, including LCD screens that for the first time match 14- and 15-inch desktop CRT monitors in viewable area; fast Pentium processors; the PCI bus; and 6X CD-ROM drives.

IDC's Giusto said the supply problem is related to the fact that Japanese and Korean LCD manufacturers have not yet switched to high-volume manufacturing techniques for these large 11.3- and 12.1-inch screens.

There are models, however, with large active-matrix screens from some of the comparatively smaller vendors that are available in limited quantities, according to resellers, including models from Texas Instruments and AST Computer. But Giusto still expects supply of large active-matrix LCD screens, particularly 12.1-inch screens, to be limited through the rest of 1996.

Apparently unfazed by the supply predicament for these large screens, NEC Wednesday unveiled a 13.3-inch active-matrix screen for notebooks--the largest yet--which offers 21 percent more viewing area than 12.1-inch screens and is on par with a 17-inch CRT monitor in viewable area.

NEC said it will begin to supply these screens to notebook vendors in the fourth quarter.

Separately, Apple Computer hase also experienced delays in getting certain Powerbook models back on store shelves, after several models were recalled in early May because of software bugs and faulty casings. The company now says it has begun shipping replacement systems back to retailers in limited quantities and expects to have widespread availability by late August, but the recall was supposed to last only one month.

Twelve notebooks with desktop power