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IBM to overhaul its ThinkPad line

Big Blue plans to come out this fall with a new version of its ultraportables, completing a revamp of its entire line of corporate notebooks.

    NEW YORK--IBM will revamp its line of ThinkPad 240 ultraportables late this fall, with a new name and look.

    The change will complete an overhaul of IBM's entire line of corporate notebooks, which, as first reported by CNET News.com, included the ThinkPad A20 and T20.

    IBM would not comment specifically on the timing, but the third-quarter release would coincide with the expected introduction of models using Transmeta's Crusoe processor.

    Leo Suarez, IBM's mobile systems worldwide product manager, said last week that the Armonk, N.Y.-based company would release a Crusoe-based ThinkPad 240 sometime in the second half of the year.

    At PC Expo this week, IBM joined Fujistu, Hitachi and others supporting the Crusoe chip. IBM's interest in Crusoe is driven by the chip's low power consumption, offering the possibility of "squeezing a full day's use out of one charge," Suarez said.

    But IBM is looking at much more than Crusoe for this refresh. The new ultraportable line would complete an important slimming down of the number of ThinkPad models available, as Big Blue looks to cut manufacturing and distribution costs and put more emphasis on people's experience using the notebooks.

    "The changes going on in their different series on the desktops and in portables is geared toward helping the decision process and understanding the user and delivering that experience," Technology Business Research analyst Bob Sutherland said.

    In the past, IBM took a one-size-fits-all approach to corporate and consumer computing. But the recent ThinkPad refresh and introduction of the new NetVista PC brand is geared more toward targeting specific customer segments, Sutherland said.

    In a meeting with News.com at PC Expo this week, Ralph Martino, vice president of strategy for IBM's Personal Systems Group, acknowledged an ultraportable refresh was coming soon.

    "We don't want to wait too long," he said with a laugh.

    PC Expo live: Special Coverage He confirmed there would be a new letter name to match "T" and "A" in other new ThinkPads and an increased emphasis on ultraportability.

    "If you like the 240, you're going to like this," he said.

    In its current form, the ThinkPad 240 weighs less than 3 pounds. It packs a 10.4-inch TFT display and either a Celeron or Pentium III mobile processor.

    Martino would not say whether IBM plans to drop either Intel processor in favor of Transmeta's Crusoe. He instead focused on the need for long battery life--Crusoe in testing has delivered up to eight hours--and other features that will make the small notebook good enough for all-the-time use, not just as an adjunct to a PC.

    "The more portable and ultralight you get, the more likely you will be mobile all the time," he said.

    "I think this (refresh) is something they have been wanting to do for a long time, but maybe it was a matter of waiting for the Transmeta Crusoe chip to fully evolve and determine what the market demands are," Sutherland said.

    Although Martino would not disclose features or the new line's name, Sutherland said much can be inferred from the A20 and T20 launch.

    The T, or "thin-and-light," series replaced the ThinkPad 600. The A, or "all-in-one," models supplanted the ThinkPad 390 and 770. The new ultraportable line could cull attributes from the 240 and its slightly heavier cousin, the ThinkPad 570.

    The new line also is expected to feature "portofino" slots introduced with the A and T series. Located on the edge of the lid, the port accommodates PC cameras and other peripherals, as well as wireless Bluetooth devices.

    Previously, IBM said it would release in the third quarter a Bluetooth transceiver that snaps onto newer models' portofino slot, a PC card for older ThinkPad owners, and a Bluetooth modem for Palm devices.

    Bluetooth, a wireless technology that lets smaller devices and peripherals automatically connect to each other, is expected to be an important new feature of IBM's new line.