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Dell serves up crisper notebook displays

Notebook screens, which for years have lagged those offered with desktop systems, are finally getting easier on the eyes with the computer maker's high-resolution Inspiron displays.

The picture is becoming clearer.

Notebook displays, which for years have lagged those offered with desktop systems, are finally getting easier on the eyes. Dell Computer today began offering displays that pack more content onto notebook screens and have resolutions on par with 19-inch desktop monitors. The next-generation, high-resolution displays are available with Dell's Inspiron consumer notebook line.

While the performance and disk storage offered with notebooks have largely caught up with desktop PC systems, display technology has lagged far behind. PCs traditionally have offered greater display resolution for consumers working with multiple programs or for multimedia and graphics arts professionals.

But Dell is trying to change that by offering notebooks with Ultra XGA (UXGA), the latest in high-resolution displays. While Dell may be the first to offer UXGA, other major PC manufacturers are expected to quickly follow the Round Rock, Texas-based company.

The higher resolution and greater density of the screens mean crisper, brighter images, making the notebooks reasonable replacements for low-end multimedia PC workstations, say analysts.

"Higher resolution is always a good thing. For anybody using multiple applications, you really need a lot more screen, something you can never get enough of," Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said. "It's like processing power and disk space--you can always use more of it."

Denser, higher-resolution screens also mean PC makers can increase the amount of viewable area without making the notebooks bulkier and heavier.

IBM cracked open the high-resolution portable display market about two years ago with the ThinkPad 770X and 770Z.

That first generation of higher-resolution displays, known as Super XGA (SXGA), added about $500 to the cost of notebooks and proved tough to market. Because of their higher density, SXGA screens were more troublesome to produce when LCD manufacturers struggled to meet demand, and shortages prevented Dell and others from filling notebook orders.

Dell more recently moved to SXGA+, which packs in more pixels per inch and higher screen resolutions than standard XGA or high-resolution SXGA displays. Besides improved image clarity, people gain almost 90 percent more viewing area on a 15-inch display.

UXGA boosts resolution to 1,600 by 1,200 pixels, comparable to most 17-inch monitors, increasing the viewable area by about 120 percent.

With the LCD shortages largely over, PC makers are in a better position to offer higher-resolution displays, say analysts.

"Making denser screens is like making denser chips. There's always a benefit, except for cost," Dulaney said.

Keeping down the size of the displays in part offsets this added cost. Notebooks with SXGA and greater displays are typically configured with DVD drives and other multimedia goodies and tend to cost more than standard portables.

Dell will offer UXGA on one of two Inspiron 5000e models introduced today. Consumers can choose from 15-inch UXGA and 14.1- or 15-inch SXGA+, SXGA or standard XGA displays.

The entry-level Inspiron 5000e, with a 600-MHz Celeron processor, standard 14.1-inch XGA display, 16MB of video memory, 64MB of RAM and a 6GB hard drive, sells for $1,899.