New Toshiba notebooks highlight long-running trend

Toshiba Corp.'s new desktop-replacement multimedia notebooks, introduced on Tuesday, are further evidence that U.S. consumers still have yet to embrace the mobility offered by Intel Corp.'s newer mobile processors.

So far, U.S. consumers have shown lukewarm interest in Intel's Pentium M chip, despite a consumer marketing campaign and price cuts on the Pentium M over the course of the year. In the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, where a notebook's style and mobility play a greater role in a consumer's buying decision, the Pentium M has shown up in several consumer notebooks.

The Pentium M runs at a slower clock speed than does the Mobile Intel Pentium 4, but due to certain architectural innovations, it's capable of outperforming its faster sibling while consuming much less power, according to Intel. The company designed the Pentium M specifically for notebooks, while the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 chip is basically the same as Intel's desktop Pentium 4 chip with some mobility features added to help control power consumption.

Intel currently markets the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 to this desktop-replacement category of notebooks, while it reserves the Pentium M chip for ultraportable notebooks. The most powerful Mobile Intel Pentium 4 chip is significantly cheaper than the most powerful Pentium M chip, a difference of about $400.

The new models within Toshiba's Satellite A75 series and Satellite P35 series are characterized by their large widescreen displays and the desktop-replacement processors. One of the new Toshiba notebooks features a Mobile Intel Pentium 4 processor introduced by Intel last week. The Mobile Intel Pentium 4 548 processor runs at 3.33 GHz, a new top speed for this product line.

Consumers tend to use their notebooks for gaming or videos rather than spreadsheets or word processing, and widescreen displays provide a better experience for those applications, said Stephen Baker, director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, a research firm in Reston, Va.

A widescreen display allows users to feel like they are seeing more of the image than presented by a regular display, similar to the difference between a movie screen in a theater and a television screen. In January, 15.4-in. widescreen displays made up 13.6% of all U.S. notebook retail sales, but by August that percentage had grown to 36.6%, Baker said.

The widescreen displays are taking off in a U.S. market that has embraced large displays for some time. Earlier in the year, notebooks based on the Pentium M made up only 11% of all U.S. notebook retail sales, according to data from ARS Inc. in La Jolla, Calif. Intel has improved the market share of the Pentium M to 20.4% as of the end of September, but it's still far below where it had hoped to be with the product this year, said Matt Sargent, an ARS analyst.

The combination of a lower-priced processor with a widescreen display gives consumers a moderately priced PC that's portable enough to cart around the home while watching DVDs or playing online games, Baker said. To this point, U.S. consumers haven't shown that they will pay more for the thin and light form factor and extended battery life provided by Pentium M-based systems, he said.

Pentium M price cuts have helped Intel and notebook vendors sell notebooks based on the chip at more attractive price points, around $1,000, said Sam Bhavnani, an ARS analyst. However, Intel faces a challenge in selling the Pentium M to consumers after the megahertz-focused advertising campaign that accompanied the Pentium 4 processor family, when clock speed was billed as the most important indicator of performance, he said.

Intel hopes to drive the Pentium M into more consumer notebooks over the remainder of this year and into next year. The company's Sonoma launch, scheduled for the first quarter of 2005, should help accelerate that transition, said Stephanie Silvester, an Intel spokeswoman. Sonoma is the next generation of the Centrino platform consisting of the Pentium M, a mobile chip set, and Intel's 802.11 wireless chips.

Intel also plans to phase out some older versions of the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 chip over the remainder of the year, including the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 538 processor used in one of the new Toshiba notebooks.

Toshiba introduced two A75 series models on Tuesday. The A75-S229 comes with the Mobile Intel Pentium 4 538 processor at 3.2 GHz, 512MB of double data rate synchronous dynamic RAM (DDR SDRAM), an 80GB hard drive, a 15.4-in. WXGA (1,366 by 768 pixels) display, a DVD+/-RW drive, integrated 802.11g wireless and a five-in-one media card reader for $1,649. The A75-S209 is available for $1,499 with a slower processor and smaller hard drive.

There are two new P35 series models that replace the P25 series systems. The P35-S629 costs $2,099 with the new Mobile Intel Pentium 4 548 processor, 512MB of DDR SDRAM, a 100GB hard drive, a 17-in. WXGA display, a DVD+/-RW hard drive, integrated 802.11g wireless and a Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics card from ATI Technologies Inc. with 64MB of memory. The P35-S609 costs $1,799 with a smaller hard drive, slower processor and different graphics card.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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