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Gateway connects gadgets to the laptop

The company is introducing a portable PC that can read the tiny flash memory cards used by digital cameras and MP3 players.

Aiming to better connect its notebooks with a growing array of digital devices, Gateway is introducing a portable PC that can read the tiny flash memory cards used by digital cameras and MP3 players.

Memory card readers that can read several different types of storage have become popular features on some consumer desktop models, but Gateway appears to be the first to include them on a notebook.

"We've seen the trend toward these six-in-one (readers) supported in the desktop," said Randy Giusto, an IDC analyst. "To my knowledge this is one of the first from a major vendor in the notebook side."

The computer maker is including the reader as part of the revamped Gateway 400L model, which has a 1.8GHz Intel Celeron processor, a 15-inch XGA display, 256MB of Double Data Rate (DDR) memory, a 30GB hard drive, and the memory card reader. The laptop is set to go on sale Friday at a promotional price of $999 after a $100 rebate.

The memory card reader is capable of reading the Compact Flash, Secure Digital, Memory Stick, SmartMedia, IBM Microdrive and Multimedia Card memory card formats.

Other notebook vendors have integrated one or two different types of individual memory card readers into their notebooks. Sony, for example, has laptops that can read its Memory Stick cards, while Toshiba includes Secure Digital and SmartMedia slots on some models.

There are two trends that make adding such readers popular. One is that consumers, especially students, are using such media to store music files and transfer images from a digital camera. The other is the removal of the floppy drive from many notebooks that creates the necessary space for such readers.

"That gives you some room to do some other exciting things," Giusto said.

Gateway says it is not looking to remove the floppy, as Dell Computer, Apple Computer and others have done. In future models, the memory card reader will be an optional $50 upgrade from a floppy drive, but product manager Paul Torres said the venerable floppy is going to be around for some time.

"For the foreseeable future" the floppy will be around, Torres said.