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Laptops

Intel blurs line between desktops, notebooks

The company plans to unveil next week a prototype laptop that acts like a desktop and sheds the traditional clamshell notebook design.

Intel plans to unveil next week a prototype consumer portable computer that blurs the line between desktops and notebooks by shedding the traditional clamshell laptop design.

The prototype, which acts like an all-in-one desktop, will be one of three models unveiled at Intel's annual spring developer conference in San Francisco. Two concept business notebooks will also be unveiled. Collectively, the machines are known as Florence.

 The consumer machine, dubbed Florence Digital Home, has a 17-inch wide-angle liquid crystal display, giving it a similar appearance to an all-in-one desktop such as Sony's Vaio W. The model has a handle that allows people to carry it from room to room. But unlike an all-in-one desktop, it includes a battery and weighs only 8 pounds, said Mike Trainor, chief technology evangelist for Intel's mobile products group.

To some extent, the design of the machine follows a trend already established by consumers. Many people have purchased lighter notebooks to replace their home desktop PCs over the last several years. But the characteristics that draw people to notebooks, such as their small size, often result in undesirable features such as fixed keyboard and screen positions, which aren't always as comfortable to use for hours on end.

"What we tried to do with our Florence model was take all the capabilities that Centrino mobile technology gives you--such as light weight--and build them into a unit that would be a mobile entertainment center," Trainor said.

The bezel of the prototype's screen includes a digital camera, speakers and a microphone. The keyboard can be stowed behind it, and its metal support is collapsible, so the machine can be easily moved. Intel envisions people toting it around as well as using it as a portable television, Trainor said.

The machine has space for a telephone handset for placing voice over Internet Protocol phone calls and a remote for controlling multimedia functions. Built-in 802.11 wireless networking will connect users to a home network. It also has a fingerprint sensor and a smart card reader for extra security and authentication of premium content, Trainor said.

Not in showrooms yet While Intel will show off the Florence prototypes next week, it doesn't expect them to become available to consumers anytime soon, Trainor said.

"These are, in theory, our 2005 concept vehicles," he said. "The only reason to throw that word 'theory' in there is because I think this particular home design is going to be so interesting that people will take it and do it in 2004."

If manufacturers do run with it, they would use Sonoma, a future version of Intel's Centrino, a bundle of chips for wireless notebooks, which includes its Pentium M processor, a set of chips and a wireless module.

"You probably could not build a machine with this size and weight with anything but Centrino mobile technology. At 8 pounds, it's probably lighter than some of the home gaming clamshells," Trainor said.

But even though Florence Digital Home is likely to gain attention, selling all-in-one desktops has traditionally been more difficult than standard desktops or clamshell notebooks.

IBM, for one, got out of the business in 2002. Last year, however, the company showed off two convertible ThinkPad designs that morphed into more desktoplike models.

Apple Computer, Gateway and start-up Pelham Sloane have released new all-in-one desktops in the last few months, showing that the market does have some legs.

Intel believes that its concept could catch on, even if a desktop with a notebook processor is somewhat unusual.

"As more and more people desire the benefits of mobility and freedom, we're seeing market segmentation or finer tuning of designs for different lifestyles. We think that's wonderful," Trainor said.

Intel's two business notebook prototypes, On-the-Go, a lightweight notebook based on a 12-inch screen, and Virtual Office, a communications-centric notebook with a 15.4-inch-wide screen, are aimed at people who travel often or need to work remotely.