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Notebooks dominate PC Expo

The Net PC captured the headlines, but new notebooks captured the attention of attendees.

The Net PC set off the biggest buzz at this year's PC Expo, but the newest of business boxes wasn't the only technology drawing attention on the show floor.

The new products came both big, such as Gateway's Destination with a built-in DVD-ROM drive and 31-inch monitor, and small, such as Mitsubishi's 2.2-pound Amity CN subnotebook.

Gateway broke into the emerging DVD market in a big way. The new $3,149 Destination system, which features a TV tuner and entertainment-quality sound system, was able to do justice to the sharp images provided by DVD's digital playback.

How sharp? The Gateway team's favorite demo was showing how Hollywood special effects, such as those in the movie Twister, just aren't convincing when viewed on this high-resolution system. The superior resolution of DVD actually lets the viewer in some cases to see right through the special effects.

But while DVD might have accounted for the best demo at PC Expo, notebooks were the real news at the show. Companies announced new mobile products that were smaller, lighter, and faster than ever before. Whether attendees were shopping for a tiny subnotebook, or a replacement for their current desktop PC, there were new products at the show to address their needs, including prototypes of the first 14-inch notebooks.

  • Twinhead, a Taiwanese company that manufacturers portables for Hewlett Packard, was quietly showing a prototype with a 14.2-inch screen and DVD-ready CD-ROM drive.

    Twinhead expects the laptop to ship in September or October, with the DVD option arriving a month later. Having one of these with a DVD drive could let you pick your own in-flight movies. The company has not yet set pricing.

  • Hitachi and Sony also both showed off new models this week. Weighing in at around five pounds, both offer full-sized keyboards but are about the size of the ultra-slim IBM Thinkpad 560.

    Hitachi's $4,200 VisionBook Elite sports a 13.3-inch screen, 166-MHz Pentium with MMX, and a U.S. Robotics 56kbps cellular-ready modem.

    Sony's first attempts at a laptop line, the PCG-705C and PCG-707C, feature built-in 14.5X CD drives, 33.6kbps modems, and 12.1-inch screens, all in a 5.3 pound design. Available now, the laptops cost from $3,500 to $5,000.

  • IBM, a traditional leader in the notebook arena, also showed several new systems at the show. The Thinkpad 560E and 765D were new versions of old favorites. The 560E sports a new Level 2 cache to speed up performance, while the 765D has a new 13.3-inch screen and a massive 3.3GB hard disk drive. A brand new Thinkpad 380 boasts a 150-MHz Pentium processor.

    IBM also showed a new version of its Aptiva home PC with a DVD-ROM drive and 200-MHz Pentium MMX processor. The unit also features a built-in answering machine, infrared remote control, and stereo.

  • Last, and "least" in terms of weight were Toshiba and Hitachi's diminutive entries in the ultraportable market. The Toshiba Libretto weighed in at 1.8 pounds with a 75-MHz Pentium. The Hitachi Amity CN weighs 2.2 pounds with a 133-MHz Pentium. Both run full versions of Window 95 and have most of the features of a regular laptop in a much smaller package.

    Both units also come with full-color VGA screens, although how easy it will be to type on their tiny keyboards remains to be seen. Both units will cost approximately $2,000.