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Compaq readies first ultra-portable notebook

The computer maker is preparing a new Armada for corporate users in an effort to catch up in a market where it has no presence.

Compaq is preparing its first ultra-portable Armada notebook for corporate users in an effort to catch up in a market where it has no presence.

Compaq's gambit plays against other PC makers in the market, such as IBM, Sony and Toshiba, which also offer sub- or mini-notebooks. But Compaq will offer features more commonly found on full-sized models, Pentium II support, three-spindle expansion, and docking station connectivity.

Meanwhile, HP will announce price cuts on Monday of up to 17 percent on the OmniBook 4150 and the ultra-portable HP OmniBook 900. The OmniBook 900 with 366-MHZ Pentium II processor, is expected to sell for an estimated $2,349.

Compaq's ultra-portable is based on its Aero 8000, a magnesium alloy cased Windows CE device with keyboard. But the new Armada, which uses the same 95-percent-size keyboard as the Aero, sports a sleeker industrial design with blue accenting. The one-inch-thick, clam-shell portable also has about the same weight and size as the Aero: 3 pounds, about 11-by-9 inches.

The similarities stop there. The screen is a larger 11.3-inch TFT display capable of 800 x 600 resolution using the unit's 4MB ATI graphics controller. The new Armada also features a full set of ports--monitor, parallel, serial, infrared, USB, modem, and audio. A second USB port is available on the mobile expansion unit. The ultra-portable also features a mini-PCI 56kbps modem and PC card slot.

Models will be available with a 333-MHz Celeron or 333-MHz Pentium II processor, 64 MB expandable to 128 MB of memory and a 4GB or 6.4GB hard drive. Customers will also be able to choose either a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive and optional high-capacity LS-120 drive.

"What really sets this apart from other ultra-portables is the mobile expansion unit on the bottom, allowing you to attach CD-ROM, second hard drive, and second battery, said Eric Brennan, director of North America marketing for Compaq's Portable division. "Having a three-spindle machine in a 3-pound category product is something that has never been done before."

IBM's recently introduced ThinkPad 240 and Sony's Vaio PictureBook are thin and light, but neither supports Pentium II processors or expansion modules.

The new Armada also supports a docking station with additional connectivity options, including support for corporate LANs. The new Armada, which weighs 4-and-a-half pounds fully assembled, only docks with the expansion unit attached.

Eric Feldman, a computer dealer in Planview, New York, praised the new Armadas power and portability. "The problem, historically, businesses travelers had to choose between performance and size and weight, and the two were mutually exclusive. If you travel three weeks a month, you don't want to lug around an 8-pound notebook. Compaq has the sweet spot for size and weight."

Compaq would not comment on pricing, but sources close to the company said entry-level models would start around $2,000 and could be announced on July 26.

Compaq also sought to eliminate the number of cables busy executives have to deal with. "Designing it for the enterprise was our goal by making it very easy use for the executive and the mobile traveler," Brennan said.

Sub-notebook success, however, is slippery. Toshiba pulled the plug on its Libretto sub-notebook this week, taking it out of a market Compaq is moving into.