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Price cuts, more features for notebooks

Apple unexpectedly trims prices on its PowerBook line of notebooks by up to $700, while CTX and Dell boost their offerings in the highly competitive laptop market.

Apple Computer trimmed prices on its PowerBook line of notebooks by up to $700 today, while CTX International said it has begun offering a slimmed down Windows-based notebook.

Also, on Monday Dell Computer will roll out a 14GB hard disk drive and a 4X DVD-ROM drive in its consumer/small-business line of notebooks.

The continuing price cuts and added features underline the tight competition in the portable market.

While Apple was the fourth-ranked notebook vendor in retail and mail-order sales for 1998, according to PC Data, the company still has lagged behind Toshiba, Compaq Computer, and IBM in terms of market share. The top three companies account for some 75 percent of notebook sales, said Stephen Baker, PC Data's senior hardware analyst.

"Apple has been cranking through iMacs, but there has not been the equivalent opportunity in the notebook arena," Baker said. Apple's notebooks have the highest average selling price, according to his research, but that hasn't deterred people "because [those customers] were typically going to buy them anyways."

But Apple's pricing hasn't helped the company gain any new customers, either.

Apple hopes to make significant gains in the notebook arena sometime in the first half of this year with the introduction of a line of affordable consumer notebooks, reportedly called the WebMate.

As for its current products, Apple cut prices from 8 to 16 percent today. The entry-level PowerBook G3 with 233-MHz PowerPC processor and 32MB of memory is now priced at $2,299, down from the $2,499 price announced in December. A PowerBook with 266-MHz processor and 64MB of memory is now priced at $2,799.

The largest price cuts were reserved for the 300-MHz model with DVD-ROM drive: The previous price for the top-line unit was $4,399, but it's now priced at $3,699, a reduction of $700. All systems ship with a 14.1-inch active-matrix display.

In other notebook news, CTX International is now offering an ultraportable notebook called the EzNote M303. The system comes with a 300-MHz Pentium MMX processor, a 3.2GB hard disk drive, and a 12.1-inch active matrix display. It weighs 3.6 pounds. The system will be priced at $1,999 and is expected to be available starting in March.

Dell's desktop-replacement Inspiron 7000 notebook PC will be available with a 14GB hard drive starting at $2,949, while the mobile office Inspiron 3500 will be available with the 10GB hard drive starting at $2,249. The 4X DVD-ROM drive is a $249 optional upgrade.